Don’t Miss This Moment—the Key to Happiness

“Mommy, hello please? Hello please?” the little girl repeated plaintively as she tugged on her mother’s skirt as mom obliviously tapped on her cell phone.

The invention of our hand held devices is a very mixed blessing! On the one hand, we have the virtual world and relationships at our fingertips. Somebody can Like you on Facebook!! The adrenaline hit that brings is addictive and draws us in.

On the other hand, the real world and the relationships in front of us pass us by.

The idea of Be Here Now seems so elementary, but look around you. Is anyone in your line of vision enjoying the present moment-the coffee in their hand, the smile on the face of the clerk, the breeze that ruffles their hair? Or are they absorbed in the otherness of their phone?

Are you?

As we constantly look to “the next thing,” we miss relating to what IS. As a therapist, I am constantly challenged to wake people up out of cyber-life and into the challenge and joys of this moment. I have to remind them, that sitting there with me, we are safe. We are fed. We are warm.

But maybe your present moment isn’t so great. Maybe escaping into your phone seems irresistible in the face of that divorce, that mean boss, or that medical diagnosis.

Using avoidance only compounds the current problem. The decisions, the insight needed to make changes are lost when problems are avoided by escaping into cyber world.

If this describes you, call me. I can help you face what you’re escaping with that phone. Finding solutions or at least facing the pain of the issues is the way to experience the life in front of you with freedom and peace. Don’t waste a minute of your existence!

“Living in the moment, living my life
Easy and breezy, peace in my mind-
Peace in my heart, peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going, I’m already home.”
(Song, Living in the Moment by Jason Mraz)

Family Counseling: How can it Help Us?

Maybe you have asked yourself this question while yelling at your teenager, struggling with the family budget, or watching your spouse work too much. Let’s explore some answers that might help you understand the benefits of sitting your family down together under the guidance of a licensed therapist.

  • It gives everyone an equal voice. I am trained to observe and detect what isn’t necessarily said out loud. I can help a child find words to express their needs, which is much harder for children than adults.
  • It’s a safe place.A rule is established at the beginning of therapy that no one can be punished outside of session for what they say IN session. All members must agree to this rule.
  • Everyone learns to communicate. I teach skills, such as using “I feel” instead of “you should” and to avoid the use of “never” or “always” when talking to loved ones. Defenses are lowered and love can flow more freely.
  • It helps you see things from their point of view. I can help each member of the family articulate desires and feelings, then teach you how to reflect that back in a calm way.
  • You learn to focus on the positive. I use exercises that are especially designed to bring good memories and positive thoughts about each family member to the forefront, increasing your bond with each other.
  • Agreements can be forged. I have expertise in mediating family contracts, such as Teen Rights to the Car Keys, Work Hours for Dad, and Adult Child Living at Home. This teaches children how the real world functions, with responsibilities, rewards, and consequences.
  • Secrets can be aired and resolved. Children know so much more about what’s going on behind the scenes than parents allow themselves to realize. Unhealthy secrets can be discussed and resolved, and questions answered.
  • Mutual respect can be taught. Families often use sarcasm or abrasive “teasing,” which can scar a child. I can help you see where you might be unintentionally inflicting hurt.
  • You have a safe place to be real.The pressure to put on a happy family face to the world can be exhausting. My office is a place where we can observe how families protect some members and blame others, and resolve that pattern.
  • Responsibilities can be balanced.Often Mom is the primary caretaker, taking on chores that rightly belong to the rest of the family. I can help you work through a reasonable and fair plan to share the load.

If this sounds like what your family needs, let’s get started! Call me today for an appointment.


How’s Your Hula Hoop? Healthy Boundaries

“My mother is always telling me what to do, and then she wonders why I don’t call her more often,” my client sighed as she wiped away tears of frustration.

“Do you tell her that you’d prefer her not to do that?” I prodded gently.

“No! I can’t talk back to my mother,” she replied, shocked.

All of us have personal space that we must protect from invasion by others and most of us are aware that our bodies belong to us. This is why we recognize that it’s not OK to force or coerce our children into hugging or kissing people against their will. Our bodies are ours alone.

We realize we should protect our physical space from those who get closer or more physical than we’d prefer, but do you know that you have emotional space that belongs to you as well? I use the hula hoop as an illustration of this.

My feelings, my decisions, my consequences…

As an adult, it’s my right to determine my own life. Imagine a hula hoop worn by each of us. Inside that hoop are decisions such as when you sleep, what you eat, whether or not you exercise, take care of yourself, whether or not you attend worship, have hobbies, political or religious beliefs, how you raise your children-well, you get the idea.

