7 Tips For Building A Better Body Image As An Adult

When you catch a glimpse of your reflection in a window, or see yourself in a new picture that a friend posts on social media, what thoughts immediately come to mind?

Are they generally positive (I look so happy!), or more negative (Well, at least everyone else looks good)?

If they are positive, that’s great! But if they’re not, you’re not alone. Many of us struggle to feel happy with the way that we look, especially when it comes to our bodies.

While getting older may bring with it a certain sense of self-acceptance and the ability to reject the unrealistic beauty ideals that we see around us, aging also brings with it a new set of challenges to our self-esteem. You know — the messages and products that encourage us to “minimize those wrinkles” and “cover up those grays.”

“You can be reading a magazine and on one page there’s an article about how to love yourself the way you are, and then you flip the page and there’s an ad for a diet plan or an anti-aging cream.

All of those messages can be discouraging. But making some tweaks to your thought patterns can help you get back on the road to a positive body image. Start with these ideas.

Show some appreciation

A good place to start is to refocus your self-talk. Rather than nitpicking over the appearance of your body, try recognizing and appreciating the amazing things that it does for you every day. Appreciate that your strong arms allow you to carry your child and the diaper bag and the groceries up the stairs in one trip. Or that your skilled hands prepared an amazing dinner.

Record the positives

Here’s a little homework assignment: Write down five things you love about your personality. Easy, right? You’re a great listener and incredibly giving when it comes to helping others.

Now list five things you love about your body. “For most people, it’s easier to do the first, but it’s equally important to do the second.” Putting your feelings into written words (the old fashioned way!) helps you process your thoughts and commit things to memory.

Create little reminders

Write positive affirmations, goals or words of gratitude on sticky notes or note cards and putting them in places where you’ll see them throughout the day – the bathroom mirror, your wallet or by your computer at work. Remind yourself of your positive qualities, skills and goals.

Commit to doing things that make you feel good

Life is about so much more than how we look. Yet, how we feel about our bodies can dictate our mood and our behaviors. Have you ever canceled plans when you’re feeling bad about yourself? Resist the urge. Spending time with friends who aren’t focused on body image may actually help quiet your own body dissatisfaction.

Studies also show that exercise, yoga and helping others are great self-esteem boosters.

Occupy your mind

“We have another exercise that asks people to live their life as if they had 12 months, 5 days, 1 hour or 30 seconds to live,” Dr. Peterson says.

“In these circumstances, you would most likely focus on people, places and things that you love and that make you feel good – not on how your body looks.”

Don’t fear the mirror

If you have unhappy thoughts about how you look, you might find yourself dodging anything that shows your reflection. But, “avoidance breeds avoidance.” Ignoring those unhappy feelings won’t make them go away. She suggests noticing those negative thoughts that come to mind when you see yourself in the mirror, and applying the above tactics to turn them around.

Shut down the comparison game

Comparing your own body to others’ may be the quickest way to send your self-esteem plummeting. Instead, objectively admire the good qualities you notice in other people, and make a point to compliment them – it will make both of you feel good.

Feeling good at all sizes

It’s beneficial to love your and appreciate body no matter your shape or size.

In fact, if you’re overweight and taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, research suggests that’s even more of a reason to work on building a healthy body image.

In one study of girls who were overweight, those with the highest levels of body satisfaction gained less weight after 10 years than those who were least satisfied with their bodies. Another study found that obese women who improved their body image were also better able to self-regulate their eating.

There’s no wrong time to work on feeling more comfortable in your own skin.

Need more help?

If you ever feel that your negative body image is affecting you in a distressing or disruptive way, reach out to schedule a FREE INITIAL CONSULT with one of our body image experts, info@hillarycounseling.com!

Megan Anderson’s Finding Balance In Caring For Yourself And The Planet

It always starts with a 30-minute phone call. I introduce myself to the stranger on the other end and welcome them to the consultation process, quickly sketching out what to expect from such a brief interaction. Then, I offer up a gentle invitation. I ask for a glimpse of what brings them to therapy and wonder, “What was the moment you thought you might benefit from the therapy space?”

As a millennial therapist, I can only imagine how people may have responded to this initial bid for connection a decade ago. Lately, I increasingly hear strangers practically rattle off their experiences with anxiety and depression as a result of what is happening in the world around them. This happens before we even have our first official session penciled in the calendar.

Of course, these disclosures are understandable. The world has undoubtedly given us a handful of reasons to feel distressed in the last several years. Ever-growing fears regarding climate change are certainly on that list. The American Psychological Association identified this issue as one of many emerging therapy trends in 2020.

