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by Nikki Holmes, M.Ed.  

Licensed Professional Counselor-Associate

Supervised by Sunetra Martinez, LPC-S

June 13, 2024

It’s important to be aware of what’s going on with your physical health. In fact, there’s very little stigma associated with caring for your physical health. That’s great! Physical health is very important, we only have one body. However, our mental health is just as important, and if our mental health is good, it’s very likely that our physical health could improve (and vice versa). Sadly, we often neglect our mental health for a variety of reasons. Rather than get into why we neglect it, let’s look at what you can do to be more supportive of your own mental health. Some of these ideas may be easy for you to implement, and some may be out of your comfort zone. I want to challenge you to trust the process and give yourself permission to take special care of your mind.  


Here are 10 ways you can take care of your mental health: 

  1. Make a list of things you are thankful for. 

  1. Find a mindfulness app, download it, and engage in a mindfulness activity each day for 7 days. Some mindfulness apps to choose from include Headspace, Calm, 10% Happier, Aura 

  1. Volunteer-Yes! Helping others will make you feel better. 

  1. Do a physical activity that you ENJOY (enjoy is the key word). 

  1. Spend time relaxing with people you enjoy being with. 

  1. Get a massage. You deserve it! 

  1. Doodle or color. Just try it. 

  1. Take a break. Go outside and experience the sunshine for a few minutes. 

  1. Take a break from the digital world. Put the phone away for a bit. 

  1. Develop an affirmation for yourself and repeat it throughout the day for at least 7 days. 


The most important thing to remember about taking care of your mental health is that you’re not alone. If you feel overwhelmed or just unhappy with the way your life is going, seek support via therapy. You deserve to experience your best life. It would be an honor to help you discover what that looks like for yourself.  

Remember, you matter, and you deserve to be mentally and physically healthy.  



by Kiran Mishra, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

May 27, 2024

As most mental health practitioners, I became a psychologist to help others. After 33 years of conducting psychotherapy for various presenting problems, I made a list of the top 33 list of things that I think are most helpful  to improve mental health (in generalities, not specific to you):

1. Sleep routine including sleep hygiene, getting adequate amounts of sleep 

2. Eating/drinking habits

3. Exercise habits

4. Getting adequate amounts of sunshine

5. Having adequate social activity

6. Engaging in pleasurable activities

7. Having a daily routine

8. Solid support system

9. Personal hygiene

10. Examine your thoughts for cognitive distortions to change your thinking

11. Challenge your thoughts by examining the evidence that support your thoughts

12. Develop and maintain friendships

13. Create healthy boundaries with others

14. Ground with the earth

15. Go outside and look at the vastness of nature and the universe for perspective- zoom out.

16. Address fears by engaging in behaviors that are gradually more challenging

17. Be accountable for your thoughts and actions

18. Recognize that everything is temporary, and will change and evolve with time

19. Deep diaphragmatic breathing

20. Meditation

21. Visualization

22. Gratitude Journaling

23. Be assertive (not aggressive)

24. Write down your short term and long term goals, identify what it takes to reach them concretely, and track your progress in writing.

25. Rather than adopting a victim mindset, realize that you have agency to create change in your life now. 

26. Rather than "believe,"  seek to understand reality and truth.

27. Largely, others are not scrutinizing you; they are dealing with their own life issues. 

28. Recognize and become aware of overthinking

29. Focus on things that you have control over and let go of the rest

30. Consistency is crucial to outcome

31. Think for yourself and accept reality

32. Break down tasks to be smaller and more achievable if they seem too big

33. Mitochondrial and metabolic health may be responsible for a variety of ailments, including psychological disorders such as schizophrenia and even dementia  

These are some guidelines that I utilize in therapy, and tailor them specifically to you and with you. My hope is that whether or not you choose not to engage in therapy, you will consider these topics and try to make positive change for yourself. Thanks for reading!


by Nikki Holmes, M.Ed. 

Licensed Professional Counselor-Associate

Supervised by Dr. Sunetra Martinez, LPC-S 

March 24, 2024

Grief. Something no one wants to experience, something no one wants to talk about, but something we all experience. That’s right. If you’re alive, you’ve experienced loss, and grief is the normal and natural response to loss. So, if we’ve all experienced this feeling, why is it we can’t seem to figure out how to move through it?

Unfortunately, while we all experience grief, it’s just something we struggle to fully express and move through. Most often this is because we don’t know how to manage our grief. We try and listen to what we hear, but it doesn’t help. For example, “Time heals all wounds,” “You’ll find someone else,” “Be strong.” Those are all things we hear out of the mouths of well-intentioned people who probably care about us. The thing is, it doesn’t really help. The reason those words don’t bring us comfort and are more mythical than truthful is because, time won’t make it better, and while we may find someone else, it doesn’t acknowledge the pain and loss we’re feeling right now. When we’re in pain, it’s really hard to be strong.

Enough about what doesn’t work, what does work? How can you truly work through your grief and get to the other side, the side where there is peace and freedom from the pain? There is an answer. It’s not magic, and it’s not easy. This process takes work, determination, and a willingness to work through the pain to experience freedom from pain. It’s important to trust the process, especially when you start to feel like you want to quit. It’s a method that provides you with the correct action steps to completing the pain associated with the loss.

There are over 40 different types of loss we may experience in our lives. The one that probably comes to mind first is death. The one that happens most often, but we don’t consider a loss is loss of expectation. Loss of expectation is a huge loss and can happen multiple times over the course of our lives. The impact this loss has on us depends on the relationship to the person who failed to meet our expectations. If I’m the child of an abusive parent, I am struggling with a loss of expectation. I expected my parent to protect me and keep me safe, that didn’t happen. The grief associated with that loss can fester and grow inside of me, causing negative manifestations such as mental unwellness, anger, depression, and anxiety. Experiencing any type of trauma is a loss of expectation.

Many times, we hold on to our grief when we experience a death of a loved one because we are afraid that if we allow ourselves to feel free, we will forget the person who died or stop honoring them. This is not possible.

I am a certified Grief Recovery Method specialist, and have helped many adults experiencing grief both individually and in groups. I implement a research-based method of working through grief and completing the relationship to the pain caused by grief in a completely judgement free process. It will allow you to complete the relationship to the pain while holding on to the wonderful parts of your relationship. I will encourage you to not to judge yourself through the process, but allow yourself the opportunity to feel all of the feelings you feel associated with the grief in a safe space. The effort you put into your grief work will determine your level of result. If you’re willing to do the work, you will experience freedom from the pain associated with the loss.  If you feel that you’re not free to live your life as you would like because you are holding on to grief, scheduling a session or a free 15 minute consultation may be a great next first step. Call us at 832-876-3232 if you would like to learn more or to schedule an individual session or to participate in our upcoming grief groups for adults or children. 


ARE YOU sad or SAD?
by Laura Parker 

Licensed Professional Counselor-Associate

Supervised by Sunetra Martinez, Ph.D. 

March 10, 2024

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by Kiran Mishra, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist 

February 5, 2024

Embarking on the journey of self-discovery and mental well-being often involves seeking the assistance of a therapist. Whether you're dealing with specific challenges, facing life transitions, or simply looking to enhance your overall mental health, finding the right therapist is an important step in the process.  Here are some important considerations when choosing a therapist. 

Individual, Couples, Group, or Family?: Before diving into the vast world of therapy, take some time to reflect on your  needs and goals. Are you wanting help for just yourself in individual therapy, or would couples counseling or group therapy be a better approach for you? Individual counseling focuses on you, while couples counseling allows both you and your partner to seek help together. Group counseling can be very helpful for certain issues such as social anxiety as it can provide a safe environment in which to interact with a group of people.  Additionally, group allows you to gain perspectives from multiple people and can offer you priceless feedback. It allows your therapist to understand how you relate with others, and perhaps why you face certain interpersonal issues that the therapist doesn't have the opportunity to observe in individual therapy.  Family therapy is another option if you want to engage in therapy with family members.  Consider the specific challenges you're facing and what type or types of therapy you want. Often, people begin with individual and a therapist may then recommend another type of therapy as an adjunct.

Consider the Therapeutic Approach: Therapists utilize various therapeutic approaches, each tailored to different needs and preferences. If you know what type of therapy you want, seek a therapist that offers that type of therapy. If you are not sure what type of therapy the therapist you choose utilizes, you can ask them during your first session.  Some common approaches include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy (think Freud), dialectical-behavioral therapy, play therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy. Having a basic understanding of these approaches can help you choose a therapist whose methods align with your preferences and goals.

How to Decipher the Different Types of Therapists:  There are many different types of therapists that can help you engage in meaningful therapy and each have somewhat different training and experience, even if they hold the same type of license.  A licensed psychologist (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) has received a doctorate in psychology and has also done a post doctorate fellowship specializing in a certain area. Typically a Ph.D. has done research in addition to clinical work, whereas a Psy.D. focuses on clinical work. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW), licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT),  and licensed professional counselors (LPC) all have masters degrees in their chosen fields.  All therapists are required to obtain a certain amount of internship and supervised hours of practice after getting their degree (usually 3,000 hours). An LCDC is a licensed chemical dependency counselor and this professional addresses substance use or dependence. If you are seeking medication rather than therapy, then a psychiatrist (MD or DO) is the professional to seek out in the state of TX. While some states allow psychologists to prescribe, TX does not at this time.    

Seek Recommendations: If you have heard your friends or family members talk highly of their therapeutic experience or therapist who has helped them, ask them who they see. 

Accessibility and Logistics: Check the website to determine whether the therapist accepts your insurance, whether they offer in person therapy or teletherapy, who is accepting new clients, and which therapists are available when you are.  Also, will you have to wait before your first session and if so, is that wait time acceptable to you? Does the therapist have availability to see you as often as you'd like to be seen?

Read the Provider Bios:  Websites usually have a page that have the bios of the providers, and this can give you information on what type of issues the therapists treat, their approach to therapy, and their background/experience. 

How Do You Feel?:  In my opinion, the most important factor of all is if you felt a connection with the therapist and viewed them as a good fit for you.  A strong therapeutic alliance built on trust and mutual understanding is crucial for therapeutic progress. If after 1-2 sessions you don't feel a connection, it's okay to explore other options. 


by Kiran Mishra, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist 

November 22, 2023

Uncle Bill and cousin Kirk who love to bring up controversial issues and stir things up are coming to Thanksgiving! Here are some tips on how to keep the peace in the family, create cohesion, and enjoy your Thanksgiving. 

1. Plan Engaging Activities: Organize activities that encourage participation and bonding, like board games, outdoor games, or collaborative cooking. Shared activities can divert attention away from potential conflicts.

2. Foster Open Communication: Encourage open, respectful communication. Create an environment where everyone feels heard and valued. If things start to get awry, establish ground rules.

3. Focus on Common Interests: Find common interests or topics that bring people together. This could be shared hobbies, favorite memories, or discussing positive, non-controversial subjects.

4. Assign Responsibilities: Distribute tasks or responsibilities among family members. Involving everyone in meal preparation or setting up activities can foster a sense of teamwork and reduce tensions.

5. Create a Neutral Environment: Host the gathering in a neutral, comfortable space to avoid associations with past conflicts. This can help set a fresh and positive tone for interactions.

6. Redirect Conversations: If discussions head towards sensitive topics, gently redirect conversations to more neutral or enjoyable subjects to prevent potential conflicts.