When we start to tell people our opinions about how they choose in these areas, we are jumping their hoop and getting into the space that rightly belongs to them. When we allow others to criticize or lecture us about our choices, we allow invasion into our hula hoop as well. This causes insecurity, resentment, and the presence of control.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…

Keeping our opinions to ourselves about the life choices of other adults is part of respecting the freedom we all have to live our lives the way we see fit. Saying a firm but friendly “hey, that’s my call about how I live my life, so let’s talk about something else” is essential to taking care of YOU.

I can help you with assertive and kind answers to keeping others out of your hula hoop. Let’s get started!

Signs of Bipolar Disorder

With the recent celebrity Bipolar diagnoses in the news, I am providing for you an Informal Screening tool. This is NOT a substitute for testing by a licensed Mental Health Provider or psychiatrist. If you think you need help, please contact a professional immediately.


  1. Has there ever been a period of time when you were not your usual self and…

___You felt so good or so hyper that other people thought you were not your normal self or were you so hyper that you got in trouble?

___You were so irritable that you shouted or started fights or arguments?

___You felt much more self -confident than usual?

___You got much less sleep than usual and found you didn’t really miss it?

___You were much more talkative or spoke much faster than usual?

___Thoughts raced through your head or you couldn’t slow your mind down?

___You were so easily distracted by things around you that you had trouble concentrating or staying on track?

___You had much more energy than usual?

___You were much more active or did many more things than usual?

___You were much more social or outgoing than usual, for example, you called friends in the middle of the night?

___You were much more interested in sex than usual?

___You did things that were unusual for you or that other people might have thought were excessive, foolish or risky?

___Spending money got you or your family in trouble?

  1. If you checked YES to more than one of the above, have several of these ever happened during the same period of time?
  1. How much of a problem did any of this cause you—like being unable to work, having family, money or legal troubles, getting into arguments or fights?

NO problem     Minor problem    Moderate Problem   Serious Problem

Seven or more endorsed indicates “Moderate” to “Serious” Bipolar possibility. THIS IS NOT A DIAGNOSTIC TOOL, but an informal way to begin to gather information towards an eventual diagnosis.

Are You Making the Most of Your Therapy? 7 Tips

Don’t miss these tips on taking an active role in counseling.

If you’re struggling or stuck, counseling may be a good way to get a new perspective, move forward positively and protect your well-being. And if you’re living with a mental health condition, seeing a therapist may be a key part of your treatment plan.

Are you in talk therapy or considering it? These tips can help you make the most of it:

1. Set goals
Be sure your therapist knows what you hope to achieve. For example, perhaps you want to:

  • Find ways to cope with strong emotions, such as grief
  • Change behaviors that are making you unhappy
  • Build healthier relationships
  • Better manage stress, anxiety or depression
  • Explore or navigate a major life change

2. Discuss a timeline
It will depend on your needs and goals. Ask your therapist how you’ll work together on your goals and how long you might need counseling services. Some issues are chronic or take longer than others to work through. But in other cases, people might feel that they’re making progress after just a few sessions.

3. Be honest
Sometimes, talking about personal problems can be uncomfortable. But the more open you are about your true feelings and experiences, the more your counselor can help.

4. Take notes during each session
Reading them over can remind you of what you discussed, including what action steps you should try.

5. Do your homework
For example, your counselor might suggest you write in a journal or change your behavior in a certain way. If you don’t get specific tips, ask what you can do outside of therapy to move toward your goals.

6. Welcome new ways
Often, therapy means exploring approaches that feel outside your comfort zone. But trying new strategies for managing or responding to situations is the only way to see if they work. If you give up too quickly, you might miss out on something that really helps.

7. Speak up
Your counselor wants your therapy to succeed — and collaboration is a key to that. So don’t hesitate to say if you:

  • Think a session didn’t go well
  • Don’t feel you’re making progress
  • Want to focus on a new goal
  • Are considering stopping your therapy

When you’re frank, it gives your counselor a chance to think about the best ways to help you.

It’s also vital that you develop trust and a good connection with your therapist. So if you don’t feel comfortable or you don’t feel like you’re being heard, it may not be a good fit — and you may benefit from making a change.

Make Back to School AWESOME: Some Tips

By Ted Feinberg, EdD, NCSP,
& Katherine C. Cowan
National Association of School Psychologists

Overcoming Anxiety

Let your children know you care. If your child is anxious about school, send personal notes in the lunch box or book bag. Reinforce the ability to cope. Children absorb their parent’s anxiety, so model optimism and confidence for your child. Let your child know that it is natural to be a little nervous anytime you start something new but that your child will be just fine once he or she becomes familiar with classmates, the teacher, and school routine.