What I see unfolding in the therapy space mirrors recent statistics, especially as it relates to how climate change is explicitly affecting our mental health. Data from Climate Change in the American Mind (2021) indicates that most American adults endorse some degree of concern over global warming. 70% of the study’s participants report feeling at least “somewhat worried, and of those participants, 35% state they are “very worried.”

Beyond a sense of worry, people exhibit grief, despair, hopelessness, instability, traumatic responses, substance use, and suicidality in response to climate change and disasters. A global research study published in 2021 by The Lancet revealed that over 50% of young people surveyed also felt a sense of sadness, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt. Most participants remarked that their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and overall functioning.

The climate crisis and its effects on our well-being are becoming a universal experience. We are far from alone in what we are facing. Neighbors, teachers, family members, and even therapists are walking through this messy landscape together. As we recognize this more, there are a few tangible strategies we can turn to lessen our distress and instill hope inside and outside the therapy space.

Lean into rudimentary mindfulness and self-compassion.
Take in what is happening in manageable doses. When your thoughts are too drastic, or the emotions that arise are too debilitating, repeatedly ground yourself in the present. How is climate change — or your thoughts about it — impacting you in this very moment? You may also gently invite yourself to turn away from these concerns for a little while. Remind yourself you can always come back to them later.

Capitalize on your emotions.
Deeply acknowledging the reality of climate change is overwhelming. If you notice energy stemming from your reactions to climate change, seize the opportunity. Our reactions have the potential to motivate us towards action, and creativity is a healthy response to both existential and climate crises. Find concrete ways to make different choices or enact change within your grasp. Consider looking at your daily activities and hobbies for ideas. There is no need to overdo it here; aim to be a “good enough” global citizen.

Create a sense of community.
Vow to have more conversations with familiar people about your hopes and fears related to climate change. If you find yourself in good company, try hosting a gathering of people in your neighborhood, identify the impact of climate change on your community, and brainstorm ways to directly make a difference where you live. These connections can foster catharsis, inspiration, and a sense of belonging, benefitting our mental health.

Whichever way you choose to anchor yourself in this world crisis, we must find balance in caring both for ourselves and the environment around us as we navigate something so significant.

Looking for more guidance? Contact us to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our therapists, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article by: Megan Anderson, LPC (published in the Daily Herald)

Does Emotional Avoidance Fuel Your Eating Disorder?

“It seems like I’m actually experiencing my feelings, now that I’m no longer bingeing and purging my emotions,” my client in recovery from bulimia shared.

Eating disorders are believed to be caused by a combination of factors including, genetic, temperamental, and environmental influences.

However, one thing that almost all of my clients with eating disorders have in common is difficulty in expressing, processing, and coping with their emotions.

Emotional Avoidance and Eating Disorders

Emotional avoidance, is described as actions that are intended to prevent an emotional response from occurring, such as fear, anger or sadness.

People struggling with eating disorders often turn to their eating disorder behaviors in an unconscious effort to try to help themselves to “feel better” and to cope with difficult emotions or life circumstances.

For instance, for many people struggling with anorexia, their response when it comes to coping with feelings of anxiety, sadness, or loneliness, is to restrict their food. This may give them a false sense of “control” and specialness. For individuals with bulimia, bingeing and purging provides them a momentary feeling of comfort, “control,” or relief. For people struggling with binge eating, eating often feels like “an escape,” comforting, calming, or a way to numb out.

The reality is that eating disorder behaviors often provide short-term relief or satisfaction, and long-term feelings of increased depression, loneliness, and misery.

Let Yourself Feel

Eating disorder treatment involves a variety of tools and strategies for helping clients to reclaim their lives. However, one important element is helping them to learn how to identify, process, and cope with their emotions in ways that align with their life values.

Many of my clients struggle with being able to sit with themselves and their emotions. Often eating disorder behaviors are used as a way to try to regulate or distract from intense emotions.

I often say to clients that trying to suppress our emotions, is kind of like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It takes a lot of effort and eventually the beach ball will fly up above the water with force.

As a culture, we are often not taught to express our emotions. However, emotions serve important functions in our lives, as they are signals of things that we need to pay attention to.

There is a quote that I love from Norah Wynne, which says “Feelings will not kill you. No one has ever died from experiencing an emotion, but people have died trying to stuff them down.”

It’s important to share with clients that their eating disorder behaviors are often coping strategies that they are using to try to regulate their emotions. These behaviors may have helped them to get through some difficult and traumatic times, however they are also no longer serving them.