7. Practice Patience and Empathy: Encourage patience and empathy among family members. Understanding differing perspectives can prevent misunderstandings and diffuse tense situations.

8. Lead by Example: As a host or influential family member, lead by example. Show appreciation, diffuse tension with humor, and demonstrate respectful communication.

9. Have Contingency Plans: Be prepared to pivot if things start to get tense. Have backup plans for activities or ways to subtly diffuse any potential conflicts.

10. Focus on Gratitude: Reinforce the spirit of Thanksgiving by emphasizing gratitude and appreciation for each other. Encourage everyone to share what they are thankful for, fostering a positive atmosphere.

By implementing these strategies you can create an environment that prioritizes enjoyment, connection, and positive interaction, and minimize the likelihood of family drama during Thanksgiving gatherings.


by Kiran Mishra, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist 

October 22, 2023

In the grand tapestry of existence, it's easy to become entangled in the web of perceived importance.  However, taking a step back, zooming out, and viewing life through a psychological lens reveals a liberating truth: in the grand scheme of things, very little is of paramount importance. Here are 10 ways to help you remind yourself to stop sweating the small stuff. 

1. Relinquish Unnecessary Pressure: Recognizing that almost nothing is inherently crucial can alleviate the weight of undue pressure and expectations we often place upon ourselves. Mistakes and imperfections are part of the human experience.  


2. Embrace Impermanence:  Embrace that everything thing and everyone changes in life. What seems monumental today may become a distant memory in the future. Cherish the present moment.  

3. Foster a Growth Mindset:  View setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Don't be overly harsh on yourself. 

4. Cultivate Perspective and Balance:  Gain perspective by acknowledging the transient nature of importance. Find balance between our aspirations and the simplicity of life. 

5. Let Go of Perfectionism:  Most things are not of utmost importance. Imperfections are a natural part of life- let go of the need for perfectionism. 

6. Focus on Authentic Values:  Reflect on your true values and priorities, and align your actions with what authentically matters to you. 

7. Embrace Mindfulness and Presence:  Zooming out and understanding the relative insignificance of many concerns allows us to more fully engage in and enjoy the present moment.


8. Nurture Self-Compassion: Realizing that most things are not that important can be a powerful reminder to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves. Practice self-acceptance. 

9. Find Liberation in Letting Go: Letting go of the notion that everything is crucial or important can provide a sense of liberation.  It helps us to release our need for control and embrace the flow of life.

10. Celebrate Existence: There is beauty and wonder of existence itself. Revel in the simple joys and appreciate we are part of the grandness of nature.  Go outside and look at the sky and trees and the vastness of nature, and consider our problem's significance in comparison to this. 


by Nikki Holmes 


September 15, 2023

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by Nikki Holmes 


August 26, 2023

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by Alexandra Jodlowski, LPC 

Licensed Professional Counselor 

August 23, 2023

Is your child experiencing anxiety? Know when it is time to seek professional help. According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”


-Is your child presenting physical signs of anxiety such as headaches, fast heartbeat or breathing, vomiting/nausea, feeling restless, tearfulness, tension or trouble sleeping? 

-Is your child’s anxiety persistently affecting his everyday routine?


Anxiety can be tough to handle at home and even more so when we are living fast-paced lives and we are on the go. Having some tips at hand can come a long way when helping your child feel better and can help you cope better as a family. Make sure you…

  1. Be on the lookout for physical signs of anxiety. You know your child the best and can easily pick up on any behavior changes/patterns.

  2. Do not panic, instead help your child relax by trying a deep breathing exercise. This will help with his/her emotional regulation and will bring them calm.

  3. Validate your child’s fear. It is important for them to feel heard and respected. And, most importantly understood by their loved ones.

  4. Help your child face their fears by walking the path along with them and providing verbal and emotional support to show you care and empathize with their situation.

  5. Make a plan and put it in action. This can boost confidence and make a huge impact on overcoming anxiety. Start with baby steps and celebrate progress with meaningful rewards.

  6. Give yourself grace as you are doing your best to help your child! And always remind yourself: You can do this! 


by Florencia Iturri, Ph.D. 

Post Doctoral Fellow 

March 31, 2021

Why is going to therapy hard even if I know it is good for me?

A friend was recently telling me that every time she has a therapy appointment coming up she finds herself wanting to avoid it. She shared that she often feels a bit scared and anxious about her upcoming sessions even though she finds them very helpful and usually feels better about it. These same feelings can keep people from seeking out help when they are trying to find a therapist for the first time. So why does this happen and is it normal?

The first thing to know is that this feeling is often a form of resistance and it is very common. In psychology, resistance is generally viewed as the opposition to the therapeutic process, even if we know it might help us. And this is because therapy can feel uncomfortable. For most people therapy sessions bring up a lot of emotions. Sometimes therapy also has us think and talk about difficult, sad, embarrassing, or even scary experiences. It is often not fun to have to think about things that make us feel bad. So when we are faced with an upcoming session that we know will make us vulnerable we might feel a little apprehensive. The first step in overcoming this is knowing that it happens. The second step requires working with your therapist to overcome the apprehension. For many people having a treat after therapy can help make the process easier.

Trusting the process can be helped by having a good relationship with your therapist. We care and want you to find therapy helpful. I want to know the things that make you uncomfortable so that we can decide if they can be changed or if it is a necessary discomfort for growth. That is a collaborative choice because you are the expert on yourself. Though your therapist may challenge you and might give you insights that are hard processes, you should not feel invalidated by them. Feeling nervous to see your therapist is not the same as distrusting your therapist. Therapy can be hard but it should not feel unsafe. If you feel that you cannot trust your therapist then they might not be the therapist for you. You should also know that if you do not like an approach your therapist is taking or if they say something that does not sit right with you, you can and should talk to them about it. Therapists are human so we make mistakes so you can let your therapist know if something isn’t working for you. If you feel like your therapist is not right for you, that does not mean therapy is not right for you. Sometimes it is not a good client/therapist fit, this can happen for a lot of reasons. If you feel like this has happened you can try and find a different one.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to feeling nervous about therapy is that growth often happens right outside of our comfort zone. Change is hard but not impossible. And if you are wondering if it is the right time to start therapy…it probably is, at least it is worth a conversation.


by Florencia Iturri, Ph.D. 

Post Doctoral Fellow 

February 14, 2021

For most of us, this year may look a little different when it comes to celebrating. But just because we are staying safe does not mean we can’t have a great time with our partners. This Valentine’s take some time to get to know each other better and to see how you can improve your relationship. Below I offer five ideas that you can use to improve different aspects of your relationship.

1. Figure out each other’s love language – Gary Chapman has published extensively about the 5 love languages, and since then many others have written about them too. The five love languages are words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. Most of us tend to give and receive love primarily within one of these forms (sometimes we use more than one). The interesting thing is that sometimes we give and receive love in different ways. Finding how you and your partner prefer to give and receive love can help you choose how you show affection. If for example, you know that your partner enjoys quality time the most, then make an effort to give them some time of your undivided attention. If it is acts of service maybe try doing some extra chores without them needing to ask. If words of affirmation are your cup of tea make sure to share say how much you love the other person and tell them how much they mean to you (compliments are also great!). There are so many different approaches to showing love, try and pick your partner’s favorite they will be sure to appreciate it.

2. Engage in a shared activity – Sometimes partners (especially those that live together) spend time around each other instead of with each other. While this can be a sign of a healthy relationship it can also be nice to be intentional about re-connecting. Pick a project either that you both like or maybe something new and work on it together. It could be as big as building a new piece of furniture or as small as baking a cake. The idea is to have time to have your attention focused on a shared task. The bonus is that at the end you will either have a completed project to enjoy or a great fun story about why it did not work.

3. Pretend it is your first date – We all change as time passes. In relationships, we hopefully change together. Going on a pretend first date can be a great way to re-ignite the excitement of getting to know a new person for the first time. So, dress up and get ready (even if you are staying at home). Ask each other the same kind of questions you would when you first meet. Perhaps most importantly listen to the answers as though it was the first time you were hearing them. Ask about each other’s family, see how they describe all the people that you might now know (including your kids if you have any). This is a great way to enhance communication in a fun and exciting way.

4. List reasons for love – While some may see Valentines as cheesy or maybe a corporate ploy to get you to buy cards and chocolate, there can also be something beautiful about taking a day to acknowledge love. When it comes to our partners it can be equally impactful to take some time to write out or list the many reasons you love them. These can be abstract like their kindness or more specific like the way they make you the perfect cup of coffee. Showing your partner that you see all the many ways in which they are lovable can help them feel more loved and help you feel more in love.

5. Play games together – whether it be board games, cards, corn hole, or basketball playing a friendly game together will bring out your sense of friendly competition and fun. Games are a good way of being silly together. Games are a good stress reliever and a great way to spend quality time. Getting to play and be silly will make for memorable sweet moments to look back on later.

Most important of all remember to take stock of the things that make you grateful for your partner. Experiencing gratitude is a great way to foster love. It is a practice we can extend way past valentines.

As an aside, all of these tips can be modified for platonic relationships. They can be great ways to build a bond with friends, and family. Just exchange the first date for playing 20 questions, you can still dress up and have fun.


by Florencia Iturri, Ph.D. 

Post Doctoral Fellow 

December 31, 2020

It is the last day of the year, and what a year it has been. For all of us, 2020 brought surprises, challenges, and change. For many of us, 2020 was also marked by grief, pain, anxiety, and loss. I hope that in between the pandemic, the political madness, the racial trauma, and the myriad of upsetting events of the year, each of us found moments of peace and joy, however brief they might have been. Though I am happy to leave 2020 behind, I know that little will change when the clock strikes midnight. So I decided that instead of new year resolutions I wanted to choose some lessons to take with me into the new year. 2020 was not what we expected and in that comes the first lesson I wish to take forward. We cannot control what happens to us but we can try to control how we react. Life (and this year) are unpredictable, and often the best of plans crumble around us. This year taught many of us that when things are out of our control we can do small things to make the best of the situation. Whether it is re-framing how we see the moment to find a silver lining, or changing our approach completely we can always have some choices in how we may improve a situation. We can try and react with grace, or strength, or empathy, all of which are likely to lead us to a better place than anger or intolerance. In the vein of choosing how to react to what happens around us, I have re-learned the importance of appreciating and celebrating the small joys in life. Often in the hustle and bustle of life, we focus only on the big moments, promotions, engagements, trips, etc. In a year where we were forced to take pause, small victories became essential. Whether it was finally learning how to cook a good salmon, sticking to a skincare routine, or making sure to call loved ones each week, it was all about the small things that bring joy and purpose. While at times these small achievements might feel insignificant the reality is that our lives are made up of small moments. Choosing to celebrate and find joy in these small moments leads to a greater sense of fulfillment. Finally, in a year where so much life was lost, where so many moments of joy were stifled, and where the world seemed to be so dark, it can feel impossible to rescue good moments. And in those dark days, the lesson we learn is that if we can survive, then this moment too shall pass. There is great comfort in knowing that you have walked through the darkest night and lived to see the dawn. So to the new year, I wish you all the virtues that got us through 2020: patience, kindness, resilience, humor, and empathy. May 2021 show us all kinder days.


by Florencia Iturri, Ph.D. 