Do not overreact. If the first few days are a little rough, try not to over react. Young children in particular may experience separation anxiety or shyness initially but teachers are trained to help them adjust. If you drop them off, try not to linger. Reassure them that you love them, will think of them during the day, and will be back.

Remain calm and positive. Acknowledge anxiety over a bad experience the previous year. Children who had a difficult time academically or socially or were teased or bullied may be more fearful or reluctant to return to school. If you have not yet done so, share your child’s concern with the school and confirm that the problem has been addressed. Reassure your child that the problem will not occur again in the new school year, and that you and the school are working together to prevent further issues.

Reinforce your child’s ability to cope. Give your child a few strategies to manage a difficult situation on his or her own. But encourage your child to tell you or the teacher if the problem persists. Maintain open lines of communication with the school.

Arrange play dates. Try to arrange get-togethers with some of your child’s classmates before school starts and during the first weeks of schools to help your child re-establish positive social relationships with peers.

Plan to volunteer in the classroom. If possible, plan to volunteer in the classroom at least periodically throughout the year. Doing so helps your child understand that school and family life are linked and that you care about the learning experience. Being in the classroom is also a good way to develop a relationship with your child’s teachers and classmates, and to get firsthand exposure to the classroom environment and routine. Most teachers welcome occasional parent help, even if you cannot volunteer regularly.

A Tip for a Happier Relationship – Turn Toward

Do You Turn Toward, Turn Away Or Turn Against?

Savannah Ellis, MPsych

Each day, our partners make many attempts to connect with us, both verbal and nonverbal. World renowned couples research, Dr. John Gottman calls these attempts “bids” for emotional connection. A bid can be a question, a look, an affectionate touch or anything else that opens the door to connection. In his research, Gottman reports that a happy couple can make as many as 100 bids over the course of a meal! How we respond to our partner’s bids is a huge key to a successful relationship. Gottman’s research indicates that husbands who eventually were divorced, ignored the bids from their wives 82 percent of the time compared to 19 percent for men in stable marriages. Women who later divorced ignored their husband’s bids 50 percent of the time while those who remained married only disregarded 14 percent of their husband’s bids. There are three responses to a bid for connection: turning toward, turning away and turning against.

 1. Turning toward. This means to react in a positive way to your partner’s bid for emotional connection. Research indicates that over time, these couples develop stable, long-lasting relationships. They also can access humor, affection and interest in each other during conflict. They can stay connected and not let temporary negative feelings destroy the relationship.

 2. Turning away. This response is essentially ignoring or avoiding the bid or acting preoccupied. A consistent turning away response leads to defensiveness and seems to result in early divorce in married couples.

 3. Turning against. Couples who turn against each other’s bids for connection appear more argumentative, critical and sarcastic. According to Gottman’s research, this style leads to divorce in a majority of cases, but not as quickly as couples who more habitually turn away from bids. Once a couple gets into the habit of rejecting each other’s bids for connection, they tend to give up on rebidding or resuming efforts to connect. In stable marriages, spouses rebid about 10 percent of the time and in couples heading towards divorce, there is rarely ANY rebidding. Gottman believes that a couple that practices “turning toward” behavior metaphorically “deposits” good will into the emotional (love) “bank” of the relationship. These “credits” accumulate and allow the partners to more readily connect when times become more challenging in the relationship. The bottom line is that “turning toward” your partner is a strong basis for emotional connection, as well as a powerful tool to sustain passion, romance and a healthy sex life.

When Life Gets Hard—Finding Your Way

That which you would change, must first be accepted as is. (Anonymous)

First of all, it’s a privilege to do the work I do. As a therapist, I am trusted with the most critically important issues people can face in life. Big or small, one rule applies:  if it’s important to you, it’s important to me.

Some of these issues are easy to identify, harder to change: leave an abusive relationship. Limit contact with your mother if she’s critical. Drop your guard and reach out to a friend who’s hurt your feelings. Unfollow someone on Facebook whose posts upset you every time you read them.

But sometimes it’s things that can’t be changed readily by your actions. Like a cancer diagnosis. Like a mate’s affair. Like a layoff at your company.

Then what?

The words of the Serenity Prayer, used by Alcoholics Anonymous, come to mind: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Because going to war with the hard issues in your life with anger, guilt, self-recrimination or blame doesn’t help-and indeed, only strengthens the misery. Example: I’m laid off. I hate myself for not seeing this coming. Now, besides being laid off, you are laid off AND feeling self-loathing.

How did that help?