With treatment and support, people with eating disorders can learn how to heal their relationships with themselves, food, and their bodies.

They can also learn how to express and process their emotions, without the constant strain of trying to suppress or run from their feelings. Part of living a meaningful life is being able to experience all of one’s emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant.

One of the great privileges of doing this work is being able to see the light return into someone’s eyes, for them to be exploring their true passions and interests, for their brain space to be no longer ruled with thoughts about food and their body. Full recovery and living according to your true values, is completely possible.

An assignment to put this into practice:

What emotions (if any) are you trying to push down, avoid, or distract from?
What behaviors are you using to try not to experience this emotion?
How is doing so serving you, and how is it not serving you?
What would be on healthy way that you could process the emotions that you are experiencing, i.e. writing, an alterbook, talking to a friend, drawing, talking to a therapist?

Article By: Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C,Founder of The Eating Disorder Center

Take Time To Reflect On The Past Year…

The end of the year is a time to reflect, take stock of the year past, and plan for the year ahead. Each year we share an article with 12 questions to help guide a year-end reflection. A year has passed yet it feels like a nano-moment since the last year-end reflection. Not surprising – our lives, work and society move at an unprecedented pace.

To help you take stock and prepare for the year ahead, take time to reflect on this year’s questions.

THE YEAR BEHIND

What went well? This is a staple question we ask each year. It’s far too easy to bypass the wins and the good that comes within any year. Take stock of what went well this year and know that nothing is too small to own, celebrate and bring forward as positive fuel for the days and year ahead.

What surprised you? The pandemic aside, life is always full of surprises. Whether for better or otherwise, the skills of the day are adaptability, heartiness, and resourcefulness. Reflect on the surprises that came your way – and then on how you responded. What do you notice about your ability to adapt and pivot within the unexpected?

What did this year teach you? Every experience for better or worse can be a ‘teacher’ if we use it well. How did you grow from your year? What insights, knowledge, skills were gained or reinforced?

What are you noticing or even having hunches about? Sometimes if feels like change comes out of the blue. But often there are early signs and/or hints abound. Think about the year past and your world of work (and life). What signs or even inklings of change need to be heeded? Where might the opportunities come from? What are you ignoring that can put you at risk? Paying attention with an open mind and some self trust can prepare you better for even the seemingly unknown.

What needs to be left behind? Old ideas, poor habits, and self-limiting behaviours – ahh, who doesn’t have at least a few of these? When life and work pressures demand the best of us it is a good idea to take stock of what’s no longer working and might be holding us back. Also, ask yourself if it’s time to let some doors close this year (if they must) and shift your energy to new areas of opportunity? Where do you need to discard ideas, strategies, and ways of doing things that don’t work any more despite your best efforts?

Wrap up your year with a name that fits: Give 2021 the distinctive, memorable quality it deserves by considering the stand-out experiences and lessons and complete this phrase: “2021 was the year of ___.

THE YEAR AHEAD

Where do you need to go next? Think about the changes showing up (internally and externally). What’s next for you personally and professionally? Even if you don’t have precise answers yet, staying in this question will keep you on your toes so that you can plan and pivot to opportunities more easily. To paraphrase the famous words conveyed by Wayne Gretzky, ‘Focus on where the puck is headed and skate towards there.’

How will you evolve in the year ahead? While you can’t predict the whole picture, it’s a good idea to get intentional in your development and identify new skills, experiences and knowledge that will help you grow. Visualize yourself at the end of 2022 and ask in what ways will you have grown? This is your chance to reflect so you can plan for this to happen.

What are your top goals? Now it’s time to get specific and concrete. Forget resolutions – they don’t work. But goals – if meaningful, relevant and backed up with a plan – can provide focus, direction, a sense of purpose, and energize you with new motivation. Got any goals for yourself?

Who will you connect with? Don’t wait for sudden change to test the strength of your network and relationships – invest now. Take stock and make a commitment to connect meaningfully, authentically with those important to you. Expand and/or deepen your professional and personal network and find ways to show reciprocity by giving back to others.

How will you navigate ambiguity and uncertainty? Ambiguity and uncertainty often comes with disruptive change. How do you cope (thrive) in the unknown? Those who do well tend to foster flexible, resilient, hearty mindsets – along with other skills. Take heed, if not yet natural strengths, know that we can all tap into our deep-rooted capacities to adapt, learn, and find heartiness even in challenging conditions. Start by setting the intention and then commit. Then don’t be afraid to seek support in developing these skills.

What’s your mantra for 2022: What stands out for you that marks your intentions for the year ahead? Create a mantra to hold on to this by completing this phrase: 2022 will be the year of ________.