Post Doctoral Fellow

November 25, 2020

As the holiday season approaches many are going to be struggling with both how to set boundaries and how to create connections. Most of us are facing difficult decisions about whether to travel and see loved ones. There is no easy choice. As someone who has had to spend many special moments away from family and loved ones I have learned a few tricks about how to handle the difficult emotions that come up. I hope these are also helpful to you. I also want to acknowledge that for millions of people across the USA this holiday season will feel different not only because we are socially distanced but because they have permanently lost someone close to them. If you are one of those people my heart goes out to you. This season may be hard but it will be survivable.

1. Feel what you feel: It is ok to be sad and upset that you are missing your family. Holidays are a time when we tend to crave connection, acknowledging that loss is appropriate.

2. Reframe the situation: Remind yourself (and others) of the valid reasons why you cannot get together. Remind yourself as well that holidays only have the importance that we assign to them. That is to say that they are important because we give them meaning. Thus, if we give meaning to the separation (e.g., We won’t be joining you for thanksgiving to keep everyone we love safe) it will be easier to be at peace with that choice. If this choice/separation is out of your control it might feel better to treat the holiday like a regular day.

3. Perspective and gratitude: So often when we are feeling sad we tend to minimize the positive experiences and wallow in the negative feelings. Granted tip one said that we are allowed to feel our feelings but we don’t want to be overwhelmed by them. This tip focuses on trying to highlight the good and the existence of mixed emotions. We can be sad and grateful. We can try and have perspective that a short term sacrifice might bring long term rewards. We can remind ourselves that this sadness and discomfort is temporary. We can know that the pain of missing someone comes from having loved deeply. Finding gratitude in things big and small helps us to feel grounded. Research has shown that the most resilient people are those who find reasons to be grateful even during adversity. What are you grateful for this season?

4. Create connection: In times of hardship imagination is your best friend. The old adage says that home is where the heart is and the same can be true of traditions. Being inventive to find moments of connection even if we are far away is crucial. Call each other, use video to chat. A great way of establishing connection is to engage in the same activity (e.g., cooking the same meal, watching movies) while connecting via phone or video. If your loved one has passed away consider doing activities that remind you of them or that lets you keep their presence close. If remembering them is too painful seek comfort and connection to others in your life.

5. Set boundaries: Boundaries may sound like pushing people away but in reality they help us bring each other closer through better relationships. Letting people know how to interact with you helps them to engage with you in a healthy way. This might mean making your preference about safety guidelines clear (e.g., I love you but I do not feel comfortable with you visiting right now). It might also mean setting boundaries around conversation topics (e.g., I would rather not talk about this right now). Finally, because holidays are so related to food it might also mean asking others not to comment on your food or weight (e.g., It’s painful when you make comments about my weight could we focus on something else). The trick with boundaries is to be clear and when possible to be kind. Most people will not want to hurt you but they might not realize how they are being upsetting. By setting those boundaries and giving them an alternative topic of conversation/action we enable healthier interactions.

6. Check in with yourself and seek help if you need it: No matter how many tips and self-help (even professional help) we get this season can be really hard. Only you can know just how dark this time is for you. If you are feeling alone reach out to friends, professionals, or even hotline numbers. You do not have to make it through this alone. If this is a time of pain it can sometimes feel as though there is no hope and no end to the pain in sight. But this too shall pass. If you need help you can reach out to crisis line numbers, therapists, friends, and family. Below are some crisis line numbers you can text or call, they are available in English and Spanish and have texting options.

National Crisis hotline (available 24/7) - 800-273-8255

Trevor Project Hotline (LGBTQ+ available 24/7) - 1-866-488-7386

I wish you the best during this holiday season. May we find reasons to be grateful, and moments of peace. I hope these tips help you to feel connected during these socially distanced times.

METANOIA- Change your Mind for Healing, Wellness, & Wholeness  

by Randy Ditmore, LPC 

Licensed Professional Counselor 

July 23, 2022

Metanoia is a Greek word meaning “to change one’s mind.” It is used in the original Greek scriptures to indicate a change of mind or direction which came into English as “repent” or to have a change of heart. It is also used in psychology to indicate healing or reintegration after a trauma or psychotic break. It is descriptive of the experience that many have after a psychedelic experience which is now being utilized as another intervention in psychotherapy. We are all familiar with the concept of “changing our mind”, but for most of us this usually means changing a decision regarding an action we are undertaking. Metanoia is more about a change of perspective or an increase in awareness of and in ourselves that of course may lead to different decisions. In my experience as a mental health counselor, I have seen this play out multiple times when a person suddenly develops an awareness of their underlying cognitive habits or patterns of thinking that resulted from family of origin dynamics or traumatic experiences.


Over the past 50 years there has been a shift away from the artificial Cartesian split between mind and body. In 1978, the American Psychological Association created division 38 – Society for Health Psychology with a focus not just on behavioral health conditions but also on behavioral interventions for medical conditions. Research in psychoneuroimmunology and other disciplines continues to erase this artificial division, and physicians and other healthcare practitioners are beginning to integrate this new paradigm into clinical practice. Integrated practices consisting of physicians and behavioral health clinicians are increasing in number. There is well documented evidence of Tibetan Buddhists monks and other meditative practitioners’ ability to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure among other seemingly impossible physiologic responses to these practices. The placebo effect is another example of the complex interaction between mind and body. Neuroscientists and other researchers are hard at work to determine the underlying physical and chemical mechanisms for these physiologic responses. The mind and body are not separate units. What affects the mind affects the body. What affects the body affects the mind. David Field in the novel Death Among the Nightingales states “It has been my experience that those who enjoy health of mind are less susceptible to maladies of a purely biological nature; likewise those who are sick in mind are more inclined to fall prey to contagion.”


Mindfulness can best be described as a relaxed state of awareness that includes both the external environment and our internal environment including our bodies and thoughts. Although this description is straightforward, anyone who has attempted mindfulness meditation knows that it takes regular practice to attain the benefits. The most difficult aspect is to not get caught up in our thoughts. This involves a detached awareness of our thoughts. One way this is often described is imagining our thoughts as clouds floating through our minds and gently returning our attention to our breathing or whatever anchor we use for the practice of mindfulness. There is no right or wrong way to practice and there are a variety of techniques. Please contact me if you are interested in “changing your mind.”


by Sonia Fields-DePass, LPC 

Licensed Professional Counselor

February 22, 2022

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This therapeutic modality, developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., has been proven to help alleviate symptoms of trauma and emotional distress. It was first used for the treatment of PTSD and was found to alleviate anxiety that accompanied PTSD symptoms by allowing the client to focus briefly on the trauma.  Usually, the brain can process information and move on from it. In the case of a traumatic experience, such as a car accident or being attacked, the information becomes trapped in your brain. When this traumatic information is unable to be processed, it continues to be present in your limbic system. This limbic system is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. Traumatic memories that are stored there can continually be triggered when an event similar to the original

experience occurs. In most cases, you are not thinking of the original event. You go on with life, putting these memories behind you. Unfortunately, the painful feelings that remain in your nervous system manifest as anxiety, panic, or even phobias. These symptoms can continue to be triggered in the present.

What would your session look like?

After a thorough assessment and treatment planning, you would be asked to identify a specific disturbing memory. The processing is done with bilateral stimulation. In this case, the therapist will move their fingers back and forth in front of you, and you follow with your eyes. This movement mimics what happens during REM sleep. Other forms of bilateral stimulations use a lightbar, tappers, or headphones (to play a tone that goes back and forth). After each set of bilateral stimulation, you may experience changes in thoughts, images, or feelings. You can talk about these as much or as little as you feel like. With repeated sets of stimulation, the intensity of the original memory will decrease. The memory will still be there, but the way you relate to it will change.  

There are 8 phases to the treatment.

Phase 1 - History taking: You are assessed for readiness and a treatment plan is developed. At this time, possible targets are identified. Targets can be distressing memories or incidents that are related from the past.

Phase 2 - Preparation: Your therapist makes sure that you are equipped to handle any

emotional distress that may occur during processing. You will learn self-regulating tools such as safe places, containment, and various mindfulness practices.

Phase 3 - Assessment (or setting up target): During this phase, you will access the memory to be targeted and gather information to reprocess the memory. Negative and positive cognitions or beliefs about yourself in the present will be examined.

Phase 4 - Desensitization: You will actually begin to reprocess the memory using the chosen bilateral stimulation.

Phase 5 - Installation (of a positive cognition): The positive belief about yourself will be further examined. You can decide if it still fits or if you would like to change it.

Phase 6 - Body scan: You will be directed to do a body scan looking for areas in the body where there may be residual tension.

Phase 7 - Closure: This phase includes debriefing. You will be guided through a safe place,

containment exercise, or other stabilizing and orienting methods that are already in place. You are asked to keep a log of related experiences outside of session.

Phase 8 - Re-evaluation: You and your therapist will check on the status of the work in the next session. Has the target been resolved? Have additional targets around the original incident been reprocessed?

EMDR is not hypnotism. During the therapy you remain fully awake, in control, and can stop the process at any time. EMDR may not be for everyone. After building rapport with your therapist, it can then be decided if this therapy is a good fit for you. EMDR can be used as a part of your treatment process and can be integrated with other treatment modalities. For further information about EMDR, please visit or  I am currently accepting new clients and would be happy to speak with you about whether EMDR might be helpful for you.


by Florencia Iturri, Ph.D. 

Post Doctoral Fellow 

September 10,2021

Have you ever made a mistake and found yourself thinking “how could I be so stupid?” or maybe “Of course I messed this up, I always mess things up.” Many of us tend to default into mean, negative, and sometimes hurtful self-talk when we have made a mistake. We might think things about ourselves that we would never say out loud to someone else unless we were trying to start a fight. Although this experience is not uncommon, it can often be unproductive and lead us to feel worse than we already feel. Changing this thought habit can be very hard and it takes a lot of practice.

The first thing that can help in changing this habit is stopping to think about why we wouldn’t say similar comments to those we love. Often it is because we don’t want to upset them of course. Beyond that, however, lies a deeper truth and it is that we won’t tend to believe the bad thoughts when it applies to those we love. Let’s say for example a friend made a mistake and lost their wallet. We would likely tell them that mistakes happen, or chalk it up to them being overwhelmed with too many other things. We probably would not think that they are stupid, or reckless, or bad just because they lost their wallet. We extend our friends grace because we know they are more than their worst habits and more than their mistakes. So if we can do this for our friends and loved ones, then we ought to try to do it for ourselves too.

Beating ourselves up for a mistake does not actually fix the mistake. In the case of the lost wallet, I could call myself every name in the book and it won’t help me find the wallet. What it will do is make the existing situation worse. This is where we can learn to intervene. Instead of saying mean things to ourselves we can extend grace and try to re-frame the situation. For instance, we might tell ourselves “I’ve been very busy, it was hard to keep track of things.” This type of thought gives context to our mistakes allowing us to know that the situation is temporary. In other situations, we might reflect and realize that we are struggling not because we are not good enough but rather because the situation itself is difficult, and most people would struggle in that situation. We can reframe our mistakes as learning opportunities. Or we can focus on the notion of progress over perfection.