Learning to accept-to float on the ocean waves of hard times rather than flail around in the water fighting them-will get you to shore faster. Giving yourself a break with positive, loving self -talk-I’m doing the best I can, no one could’ve prevented this– will get you to shore sooner.

And on that shore are solutions or at least, ways to cope. Hope. New ideas.

And just maybe, a stronger, happier soul.

12 Tips to Help Your Child Listen and Follow Directions

By Andrea Slagle-Abrams, LSCSW

1.  Get close to them and use their name to get their attention first.  It is not helpful to call from across the room.  For example, go up to your child and say, “Sally, I have something I need you to do.”

2.  Once you have their attention and eye contact, give them the direction in an age-appropriate manner.  A three year-old may not be able to do more than one step at a time.  You will likely be able to give your twelve-year-old 3 directions at a time.  For example, “Get dressed, eat breakfast, and go wait for the bus.”

3.  Give directions with a calm, but serious voice.  Yelling will likely escalate your child, and this will not help them to be cooperative.  But you also want them to know that you are not joking around.

4.  Give directions in a positive manner.  Tell them what TO DO, instead of what NOT to do.  For example, say, “Walk, please,” instead of “Don’t run.”  Also, be descriptive so that they know exactly what you expect.  Instead of saying, “Be good,” which is very vague, say something like, “Put your hands on your lap and sit on your bottom.”

5.  DO NOT ask a question when giving a direction.  Do NOT say, “Do you want to clean your room?” if this is not something that they can say no to.  Also, do NOT say, “It’s time to do your homework, okay?”  The okay and question at the end implies that it is up to them to decide.

6. Provide two acceptable choices, such as, “You can eat breakfast or get dressed.  Which would you like to do first?”  You can even start by saying, “You have a choice!”

7. Empathize with them if your child complains about what you asked them to do.  “I know you are having fun playing and don’t want to stop.”  “I understand that you don’t like cleaning your room.”

8.  Give them something to look forward to after completing the task.  “As soon as you are finished putting away the dishes, you can go outside and play.”

9.  Help them if the task is difficult, while still making sure they are doing their part.  “I will help you clean your room.  Would you like to put away your clothes or your toys?”  Then you can put away what they do not choose.

10.  If nothing is working, tell them about the consequence if they do not complete the task.  Try to make it a natural consequence.  A natural consequence is something that would happen naturally as a result.  It also helps to give them a time frame.  For example, “If you do not get dressed before we leave for school, you will go to school in your pajamas.”  “If you do not put on your coat, you will be cold.”  Or if there is no natural consequence, try to make it related to the task.  “If you do not clean your room before bed time, I will take away those toys that are not cleaned up.”

11.  Enforce the time limit and the consequence.  It is important that your child knows that you mean business when you tell them something.  If you give in or do not follow through, they will learn that they can test you because they do not always have to do what you tell them.

12.  Children behave best when they are feeling loved.  Make sure that you spend plenty of positive, fun time with them.

Getting the Most out of Therapy

No matter if you are coming in for depression help, anxiety help, marriage counseling, or other issues, many factors determine the depth of relief and satisfaction a client experiences from their counseling. Here are some suggestions for making your therapeutic experience the best possible:

1) Be totally honest. Believe me, I’ve heard every story. The human condition contains basic elements that exist in all problems presented, and you’re not going to shock me, nor am I going to disapprove of you!

2) Be open to new ways of thinking. Although you are free to examine, use, or discard any suggestions I make, remember that behavior change is required for growth. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

3) Understand the difference in professional therapy and “talking to a friend.” A minimum of six years of college, two of them in human behavior, is required to legally practice as a counselor. We are also required to get several thousand hours of internship experience and supervision before being licensed.

4) Expect some resistance from family or friends. Change, even good change, can be threatening, and comes with a price. Your relationships will change because your world changes when YOU change. There will be people in your life who resist this, who want you to “stay in your box.” It is indeed necessary to rock the boat for things to ultimately improve.

5) Do your homework. The true change of the therapy experience only takes place outside of the office, as you test the new ideas I give you and report the results back to me.

6) Journal, journal, and journal some more. The research is compelling: journaling continues the therapeutic progress outside of the session, releases tension, and moves you forward faster.

7) Attend as regularly and as often as possible. It’s also smart to come in occasionally after therapy has ended if you sense a downturn in mood or thinking.

8) Be patient with yourself. It took you a lifetime to develop these thinking patterns; it will take more than a session or two to change them!

9) Make notes after the session. Ideally, schedule enough free time after your therapy to go somewhere and process what came up.

10) Take responsibility for the session. Notice during the week what bothers you, excites you, what insights come up in your journaling that need to be explored further. Bring this information to session.