Article By: Eileen Chadnick of the Globe

5 Tips To Be Happier Today

It’s gloomy outside of my window as I type. Everything is gray. The days are getting shorter. And at mid-life, there are all kinds of stressors! If you’re at all like me and could use a pick-me-up on this, the Monday after Thanksgiving (or, as my friend Becky Burch writes, The Monday of All Mondays), here are five Darwininian-inspired tips.

The evolutionary perspective on human emotions holds that our emotions, including happiness, evolved as they did to serve important evolutionary functions for our ancestors during the bulk of human evolutionary history.1 Under these conditions, largely when ancestrally modern humans lived in the African savanna in small, tight-knit groups, people experienced happiness when they encountered outcomes that would have been associated with survival and/or reproductive success. Such outcomes would have included, for instance:

-Finding a great new food source
-Creating something that is admired by others
-Natural phenomena such as a fresh water stream during drought conditions
-Sharing laughter and stories with family members
-Experiencing mutual love with a partner who is adoring, trustful, and attractive

As we experience the time of year associated with waning sunlight in North America, here are five ways to harness happiness based on this evolutionarily informed approach.2

1. Eat something healthy and yummy.

Under ancestral conditions, humans evolved to prefer foods that put fat on one’s bones, anticipating drought and famine. For this reason, we evolved to prefer foods that are high in things like carbohydrates and salt. Ironically, the modern food industry has hijacked these food preferences. And this is why places like Burger King are so good at making money but also at distributing food that is obnoxiously unhealthy.

For these reasons, eating something that is simply tasty does not always have happiness-inducing effects in the modern world. Tasty foods, such as chocolate chip cookies that are fresh from the oven, come with a price. And such foods might come with guilt from not being able to control one’s impulses.

Natural foods, which map onto the kinds of foods that our ancestors would have eaten before the advent of agriculture, can be tasty but they are also generally guilt-free. Find your favorite tasty natural treat today. It may be grapes, clementines, salmon, sweet potatoes, etc. Eat something tasty and natural today, and do it with a guilt-free smile.

2. Create and share something today.

The creative spirit is a basic part of our evolved psychology. We admire creative others and we tend to take joy in the creative process. Under ancestral conditions, creativity was widely respected, likely as it had all kinds of benefits when it came to surviving and reproducing.3 Further, creativity is an inherently social endeavor. And sharing with others is a critical piece of happiness in a species such as ours with sociality being so foundational.

When it comes to forms of creativity, the options are nearly endless. Write a quick story or joke to share with a friend. Or a poem that captures your spirit today. Or maybe draw something. Perhaps a doodle during that department meeting will emerge into something that makes you really smile. Whether it is big or small, I say try to create something every day. And share it with someone who will appreciate it. And maybe see if they will share back. Sharing creative products, no matter how small, provides a simple route to joy on a daily basis.

3. Get out into nature.

Sure, it’s harder to get out into nature when it’s cold and gloomy outside. Add a saturated schedule to this and you’ve got a recipe for staying indoors and doing not much of anything. But remember, for the lion’s share of human evolutionary history, our ancestors were outside constantly. We evolved to be surrounded by fresh air as well as both plant and animal life. Natural water features, sky, and sun were all regular players in the daily lives of our ancestors. As such, we evolved a strong love for nature that goes deep into our evolved psychology.4

It might be a two-mile run before work. Or a quick walk in a park near the office. Or maybe, if time allows, an intensive hike deep into the woods. But whatever your schedule allows, make sure to get some outside time with some elements of nature in it. Nature experiences famously go hand-in-hand with happiness.

4. Share and communicate with family members today.

As is true in many species, kin matter quite a bit in the human experience. From an evolutionary perspective, kin are those special people in the world who disproportionately share specific genetic combinations with ourselves. As a consequence, kin have an inherent evolutionary interest in our successes. This is why “blood is thicker than water.”

Think of a family member whom you get along with well and send them a text or give them a call. No agenda is needed. Just make sure that there are some laughs involved.

5. Make time for love.

In the human experience, love and happiness go hand-in-hand.5 For this reason, finding and cultivating loving relationships is a critical part of the human experience. And love has a way of facilitating happiness that truly cannot be matched.

Want to learn more about how you can FEEL HAPPIER? Reach out to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our therapists, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article By: Glenn Gear, Ph.D, of Psychology Today

How To Respond To Diet Talk

When we open our eyes to diet culture, we may start noticing it embedded into many different nuances of life – whether in advertising, media or even talk amongst peers.