The more grace and kindness we learn to extend towards ourselves the more able we will be to handle difficult situations. Being overly harsh or mean in our self-talk only serves to reduce our feelings of competence, add to anxiety, and make us feel worse. Instead, let’s build ourselves up the way we would a friend. Choose kind thoughts and see if that makes a difference.


by Amanda Trost, LPC-A

Licensed Professional Counselor- Associate  

June 14, 2021

Childhood adversity is tragically common in American society and correlates heavily with an adult’s health, success, and ability to protect the next generation from similar hardships. While the intricacies of an ideal childhood could be debated, it’s typically agreed upon that children need, and should be provided with: safety, stability, unconditional love and respect, support and encouragement, and opportunities to engage with and become successful in the world around them.

Human nature dictates that our parents will be better or worse at providing some of these things than the parents’ of our peers and that our neighborhoods, educational experiences, communities, and other life situations factor in as well. Those of us with trauma often come with a pretty significant range of deficiencies. Those with what is termed ‘good enough’ parents and good enough childhoods also arrive in adulthood with strengths and deficiencies. That’s just the way it is.

These strengths and deficiencies compose the fabric of our relationships with others and draw a roadmap for success or failure. We don’t have to follow that map blindly, but without examining the relationship patterns we emulate or avoid and the wounds we carry, most of us do.

Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings often start by reading over the “Laundry List”, 14 statements that I’ve found are generally true for anyone whose childhood was unstable or unsafe. Touching on themes of isolation, fear of authority, people pleasing, low self-esteem, and warped concepts of guilt, love, and responsibility, reading through the list can be overwhelming. Identifying these weaknesses in ourselves often evokes feeling victimized, angry, and helpless. The “Laundry List” is followed, however, by the reading of its flip side. Through understanding our history, our insights become strengths. Our eyes open, and patterns change. Item 14 on the flip side: we [become] actors, not reactors.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study in the 1990s examined health and social effects of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. It found that as our ACE score goes up, so does our risk for chronic disease, mental health diagnoses, and substance abuse. Exponentially. Adverse experiences however, just like items on the ‘Laundry List’, are only one part of the equation. Protective or resiliency factors such as the presence of a supportive parent or other adult, a sense of community, and strong friendships help mitigate harm.  

As parents, we can help our kids develop resiliency, mitigate harm, and overcome hardship by recognizing factors that put them at risk. We can support them by being available and open for conversation, providing an atmosphere of trust and encouragement, and by providing them with the opportunity to work through obstacles with a licensed professional. It can be hard to put aside guilt and fear when we realize our children have gone through something difficult. It can be hard to acknowledge that as parents we didn’t or weren’t able to protect our children from harm, and it’s helpful for

us to have someone to work through our feelings with as well. By healing ourselves, we pave the way for our children to do the same.

Whether we have children or not, it's important to recognize a history of adversity in our own lives. However, remember that it does not have to define us. It’s never too late to develop resiliency; it’s a lifelong process. Recognizing unhealthy behavior patterns and working to correct them, prioritizing both mental and physical wellness, and fostering supportive relationships are important. A counselor’s assistance as we work to understand the past, its effect on us, and the steps needed to follow the path in life we both want and deserve provide structure, support, and validation.


by Florencia Iturri, Ph.D. 

Post Doctoral Fellow 

May 13, 2021

We’ve all been there, days when everything feels a little too much. Maybe work gave you a new project or life just handed you one more lemon. The temptation for many of us is just to want to avoid the situations that are causing us stress. Of course, that often leads to greater problems later. So while avoidance may help us feel a little better right now, it often leads to us feeling guilty, overwhelmed, and behind later. Avoidance can also have more concrete negative consequences if deadlines are missed. So how do we handle it?

1) Handle your anxiety – Before we can get anything done it is important to get our minds and bodies into a calmer state rather than one of anxiety and panic. “But Dr. Flo I don’t have time for that” you might say. The truth is that we can make time for a little break, and often little breaks help us be more productive with our time later. So take a literal minute to do some deep breathing. Drink a glass of water, stretch your body, say an affirmation, go for a walk if you need it. Remind yourself that you can take charge of your situation. Often it by taking a meaningful break we can re-group faster than you’d imagine. Once you’ve slowed your heart rate, and taken a second let's jump into making an action plan.

2) Identify the tasks – If you can identify the pattern of avoidance it becomes easier to break it. Similarly, we often feel overwhelmed by the things we have to do because we see them all as a big conglomerate. So instead break down the tasks so you know exactly what you have to do. You can do this in a list, plop them into your calendar, use sticky notes, an excel sheet, or whatever system works best for you.

3) Prioritize – Often tasks are overwhelming because we don’t know where to start. In reality, not all things are equally important. Some tasks may be urgent/time-sensitive, some tasks may be important, and some may be both or neither. Not every urgent task is important, and not every important task is urgent. Sometimes this means that we end up filling our schedule with urgent but unimportant tasks which leads to bigger problems long term. By identifying the urgency and importance of each task you will be better able to decide which tasks need to get done first, which tasks can be delegated, or delayed, and which tasks need special attention so they don’t get forgotten.

4) Schedule – Once you have prioritized your tasks, try to set up a schedule so you can see when things can get accomplished. When first scheduling tasks it is important to budget some wiggle room so that if things take longer than expected you can accommodate for that. It is also important that your schedule is not so overbooked that you don’t have time to breathe, eat meals, or otherwise relax. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to get anything done.

5) One at a time – Once you have done your prep work the trick is to avoid avoidance and just start. Sometimes it is best to pick an easy task, or a short one. This can help give you a sense of mastery and completion. Use that momentum to continue working through the rest of your tasks. When you feel overwhelmed refer back to your list of tasks and your schedule. If you need a break, TAKE A BREAK; however, don’t let that break morph into avoidance. Setting a timer for a break can be helpful with this. Because the hardest step in completing a task is often starting the task make deals with yourself to just take it a step at a time. If a task is still too overwhelming, break it down into even smaller steps if you need to.

These steps can be very helpful when you start feeling overwhelmed with the number of tasks you have to do. But some extra tips to remember is that it is okay to ask for help or extensions. It is not only okay to take breaks and rest, but they are also essential. Being mean to yourself (or others) is not the best way to get things done, instead try being kind, encouraging, and patient. And finally, remember to reward yourself, doing hard things (even if you had to do them anyway) can always feel a little better if we have something to look forward to, Like Mary Poppins used to say, “a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.” I believe you can do it, just take a deep breath, and take it a step at a time.


by Florencia Iturri, Ph.D. 

Post Doctoral Fellow 

Ocober 29, 2020

Most parents have been there, they see that something is bothering their teen and they want to give support. Yet, actually talking to them can feel like navigating a mine field because seemingly small things can set them off. At the same time not saying anything feels like the wrong choice as well. So here are my top five tips for engaging with your teenager successfully.

1)Listen – I know what you might be thinking, this one seems obvious, but listening can be harder than it seems. The first thing to remember is that you want to listen to understand not listen to respond. So often with teenagers we think we know exactly what they are feeling because we’ve been teenagers too. But jumping in with advice and reassurance too quickly can make teens feel unheard, misunderstood, and even belittled. So, the first step is to actively listen. Given them your full mental attention and try to stop yourself from thinking of what you want to say in response. This also means paying attention to off-hand comments, and body language. Paying attention does not mean jumping into interrogation mode it means paying attention to the things your teenager thinks are important.

2)Reflect your understanding – This one goes hand in hand with listening and it is how we show we have listened and understood. Reflecting means exactly what it sounds like, to reflect to your teen what you hear them saying. Use their own words to describe their experiences. Provide your understanding. This can look like summarizing what they say, for example, “I’m hearing that you are really stressed out (or another appropriate feeling) because of (insert some of their exact wording).” It can also look like asking questions “There is so much going on in what you’ve shared with me, what is the most upsetting part.” By asking questions and using reflections we help people to feel heard and understood. In doing that you have crossed the first bridge of communication. So often teenagers do not want to hear advice because they believe that no one understands, helping them to feel understood will make them feel less alone and more willing to listen to your perspective.

3)Pick your moment – For so many teens talking to their parents feels awkward, sharing their feelings is hard, and having to explain their problems can feel mortifying. For many parents, the idea of trying to sit down your teen for a heart to heart feels impossible. Research has shown that teenagers respond better to conversations that happen around a shared activity. This can mean cooking, engaging in a shared hobby, playing a game, or even washing the dishes. Having a shared activity to do cuts some of the tension and provides an external reason to be together. Once you find an activity that works you can use that as a regular way to check in. Sometimes the conversations will be serious, sometimes they will be lighthearted. By having a regular and comfortable habit of talking while you do something it will make it easier for teenagers to bring up issues that bother them and it will facilitate conversation.

4)Validate their feelings – Being a teenager is hard, especially now. Sometimes as adults we get so wrapped up in the stress that we feel (bills, work, responsibilities, the world chaos) that it is easy to forget that teenagers have very real concerns, feelings, and stress. Not only are they dealing with trying to manage school work, they are also trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in the world, and how to have healthy relationships with everyone else in their lives (all while their bodies go through significant changes). For many of us it is during our teenage years when we first encounter big emotions, whether it is the pain of the first heart break, the shame that accompanies messing up in front of friends, or the anxiety of not being good enough. Teenage years are when we learn to cope. As adults we often want to make teens feel better by putting their feelings in context. For example, one might say to a newly broken up teenage girl “you’ll have plenty of boyfriends in the future, he isn’t worth your tears.” As adults we might know that first heart breaks don’t often last but for that young girl the sadness and pain is real. As parents the best thing we can do is validate. Letting teenagers know that their feelings are real, normal, and okay. Instead of dismissing feelings try validating phrases such as “That sounds really painful” or “I can understand why you are so anxious.” Let your teen know that it is ok to not be ok.

5)Show praise and affection– Although it might seem like teens don’t care about what you have to say, most of them really want their parents to feel proud. For many teens’ things like depression, anxiety, or trauma can make them feel like they are not worthy of love or like they are not good enough. Parents know that they love their child unconditionally but expressing that to your teen is still necessary. Show affection in ways that feel comfortable to you. When you give praise make sure you praise effort and not just the end result. This will help your teen know that trying is important and encouraged. Tell your teen what you like about them, when you feel proud, or when they pleasantly surprise you. They will appreciate it even if they feel a little embarrassed. If they do something to disappoint or upset you, share those feelings and correct their behavior but also remind them that you continue to love them.

Talking to teenagers can be hard, but it is so important to just keep trying. Hopefully, these tips can help you out in improving that communication. Remember to be kind to yourself as well, you are doing your best!

Everything is Momentary   

by Adriana Gonzalez, LPC 

Licensed Professional Counselor 

March 22, 2020

Considering we are experiencing a nationwide Pandemic it comes to no surprise that many people are struggling to adjust to what is happening around us. Though we do not have control of what is yet to come, we do have control of how we cope with this. Now more than ever it is important to practice ‘self care’ and be mindful of the Corona virus as well as what we can do to take care of ourselves.

Several stressors are associated with the coronavirus right now. These stressors may include: an uncertainty of what’s yet to come as well as job instability, the fear of catching the virus, worry about having enough essential items, and concern over how this may affect us and our loved ones in the future. Though all of these stressors are valid, it’s important to remember that all of this is momentary and we will get through this. In order to have a sense of normalcy in this pandemonium, it is important that we try to create a routine so that we don’t get discouraged.

Begin by making sure that you’re following the protocol concerning the virus but also be aware of your mental state. By creating a routine or a safe space (whether that means going for a walk or waking up at a specific time), it helps to create a sense of peace and in doing so it helps with any anxiety. Another thing to remember is that few times do we get the opportunity to stay at home and be surrounded by loved ones or do things in the home that we have been putting off. For instance, ask yourself, “when was the last time I cleaned out my closet,” or “played board games with my family?” Or “took time to do a hobby, whether that is read,write, or paint?” Lets use this time to ground ourselves and really think about what is really important. For instance, rather than worry about what is yet to come, lets focus on the here and now and how we are coming together in this crisis. Instead of stressing that the kids are not in school or are not learning, maybe they can be taught other things from the people that they care for the most. Do they know how to cook for instance, or do they know how to do laundry? Do they know about finances and how to budget? If not, then maybe this could become a teachable moment. Practicing self care and making sure that there is a healthy balance in your life is essential during this time. Even if it may be difficult, remember that your mindset plays an essential role in how you will react in a state of crisis. Remember the tool set that you may have and trust that together we will overcome this obstacle.

Managing a Stay at Home Family:  Adopting to Family Life Under COVID-19   

by Amanda Trost 

March 21, 2020

Those of us in families adapting to both telecommuting and homeschooling are living in uncharted territory right now. Routines are disrupted and stress levels are high. The following guidelines can help you and your family establish a feeling of stability, control, and connectedness while reducing stress.

1. Hold on to the things that help your family feel normal.

Do you typically drink your coffee in the same spot every morning? Do laundry on a particular day? Walk the dog after dinner? There are so many comforting parts of our normal routine (saying good morning to coworkers, kids seeing their classmates and teachers, eating at our favorite restaurants) that abruptly stopped. Continue the routines you can. Adapt the ones you can’t. Get dressed and ready for the day, even if you aren’t going anywhere. Make sure kids eat breakfast on time. Keep all meal times on school schedules if possible. Watch favorite movies. If you're not able to gather with friends, family, or support groups, find a way to connect online.  If you can't go in person to your regular counseling appointments, schedule a telehealth session.

2. Limit technology.  Prioritize exercise, family time, and recreation.

Studies show that as video game usage goes up, kids experience a loss of focus, trouble relating to peers, and are more likely to show signs of depression. Video games, especially online with friends, can provide a much-needed social outlet right now, but establish limits and stick with them. The same applies to teens texting friends and using social media, as well as our own social media usage and news consumption. We need to feel connected, but smart phone addiction is a serious concern. Spending too much time on devices long term can lead to back problems and nerve damage due to poor posture. Short term overuse leads to stress, symptoms of anxiety and depression, and trouble sleeping, which now, more than ever, we want to mitigate.

Exercise is one way to mitigate stress. Kids aren’t attending gym class or athletics. They aren’t walking to school or the bus stop or between classes. Adults aren’t walking around the office or going to the gym. We probably weren’t exercising enough to begin with. It’s even more important now for our physical and mental health to get moving.

Spend time together as a family. Find activities you enjoy both together and alone. Trying something new engages the brain, develops a sense of satisfaction, and lowers stress. Make sure you aren’t staying inside isolated. Spending time outside has been shown to improve mental clarity, reduce stress, and increase optimism. Go out in the backyard or drive to the park, just keep a distance from others.

3. School work is not a top priority.

As a former teacher, this is really important for me to share with families. In the next few weeks, teachers and schools will be sending instructions for online learning. This is

unprecedented and will not occur without hiccups. Helping kids with school work can be frustrating for adults who have their own work responsibilities and don’t have experience with teaching. It also changes the dynamics of parenting. Avoid power struggles with kids. Listen to their concerns and frustrations with empathy and create a plan for school work together. Monitor them for frustration and aim to make online learning something they look forward to instead of dread. Remind kids that this is new, and if it feels overwhelming, that’s okay. It is okay if they don’t understand directions, and it is okay if they take breaks or don’t end up completing their work. Encourage them to try, and create time in your daily schedule for school work, but stop when it becomes stressful.

It’s possible that communication from teachers and schools may create a sense of urgency for students in completing their assignments. Lowering stress and maintaining family harmony at this point is more important than doing well in school. We have the right to decide how much school work and what expectations are right for our family at this point. Once schools are up and running again, our teachers and administrators will help us catch up. There will be kids who, because they lack internet access, are watching younger siblings, because they struggle with maintaining attention and motivation, or because their stress level is too high, don’t turn in anything while school is out. And that is going to be okay. It will be addressed by the school when we return. Our kids will not fall through the cracks. We are not alone in any struggles we encounter and allowances will be made. If you have a child that struggles with perfectionism or if you or your child have an expectation of straight As, remember, grades do not matter right now. They are not a top priority, and most likely, the work done while kids are out of school will either not be graded or they will have opportunities to improve those grades. Colleges will not deny admission or scholarships because of low grades or missing work in a global pandemic. A child’s academic reputation or chance for a successful future is not going to be made or broken at this time.

4. It is impossible to give 100% right now.

Just as our families may not be able to give our 100% to school, we may not be able to complete our jobs from home to the same standard as we would if we were in the office. Interruptions will happen. Miscommunication will happen. Many of us are experiencing waves of stress, frustration, and feelings of uncertainty, which are bound to affect our job performance and interactions with coworkers.

We also won’t be able to give our all to our children when balancing both work and childcare. They may need us or ask for comfort and attention at times that aren’t convenient for us if we’re working from home.

Spouses are likely to have different reactions to demands of telecommuting and homeschool as well as different reactions to social distancing and different fears connected to COVID-19. You may have too much of your own stress to listen and

support someone else. You may feel your spouse isn’t doing enough to support you. Tempers are more likely to flare in times of stress. Be forgiving.

You may have parents you support or who support you, who have different stressors, needs, and fears.

Forgive yourself if you feel like you aren’t the perfect employee, parent, spouse, child, etc. Forgive yourself if you feel like you aren’t able to do it all. You aren’t. You’re human. If you try to do it all, you also run a very high risk of burning yourself out. Right now, you want to do everything you can to keep yourself and your family healthy, which includes limiting stress.

5. Create a schedule.

Having a stable routine creates a sense of normalcy, reduce arguments about screen time and other activities, and ensure time is allocated for the things that are important. If you aren’t used to eating all your meals at home, it can feel as if you’re suddenly running a restaurant out of your kitchen. Our dishwashers are getting a workout. Evaluate your current household needs, and have kids help. Just as with school, set your kids up for success with chores. Praise them, even if they complain about chores or they don’t vacuum the house to your satisfaction. It might help to remember you don’t have to have a clean house right now: most likely, you won’t have company coming over for a while.

Kids are in school for 7 or more hours a day, but if you subtract lunch, recess, physical education and electives, dismissal and attendance, games and breaks, they really aren’t focusing on actual school work more than a few hours a day. Most homeschool research recommends three or less hours a day, breaks included, for focusing on core subjects. It’s also suggested that a child’s attention span is equal to their age in minutes. Thus, a typical 10-year-old can sustain attention for 10 minutes before needing a break.

For young children, safety and supervision is a top priority. For older children, establish times in which they can interrupt you with questions and times they have to be self-sufficient so that work is interrupted less often. Decide ahead when you will spend time as a family, establish when you have to be at work, and determine when you need time alone to recharge.

6. Communicate that rules will change.

Some families feel comfortable allowing their children to go to friends’ houses right now. Some don’t. Make sure that kids know you’re making the safest decision with the information you’re given right now. Not being able to go out feels a lot like being grounded. Make sure kids know they aren’t in trouble and that staying at home isn’t a punishment. Validate their frustration and let them know that you feel frustrated not allowing them to do the things they want too.

7. Prioritize family meetings and check ins.

Kids may not have the vocabulary to express fears and frustrations. They are probably feeling a lot right now. Check in with them often. Encourage them to ask questions about COVID-19 when they have them, but help them to not hyper-focus on their fears. Validate their concerns, but stay calm. Telling them not to worry and that everything will be okay can feel dismissive and make them less likely to express fears in the future. It’s okay to tell them you don’t have all the answers. Make sure they understand that things they see online or on tv may be based on rumors and share information with them that is developmentally and age appropriate. Remind them that staying away from others that are ill and washing their hands greatly reduces their chances of getting ill. Remind them that most people who catch this virus recover and that we are staying home to be extra careful. Our kids may have fears about us being ill as well. Assure them you are doing your best to stay safe.

We are most likely spending a lot more time together than we ever have as families, which can easily lead to us stepping on each other’s toes. Spend time on a regular basis checking in to see how everyone is doing. Go over family rules and routines, especially if they are changing, and make sure to respectfully address concerns and confusion. Give kids input and choices. Everyone needs to feel like they have some degree of control. Encourage family members to express feelings and work things out instead of having resentments. Don’t minimize fears and questions family members have. Encourage open communication. Perhaps a blessing in disguise is that we have an opportunity to become closer with the people who matter the most to us during this uncertain time.

Why Breathing is the Answer (but probably not the way you do it)! 

by James Matson, LCSW  

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

March 19, 2020

Just Breathe   A simple solution for managing your stress, anxiety or anger. But do you know the most effective way breathing can manage your emotions?

In an age where experts tout meditation as a panacea for all things mental, emotional and physical, you might be surprised to learn that the neuroscience research supports regulated breathing over meditation for anxiety and stress management.

Dr. Stephen Porges, author of Polyvagal Theory, writes that any regulated breathing that tones the Vagus nerve, “tricks” the brain into moving away from the flight, fight, freeze reaction (the parasympathetic response at the core of stress and anxiety) and into a rest, relax and digest mode.

Porges explains that the key to toning the vagus nerve is to exhale longer than you inhale.

A popular example of proper regulated breathing comes from holistic physician, Dr. Andrew Weil. He champions the 4-7-8 breathing technique. 4-7-8 breathing is “utterly simple, takes almost no time, requires no equipment and can be done anywhere.”

4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

· sit with a straight back

· clear your lungs with an exhale through the mouth

· inhale through the nose for a count of four

· hold your breath for a count of seven

· exhale through the mouth for a count of eight

Weil recognizes that the 4-7-8 ratio is more important than rigidly adhering to the count. You may be more comfortable with a longer or shorter count. In his instructions, the exhale is twice as long as the inhale. Porges and Weil agree on this crucial point.

I’ve worked successfully with clients that had anxiety, panic, anger and even dissociation. All have benefited from this regulated breathing technique. It is both an intervention and a practice. I recommend that clients take time out everyday to practice from fifteen to thirty minutes of regulated breathing. But you can also use it to manage your central nervous system as it accelerates into panic or rage.

Porges encourage us to be creative with our vagus nerve toning. For example, he points out that the practice of humming also uses a brief intake of breath, holding and slowly breathing out. So does singing, playing a kazoo and blowing bubbles. Perhaps being playful everyday for thirty minutes is the fun and easiest way into the serious business of emotional regulation.

So now that you know how, Just Breathe...Out Longer than you Breathe In.

Teens on the Spectrum and Establishing Friendships 

by Kiran Mishra, Ph.D.  

Licensed Psychologist

March 11, 2020

Developing and maintaining friendships in the middle school and high school years presents as a challenge for most teens, but for those on the Autism Spectrum, the challenges are usually even greater.   When kids are younger, parents and even teachers generally help with ensuring social connections by doing things such as arranging play dates or not allowing the distribution of birthday party invitations to only some in the classroom.  However, when they enter into the pre-teen and teen years, kids usually form their own friend groups based on such things as interests.  Given the nature of such intensely focused interests or preoccupations of those on the spectrum, they may find it difficult to integrate with other teens during their middle and high school years.  Moreover, reading subtle social cues, reading body language and facial expressions,  and getting things such as jokes are inherently nonintuitive for those on the spectrum, making this even more challenging.  Other things that frequently go along with ASD,  such as stimming, additionally contribute to the challenge of integrating with other teens, as the other teens may perceive the ASD teen as different.   While most pre-teens and teens desperately want to fit in, many if not most on the spectrum are no different.  Due to some of the above-mentioned challenges they may face, teens on the spectrum frequently face feelings of isolation, rejection, low self esteem, and often sadness and anxiety.  Thus, it is important for parents, family members and even teachers/educators to set them up for success as much as possible.  

What can we do to help pre-teens and teens on the spectrum integrate and develop meaningful friendships?  It's first important to ask them how they think and feel about it and whether they would like to have friends and be more integrated with peers, and understand why.  Some on the spectrum crave friendships and sadly, feel alone, while others are happy being more to themselves.  For those that desire friendships, modeling and role playing can be effective in teaching them how to do things such as initiate and maintain conversations with others.  Encourage them to go out of their comfort zone by initiating  rather than waiting to be approached by others.  They can do things such as go and sit with a student they see sitting alone in the cafeteria and begin a conversation.  Additionally, teach your child to stand up for themselves if you see them getting taken advantage of or being bullied.  This will likely help with their self esteem.  Thirdly, because most teens want to blend in rather than stand out, it is helpful to ensure they fit in with their appearance.  This includes hygiene issues and  attire.  It's often a bonus if they have a sibling who is in the know when it comes to things such as pop culture, trends, etc. with their age group.   Another way for them to make connections is to help them get involved in extra-curricular activities.  These may be through school clubs/organizations, school sports, or community activities such as acting classes or group tennis lessons.  These may just be starting points for activities they may really learn to enjoy and develop, while also allowing them to be part of a group of peers that will hopefully foster enhancement of social skills and friendships.  Encouragement to push outside of their comfort zones from supportive adults and siblings can be very important.    

While this topic warrants more attention, these are simply a few things you can do to assist your teen in making and developing friends.  Other resources are available to help pre-teens and teens such as  individual therapy and group therapy (which can help with social skills in a group setting).   Sugar Land Counseling Center offers both of these therapies.  We have an ongoing middle school group and a high school group and hope to help kids, teens, and all on the spectrum.  Sugar Land Counseling Center also provides psychological testing to determine diagnosis of Austism Spectrum Disorder. 

On Perfectionism

by Amanda Trost, Graduate Student 

February 12, 2020

When we crack open a fortune cookie at the end of a meal, it’s not the stale, folded up, cardboard-textured wafer that holds the appeal; it’s the message inside that we look forward to, tearing into it eagerly, searching for some deeper meaning, or maybe just good lotto numbers. My favorite fortune cookie message is one that reminds me not to be so hard on myself. It reads, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” This is a message worth memorizing for those who struggle with perfectionism.

While we live in a society in which academic and career achievement are prized, there are times in life when it’s okay to be naïve, inconsistent, or flat out wrong. Not only is it okay to be these things, doing so allows us to learn. It seems logical that in order to succeed at something, we have to first try, to practice, and accept a high probability of failure. In Emerson’s words, every artist was once an amateur.

Additionally, it’s okay to make mistakes even in areas you have had plenty of experience and practice. Humans are just that – human. We make mistakes and become better versions of ourselves because of them. We become more experienced, develop humility, are reminded of our humanity, and can then practice good judgment because of our imperfections. Understanding this doesn’t mean we ignore mistakes though. When clients come in struggling with perfectionism, they have already overdone it analyzing the situation and feeling shame.

There’s a difference between striving for your best and beating yourself up when you fail to reach your goals. Goals give us motivation. Done right, we realize a goal is an experiment external to our sense of self, something we can try-out and attempt to reach as a part of living life fully. Failing to reach a goal doesn’t equate to failure in life. Done right, goals help us feel a sense of satisfaction when we work towards, meet, or exceed them. Done wrong, we accept nothing less than perfection and can easily turn into people-pleasers, workaholics or procrastinators, and be crippled by anxiety or depression.

Often, perfectionism is seen as a badge of honor. We hear others humblebrag about their perfectionist ways. Perfectionism is not, however, a super-power. It develops as a compensation for insecurities and fear of the unknown. 

One part of the solution lies in just that: embracing feelings of shame, judgment, and blame. Feel these things when you make a mistake or fall short of your goals, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that they are universal human feelings. You are not alone.

Evaluating the appropriateness of these feelings helps, too. Many people find the 10-year question helpful. Will the failure you’re worried about right now make an impact in 10 years? Sometimes, the impact of a mistake is serious. Often, consequences aren’t as dire as we initially believe they may be. Have you convinced yourself that one mistake (or even a series of mistakes) will ruin your life? Have you blown a particular failure out of proportion? Will you really be fired or flunk out of school, is a relationship actually now beyond repair? Give yourself a reality check. Now would be a good time to remind yourself of the things you are proud of, the past accomplishments you have made, or the potential that you have to try again. Then, you can make a level-headed decision to move on and let go of the situation or get on track to fix it.

If necessary, make peace with your current stage of life. Be who you are now. If you fail to reach perfection at a developing skill, remind yourself you are not an expert just yet. Reframe the way you speak to yourself, and focus on mistakes as a process instead of final results. Realize that you are an individual, the factors determining your success are multidimensional, and you are no less worthy of love or acceptance than anyone else. Remember to give yourself love and acceptance.

It may also help to think back to the fortune cookie. It’s not the outside (the results, the imperfection, the nasty tasteless cookie) that holds novelty, it’s the message and meaning (who you are as a person, your willingness to try again, and the ability to trust life’s process) inside.

Navigating Your Child's Needs

by Sunetra Martinez, Ph.D., LPC-S

Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor

October 24, 2019

Understanding a child’s needs in school is a challenge faced by many parents and educators. From the time a child enters pre-school to the time you see them walk across the stage to get their diploma, you wonder if you are doing everything in your power to help your child. We all know that every child is different and learn differently and parents and educators must acknowledge this in order to best help the child. Every youngster, no matter where they are in their journey in school, has various challenges that they must tackle to be successful and happy. School success is not only about grades but also enjoying the process of learning.

Research indicates that between 2006 and 2008, 1 in 6 children in the United States have been identified to have a disability. The CDC reported that between 2014 and 2016, the prevalence of children being diagnosed with developmental disabilities increased from 5.76% to 6.99%. These disabilities include, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disability, autism, cerebral palsy, seizures, stuttering or stammering, moderate to profound hearing loss, blindness, learning disorders, and/or other developmental delays. According to the CDC, in 2018 approximately 1 in 59 children were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2.

Often it is difficult to figure out if a child is showing signs of attention problems, anxiety, and/or other developmental delays. Sometimes a child is just being a child and may need a few years to develop their cognitive and social-emotional skills to be successful in school and regulate their behaviors. Learning that your child may need additional support in and/or outside of school can be tough and knowing where to start is even more daunting.

Older kids and adolescents have their own struggles as well. Current research has suggested that social media and electronic devices may be associated with a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in our teens. In order to better help our youth with the changing of times, we must better educate ourselves in being their biggest advocates, to help them succeed in life. Figuring out what that support looks like and how to navigate those resources are essential.

We can help you learn about different services that are available to you, such as 504 accommodations and Special Education services and what it all means. Some kiddos may need to learn some strategies to help them cope by seeing the school counselor or an outside therapist. Sometimes knowing what options are out there can help calm your anxiety as well as that your child’s. They say it takes a village to raise a child, we want to make sure that you have all the right folks in your village!!

On Overcoming Hardships and Trauma

By Amanda Trost, Graduate Student

September 19, 2019

“Never allow legitimate excuses to get in the way of your progress.” I copied down these words and taped the paper they were written on to the back of my closet door in 2013, after hearing them in a speech that changed both my personal and professional outlook. Each day since, my morning includes a visit with these words, which never fail to inspire satisfaction for the obstacles I overcame and eager anticipation of those I have yet to attempt to address or encounter.

I thank motivational speaker Jonathan Grant Brown for the sign on my closet door. He coined what is now my mantra throughout his story of setbacks and resilience. Jonathan’s mother abandoned him in a public park when he was 5. Life then handed him one disappointment after another until he began to use them not as reasons to fail but reasons to excel.

Listening to the way his story served as a catalyst for helping others, I was moved to think about my own story. I am myself a child abuse survivor. I’ve seen first-hand the destruction that alcoholism and mental illness can inflict on a family. There were nights I slept on park benches, covered in mosquito bites and took handouts from strangers just to eat. I started wearing makeup to cover up bruises, not because I wanted to fit in with my friends. Because abuse often goes hand in hand with the unwritten rules of “don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel” (, I never questioned why things were the way they were and never admitted to myself that there was anything wrong with the way the people who loved me treated me. As a young adult, I found myself in a situation equally dysfunctional to the one I grew up in. I was repeating the cycle. It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that I was able to live as Jonathan does, and begin to refuse to allow legitimate excuses to get in the way of my progress, that things began to change.

My story contains elements I felt shaky and uncomfortable even starting to examine, but each time I share it, from working on understanding in my own counseling to speaking in front of an audience, elements of shame continue to turn into pride and resilience. Through fully embracing the events that made me who I am today, hardships are turned into building blocks. There are still times that I struggle, when old patterns of thinking emerge, where I say or do something I regret based on outdated fears, and I know that this is a product of my past. The beautiful part is though, that I continue to get better at catching myself, and I continue to get better at being kinder to myself and those around me.

Another beautiful part is that people who have heard me speak often tell me that my story inspires and reminds them that they have the capacity to do the same. It was this realization, that authenticity is contagious, that drastically changed my approach to teaching and turned me from a struggling new educator, clueless about content and classroom management, to a district curriculum writer and teacher of the year. Refusing to allow legitimate excuses to get in the way of my progress meant that I faced issues head on instead of living in denial, an approach I modeled and used with my students. My classroom became a place of empowerment for students, and seeing them gain clarity and passion for tackling their own obstacles and reframing them from liabilities to assets filled me with a sense of purpose. In transitioning from education to a career in counseling, I am able to provide that place of empowerment for others in a different capacity.

By adopting the mindset that even legitimate excuses don’t have to hinder our progress, we develop a sense of resilience and a knowledge that we can go through hard things and end up okay. Whatever obstacles, whatever traumas, tragedies, hardships, or injustices you have had to endure, or whatever traumas, tragedies, hardships, or injustices you have yet to endure, you have it in you to recover and to use them as instruments of understanding, perseverance, and success.

Elements of Change

by Tim Coulter, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

January 18, 2019

Transitioning from one stage of life to the next can often be daunting and confusing. Whether your transition is related to eliminating unhealthy relationships, changing your career, attaining personal goals, or any number of other areas, developing a plan to guide your transition can make the change less scary and easier to obtain. Today we’ll explore four different areas that all play a vital role in your transition. The four areas are: 1) a healthy sense of urgency, 2) reviewing options and paths to achieve them, 3) accepting the necessity of change, and 4) focusing on realistic goals and making plans in line with those goals. Most of us recognize that change needs to be made, but are ambivalent about actually making the change. We’re faced with a tough fork in the road – the pain the comes with staying the same on one route and the pain that change brings on the other. Having a plan that includes the four areas above can make the path to change clearer, less anxiety provoking, and more attainable.

Let’s start by exploring what it means to have a healthy sense of urgency. Healthy is the key word here! Most of us fall into the trap of either doing far too little or trying to do far too much, all at once. Clearly, procrastination is a big enemy of change, but a little less clearly lurks another enemy - fatigue. Procrastination - we’ve all been there! We know that a relationship is unhealthy or that we aren’t happy with our job, but keep putting off the tough conversation or the job search. On one hand, tough conversations can lead to awkwardness and rejection and job searching can be exhausting and also full of rejection. On the other hand, unhealthy relationships lead to stress and anxiety and employment that is draining you of life can lead to unhappiness and lethargy. Let’s look at fatigue using the same too scenarios – by having too many tough conversations or rushing those conversations the result can be emotionally draining and create tiredness and by applying for 50 jobs a day the chance of feeling rejected and unmotivated increase. Having a healthy sense of urgency not only reminds you of the need to change, but also keeps you focused by warding off procrastination and fatigue. Finding motivation by either digging deep or with the help of a therapist can heighten your sense of urgency and help you boldly continue down the scary path of change. Do too little and the situation you’re in will continue to bog you down; do too much and you can wear yourself out. Identifying what healthy transitions look like and strategies to maximize your efforts are crucial in maintaining a pace that will move you towards your goals without making the process super painful and tiresome. This is an area that partnering with your therapist can provide a tremendous benefit. Together the two of you can identify what your true motivations are, how to tap into that motivation, and can set clear boundaries to keep your sense of urgency healthy.

The next area we’re going to explore is reviewing options and paths to achieve them. Many people feel that there is only one way that conflict can be resolved or only one type of job they can do. The limiting self-statements that we’ve learned to make over the years are a big hindrance in identifying which options are available and how we’re going to get there. For example, some parents feel the only way to get through to their teenage child is by punishment or some other version of external control. This becomes a way of being rather than thinking through other options that might lead to a more mutually beneficial and attractive result. Very rarely is there only one path or one strategy to make the changes that you want to make. Take a minute to imagine a mountain climber who is tackling Mount Everest. If the mountain climber only focuses on the peak and ignores the many, many steps it takes to get there, the chances of succeeding drop significantly. Due to a number of challenges including weather, acts of nature, and overall difficulty the climber can’t expect to reach the peak without deviating from the initial plan. If the climber refuses to reevaluate and adjust the chances of success, again, diminish greatly. The more successful approach includes focusing on the step that is right in front of the climber, analyzing how that immediate step relates to the overall goal, and making adjustments as needed. By looking only at the peak, one can lose sight of the process! Taking time to analyze your current strategy and enlisting the help of your counselor to talk through potential alternative strategies is an excellent way to uncover new options and outline the exact steps those options need.

Accepting the necessity of change is one of the biggest challenges we’ll explore. Many times people have an image in their mind of what something or someone is and it can be really challenging to divorce oneself from that image. A perfect example is someone who is in a bad relationship and romanticizes the concept of being in a relationship rather than analyzing how that relationship is related to their unhappiness. Accepting that something in your life has to change can be tough and your therapist can help you with it. The first step is recognizing that the situation your in does not match your skills/talents/desires/values. If you feel unsatisfied in any aspect of your life, there may be a need to change something.

Some changes require multiple steps over an extended period of time and other changes need more immediate action. Regardless of what area in your life you want to transition out of, one of the best strategies is to set realistic goals and makes plans. Remember the mountain climber I mentioned before? Do you think he or she tackles the climb without a plan in place? No one can expect to immediately reach the peak of the “mountain” they’re climbing without having realistic goals and making plans. Let’s say you’re single and looking for the right romantic relationship that will satisfy all your needs. If you take no action, what are the chances your perfect 10 knocks on your door and immediately transports you to relationship heaven? Not very high. You can, however, make a realistic plan to increase your exposure both in person and online and set realistic goals of how and when your plan will evolve. So what is a realistic goal anyway? A realistic goal is attainable (is this actually possible?), measurable (how will I know when I’ve reached this goal?), and time bound (when should I be able to reach this goal?). Many goals fail simply because they are not broken down into small enough pieces. Having a therapist to guide you, help hold yourself accountable, and help you break down each step of your journey can be immensely helpful.

What changes do you want to make? What transitions need to happen to give you a more satisfying and meaningful life? These questions can be tough to answer and even harder to take action on. We’re here to help! In collaboration with you, we can put together a plan that helps you identify and accept the transitions that need to take place, how to approach them with an appropriate sense of urgency, what your current options look like, and a plan that helps you set realistic goals and a path to achieve them. Don’t wait for January 2020 to take the first step in conquering your mountain!  

Stress and Anxiety
by Charlotte Parrott, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist

November 21, 2018

Stress and anxiety both involve our body’s sympathetic nervous system, which is part of the unconscious nervous system that regulates bodily functions such as the heart rate, breathing, and digestion. When you perceive danger, the sympathetic nervous system reacts causing a fight or flight response where physical and hormonal reactions prepare you for running away or defending yourself from the threat. Because they involve the same physical system, stress and anxiety can share similar physical symptoms, including worry, trouble sleeping, fatigue, upset stomach, racing heartbeat, and irritability. 

Stress is often sparked by things outside ourselves like work deadlines, big events, parenting challenges, and busy schedules. Short-term stress in and of itself isn’t  necessarily a bad thing, but chronic stress can be harmful to your health and your wellbeing. There are many practical steps you can take to better manage stress: learning relaxation and deep breathing techniques, practicing mindfulness, journaling, and exercising can all be helpful in reducing the impact of stress. 

When does stress become something more? Unlike stress, which decreases when you’re crossing things off your To Do List, anxiety is a higher state of physiological arousal that does not easily go away. Even simple things can feel overwhelming when you’re anxious and it can be hard for you to function in your life. Anxiety can take on many different forms including strong physical feelings of anxiety like panic attacks, worries that make it hard for you to be around other people, excessive worry that doesn’t seem to go away, or intrusive memories of traumatic events. Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness, affecting over 40 million Americans every year.

Whether you’re coping with stress or anxiety, therapy is a powerful tool that can help you get back to your life. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a present-focused, goal-oriented therapy that helps you examine the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are negatively impacting your life. If you’re struggling with stress, CBT can help you find solutions to problems, learn strategies to reduce symptoms of physical stress, and learn to think about stressors in a healthy and resilient way. If you’re struggling with anxiety or the effects of chronic stress, research has shown CBT to be an effective and efficient therapy for reducing anxiety and improving your mood. Therapy for anxiety can involve identifying goals or things that trigger your worry, learning to reframe automatic negative thoughts, and desensitizing yourself to the outsized physical reactions that can accompany anxiety. Beginning therapy can feel daunting, but it can be an important step to regaining quality of life.

Showing Them You Care

by Adriana Gonzalez

Licensed Professional Counselor

May 1, 2018

We live in a society in which everything is so fast paced, that we at times have a hard time making time for the things that are the most important to us. How many of us have missed those special moments with our loved ones because of a deadline at work or because we are too tired to interact with each other? Or how many of us have gotten too stuck in the technology or social world that we are not able to see what the people infront of us really need? We are very aware of what our friends on social media are doing, however when the time comes for us to disconnect and have quality time with our family and friends, it becomes a hard task at hand. Think about it...when was the last time that you and your loved ones actually sat around and talked without having some form of electronics being present (tv, playstation, phone, etc)? Or the last time that you went out without having the need to check into a social media site while you’re at a lunch or dinner? Or when was the last time you just sat down to get to know some of the important things that are going on in your kids’ or family’s lives? Something that could be done to better enhance this moment would be to have a “power hour” in which no electronics are allowed for that hour. This can be done over dinner, and the person that gets the phone first, washes dishes for example or it can be done on a date night with your significant other, or with a group of friends. This is done to have quality time with each other and to not take those special moments for granted and it allows for the family to better know each other.

As parents, this is especially important because you have to constantly be aware of what your kids are doing and how they are being affected by what is around them. Who are they connecting with? Are they happy in their class, are they getting along with their friends? Are they being bullied? What do they want to be when they grow up, etc? However, how many parents are actually sitting with their kids and asking the question: is there anything that you need from me? This is not a question based on materialistic things, but more so about what they need emotionally from you. Do they need you to start listening to them more? Do they need you to change the delivery of what you say to them so that they dont get anxious when you yell at them? Do they need more support? More affection, etc?

By asking this question, you are showing your kids and spouses that you love them and care about their voice and at the same time you’re showing them that you’re only human and are able to make mistakes. I’ve noticed that these types of questions greatly help family members because by being able to understand what you need, you are able to ask for it and it better enhances the relationship. For example, when talking to families I often ask, how does mom or dad show you that they love you? How do you show someone that you love them? Often times i’ll get answers like “they tell me,” “they hug me, kiss me, etc.” BUT more times than not, I get the “i dont know...i just know.” It’s important to note that just because we show love in a specific way, it doesnt mean that it’s perceived in that way. Loving someone doesnt just mean saying the words. It can also be present by saying, “please text me when your flight gets in,” or “dont forget to take the sweater since we’re getting a cold front” or by picking up their favorite candy from store. Also, loving someone may not just be about what you need them to understand. For example, even in your busy schedule, are you going to the basketball games, spelling bees, dance recitals? If so, are you fully present? I say this because trust me when I say that your kids are noticing it. It’s up to us as adults to be the best version of ourselves because you never know who is watching you or following own ways. Please never take those moments for granted because one day you will look back and think “why didnt i change this?” Be able to change these small things now that you have a chance to.

Getting through the Holidays with Grace

by Danielle Hale, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

November 21, 2017

Are you worried about getting through the holidays?  Feeling like everybody around you is happy, but you?  Then keep reading.  Sometimes it seems like everybody else has happy family plans and is excited about the hustle and bustle of shopping during the holidays – but for some of us, the whole holiday thing is overrated.  Maybe you’re stressed about how much it’s going to cost, or maybe you are missing somebody special that you would like to spend the holidays with, maybe the stress of getting everything right is just too much, or maybe you know you’re going to have to see family members that make you angry and upset or maybe it’s all of the above or something else entirely.  Let’s talk about what we can do to find some peace and maybe even a little bit of joy.

One thing you can try is to set some boundaries around how much time, energy, or money you’re going to spend doing this or that so you don’t burn yourself out.  We all have limited amounts of physical and emotional energy and if we use it all up cooking, we won’t have any left for visiting with family, or shopping or the rest.  So give it some thought ahead of time.  Limit the cooking to those dishes you really love and delegate the rest to someone else or to the neighborhood grocery store.  Limit how many hours you’re going to spend doing Black Friday shopping on Thursday or Friday or Saturday.  You might miss few sales, but enjoying a special moment with one of your favorite people will give you energy instead of subtracting from it.  We also may have to limit the amount of money we spend during this time.  It’s easy to get caught up in our materialistic culture and to feel guilty if we can’t buy our loved one those things we think they need or want.  Remind yourself that in the end what we all need most from each other is emotional support.  We need someone to listen and to care about us and maybe even help us out physically once in awhile.  Consider what it is you really want and you’ll probably discover that it’s not some expensive gift.  If that’s true for you, it’s probably true for others.  The only thing we have unlimited amounts of is love!  The thing we all want most and we have lots and lots of it to go around! How amazing is that!

If some of your family members get on your nerves, limit how much time you’re going to spend with them.  An hour or two having dinner with gratitude and kindness is better than 6 hours or 2 days of arguing and fighting.  Remember that people are who they are.  Aunt Jane and Uncle Sylvester are not likely to have changed in the months since you saw them last.  Aunt Jane is probably still way too cheerful and Uncle Sylvester is probably still negative and cutting with every remark he makes.  Ah well.  Give it up.  You can’t change them.  But you don’t have to let them get to you and ruin your mood either.  You have power to control how you think and feel.  They have no power over you.  Remember that sometimes when people are irritating, it may be because they remind us of ourselves!  Or it may be that they’re hurting and sad inside and all the prickles on the outside are just their way of protecting themselves.  If they are being mean to you, they are probably mean to everybody and think about how difficult that makes their life.  Practice compassion for them and for yourself. Be kind always.

If you’re missing someone who has died or moved away from your life or is not able to be with you, think of a way to remember them with kindness and love.  Send them love and kindness wherever they are by doing something that they would enjoy or have a special remembrance table or dish or picture or set a chair in the corner of the room and imagine them there with you.  What would they say? What would they do?  What joke would they make?  What music would they play or song would they sing?  Don’t fight against the memories, welcome them in.  Be grateful that person has been in your life.  Let yourself cry if you need to or laugh if you are able at some funny memory the two of you shared.  Love is a good and rare thing.

Most of all, take care of yourself.  Be kind and compassionate with all your stresses and irritations and limitations.  You are human too after all.  Take time for a walk with the youngest or the oldest.  Enjoy the good smells.  Feel the cool air.  Notice the clouds and the trees.  Take some deep breaths.  Be present in the moment.  Things will work themselves out.  They always do.  One way or another.  You’re ok right now.

Why Sports Make Us Happier

by Nicole Dorsey, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

November 2, 2017

Wow! The Houston Astros win their very first World Series Championship in franchise history. After everything that Houstonians experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, rooting for our favorite baseball team has been a welcome distraction for many of us. #HoustonStrong became the motto for all of us and we felt united as a community. Today, the day after this historic win, many of us can’t wipe that smile off our faces and others have cried tears of joy for their beloved Astros. But, why are we all so emotional over a game? Next year, there will be another winning team (although we hope the Astros can become back-to-back champions) and another city will experience this high. Well, believe it or not, there are actually scientific reasons why sports make us happier.

In an article published by the Huffington Post (12/10/14; updated 12/18/14), it was reported that the team at Happify has looked at these reasons. Happify is a website and app which aims at using science to create games and activities to help individuals develop better emotional health and wellbeing. They have found that being a sports participant can be beneficial, but also that being a sports fan is good for our well-being!

So, what is so great about playing a sport?

Research shows that playing sports makes both women and men happier.

Girls and boys who play on team sports are more satisfied with their lives than kids      who don’t, according to a study of 7th- and 8th graders.

Kids who play sports also have higher self-esteem and are less depressed.

It is not just being active that makes kids happy. The social interaction of a team boosts spirits.

Playing on a sports team can also provide the long-lasting benefits of improving how  well we communicate and how good we are at cooperating.

OK, that is all well and good. But, what about for someone like me, who has never had the coordination or skill level that it takes to play a sport? Well, that’s OK, since being a sports fan can be emotionally satisfying as well!  Studies consistently show that people who call themselves sports fans tend to have lower rates of depression, less stress, and higher self-esteem than non-sports fans.  Fans of local teams are generally happier than fans of non-local teams.  Why? Daniel Wann, Ph.D. says that it creates opportunities for social bonding. It can lead to close friendships and the feeling that you are part of a community. I have to admit, it has been fun to share the excitement of the Astros through social media. It feels good to celebrate together, even if it is on Facebook!

Research from Oregon State University suggests that we enjoy watching sports more when we’re given the players’ backstories and we have someone to root for (or against). I’m from Illinois and I love the fact that J.J. Watt is also from the Midwest. I’ve been to Wisconsin more times than I can count. We totally have a special connection, don’t we?!

Football fans love the game best when their team almost loses – the suspense makes it more thrilling, say researchers at Ohio State University.  I’m sure this probably holds true for other sports as well. I mean, Game 5 of this past World Series, with a score of 13-12 in the 10th inning, was one of the most exciting wins ever!

Psychologists say that for fans, watching sports games triggers the release of the feel-good brain chemical, dopamine.  But, on the flip side, studies show that what’s happening on the field can affect our stress-hormone levels.  For example, Los Angeles saw a jump in cardiac deaths after the Rams lost the Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980. Four years later, when the LA Raiders took home the championship, cardiac deaths declined.

Hardcore fans can go through withdrawal when the games end.  If you get too agitated during games when things aren’t going your way, Ken Yeager, professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, suggests that you:

Drink a little less

Don’t bet on games

Turn the TV down

Avoid other rabid fans

As much fun as it is to root for our favorite teams, it is important to for us to recognize when we are getting too caught up in winning the game or the score.

It has been a fun ride with the Astros this season. We also can’t forget our Houston Dynamo, as they continue in the Major League Soccer semifinals. It is still fairly early in the season for our Texans and Rockets, but we will hopefully continue to have plenty to cheer for in the coming months.   At the very least, we will look back on 2017 as the year of Hurricane Harvey, but also as the year that we were #HoustonStrong and our Astros won it all!

A link to the original article (with references) can be found here:

Resilience In Middle Age

by Danielle Hale, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

August 23, 2017

I recently read an article from the New York Times about building resilience in Midlife.  Read More.  I was excited to see this article because I did a lot of research on resilience when I was in graduate school. The idea of resilience is that some people are able to bounce back even when bad things happen.  Well, some people, sometimes!  We all have a breaking point and sometimes we reach it and it’s very very hard to bounce back.  But I think we can build a “habit” of resilience by doing a few things regularly. 

Tara Parker-Pope suggests:  1) Practice Optimism; 2) Rewrite Your Story; 3) Don’t Personalize It; 4) Remember Your Comebacks; 5) Support Others; 6) Take Stress Breaks; and 7) Go Out of Your Comfort Zone.

I think all of these are great advice, but the one that struck me the most was to go out of your comfort zone.  I hate this advice!  Because I like being comfortable! I like having my little routines and schedules, e.g. make breakfast on Saturday morning, start the laundry, clean the kitchen, straighten the house, etc.  I like my Saturdays to be very predictable.  But if I had not gone out of my comfort zone, I would not be doing some things that have been really helpful to my middle life!   About a year ago I went a yoga class for the first time ever.  I was scared to death.  I am not a physical person and I was always the last person chosen in PE in elementary school, so I really didn’t want to go!  But I went anyway.  And it was so helpful. I learned so many things about myself and about yoga and my very interesting yoga instructor taught me about meditation and provided a class that taught me how to really meditate instead of pretending to meditate!  Because we all know we should meditate, right!  And I also forced myself to go to a book club on I was also scared about that!  But it’s been such a lovely addition to my life and I have met many friends there.  Another thing I didn’t want to do was go to a small group at my place of worship.  A singles small group.  I was scared.  I thought it would be weird.  I thought I wouldn’t have anything in common with the other people.  I was so wrong!  It has been such a delight!  And again I’ve met some very cool people – not what I thought at all.  So.  Here’s what I’ve learned: If it’s really hard and you’re really scared, do it anyway!  Get out of your comfort zone!  After you get out of it once, then it’s not so uncomfortable anymore.  The experience may build your resilience so when life throws hard things at you, you’ll be emotionally and physically ready for them.  And, most important, you’ll meet interesting people and have more fun.

Danielle Hale, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist

What is Trauma?

by Nicole Dorsey, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

April 29, 2017

What is Trauma?

These days, we seem to hear quite a bit about violence in society and we hear a lot

What are some examples of traumatic experiences?

There are a wide variety of situations that could lead to a traumatic experience, and often involve a situation in which an individual fears for his or her safety, or for the safety of others.

* Sexual Assault or sexual abuse

* Domestic violence or physical abuse

* Natural disasters (hurricanes, flooding, tornados)

* Severe illness or injury

* The death of a loved one

* Witnessing an act of violence

* Vehicle accident

In addition to life-threatening situations, there are other experiences that are so emotionally difficult, that individuals hope to never experience that again, such as a divorce, a major move, or an incident of sexual harassment. Some individuals have felt traumatized by these experiences and might experience many of the same symptoms as individuals who experienced life-threatening events.

Common reactions after trauma (The National Center for PTSD)

The National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) indicates that after going through a trauma, survivors often say that their first feeling is relief to be alive. This may be followed by stress, fear, and anger. Trauma survivors may also find they are unable to stop thinking about what happened. Many survivors often feel that they are constantly "on alert", which causes them to be very sensitive to sounds and sights around them.

Reactions to a trauma may include:

* Feeling hopeless about the future

* Feeling detached or unconcerned about others

* Having trouble concentrating or making

* Feeling jumpy and getting startled easily at sudden noises

* Feeling on guard and constantly alert

* Having disturbing dreams and memories or flashbacks

* Having work or school problems

You may also experience more physical reactions such as:

* Upset stomach or trouble eating

* Difficulty sleeping and feeling tired

* Pounding heart, rapid breathing, feeling edgy

* Sweating

* Severe headache if thinking of the event

* Excess smoking, alcohol, drugs, food

* Ongoing medical problems worsen

You might also have more emotional difficulties, such as:

* Feeling nervous, helpless, fearful, sad

* Feeling shocked, numb, and not able to feel love or joy

* Avoiding people, places, and things related to the event

* Being irritable or having outbursts of anger

* Becoming easily upset or agitated

* Blaming yourself or having negative views of oneself or the world

* Distrust of others, getting into conflicts, being over-controlling

* Being withdrawn, feeling rejected, or abandoned

* Loss of intimacy or feeling detached

Getting help

For some individuals, working through their trauma is simply a matter of time. But, for many people, time alone is not enough. If you find that your symptoms are interfering with daily life activities or they are lasting for longer than you think they should, it might be time to seek outside help. That might simply be allowing yourself to accept help from your friends and family, or to participate in a support group, or to finding someone who can provide individual psychological and/or psychiatric treatment for you. Seeking help does not mean that you are weak. It means that you have made a decision to take back control of your life and your emotions. It is also important to find something that works for you. Some people prefer to work through their problems with a group of people who have similar experiences, while others prefer to meet one on one with a therapist. Even different therapists will have different approaches and everyone responds to treatment differently. You will likely need to make several decisions along the way, such as whether or not medication is right for you. It is important to discuss these decisions with your treatment provider in order to develop the most effective treatment plan for you. It is also important to remember that a traumatic experience is always going to be a part of your life experience. You are not expected to simply forget about what happened to you. However, the goal is for you to be able to continue to live your life in a way that brings you joy and happiness.

Nicole Dorsey, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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