Since you are reading this, you may probably be aware of why diets don’t work. but how do we approach and respond to diet talk at home, in the office or out with friends? Read on for our top tips to respond to diet talk, giving examples of some typical phrases you may hear and how you can challenge or approach these.

You don’t have to use these phrases to respond to people if you don’t want to, but they may be a positive way to encourage more appreciative and valuable discussions about food in the environment you’re in. Alternatively, they can act as good internal reminders to avoid falling into the many (sometimes well-disguised) traps of diet culture.

SCENARIO ONE:
Them:

‘I’m being naughty and having a cookie! I will regret this later…’

Your response:

‘A cookie can be a great source of carbohydrates, B vitamins, and energy. It makes up part of a nourishing, satisfying diet. Sounds pretty good!’

Remember, every food has its value, place, and purpose in your diet. When you start to eat intuitively, you will realise your body is excellent at telling you what it needs. Low on energy and need a boost? Maybe a cookie is an ideal snack for it!

SCENARIO TWO:
Them:

‘Junk food is so bad for you!’

Your response:

‘Not all food is equally nutrient-dense, but all foods provide nutrition and additionally may bring emotional comfort and satisfaction. Therefore, I find it more helpful and refreshing to begin to view all foods as neutral rather than labelling them as good and bad, or healthy and unhealthy.’

This answer helps to acknowledge that whilst all food may not be packed with essential nutrients, they still serve a purpose in being eaten and enjoyed. Therefore, putting certain ingredients or snacks on pedestals is not conducive to a healthy relationship with food.

SCENARIO THREE:
Them:

‘Carbs are evil! I’m not eating them anymore!’

Your response:

‘Cutting out a food group can lead to increased anxiety and guilt around food, and possibly increased bingeing too! In fact, carbohydrates are a great source of energy and feel extremely comforting for my body! Meals wouldn’t feel the same without them. What carb foods do you enjoy most?’

Food comments can be challenging to deal with, especially when directed at you. Again, helping to reinforce that no food is necessarily ‘evil’ or even ‘pure’ can be relieving for others to hear. Inviting someone to enjoy or discuss foods they may crave can feel freeing and lets them know that they aren’t alone in enjoying comforting or fun foods from time to time.

SCENARIO FOUR
Them:

‘I can’t have a day off or a cheat day. I’ll lose ALL of my progress.’

Your response:

‘We are only human, and days off are perfectly ok. We wouldn’t drive a car with no fuel, or be frustrated at a battery for running out of charge, so why would we expect our bodies to function differently? Your body is capable of achieving so many amazing things and days and time off are a part of the process! Why don’t we have a “do nothing” day this week?’

We hear this one all of the time – and it is often linked to our fitness, activity, and career, besides from food. Remember, every day is different, life is imperfect, and you are absolutely worthy of days off.

Learn about moving more mindfully and enjoying what activity you do, rather than something that might feel forced. Time off will certainly enable you to reflect and function better in the long term, so listen to your body and take what you need.

SCENARIO FIVE:
Them:

‘Skinny people look and feel so much healthier.’

Your response:

‘The evidence actually shows the opposite, and that fat can be protective of cardiovascular diseases. Health is not heavily determined by weight, and people can experience disordered eating and a negative body image at any size.’

Remember that when it comes to overall health, many factors besides weight play a much more significant role. This is including and is not limited to: mental wellbeing, stress levels, mindfulness, our work, social and living environments, income and job, financial status, gender, race, education level, and so on.

We also can remind ourselves that whilst thin privilege does exist, people in smaller bodies are not ‘immune’ to insecurities and self-doubt.

We wanted to let you know that we believe you are seriously impressive for opening your eyes to diet culture and challenging the deep-rooted beliefs of our society. Keep up all of the amazing work and rule-unpacking you are doing!

If you found this article helpful, and would like more “diet recovery” tips, feel reach out to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation with one of our Eating Disorder Experts, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article By: Priya Chotai,RD at Embody Health London

Relationship Tool…How Conflict Helps You Understand Your Partner

The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

Does this sound familiar? You think the conflict is about who is going to pick up your child after school. It’s going to be a simple decision—it’s either you or your partner. But, somehow, there is no simple resolution. The conflict seems bigger than that. It feels like something deeper is going on for one or both of you.

The conflict
Let’s use this scenario as an example:

Sam and Chris are discussing who is going to pick up their daughter from school. Sam says to Chris, “I can pick her up after school today.”

Chris says, “No, I’d like to pick her up.”

Sam comes back with, “You’re so busy at work today and I have the day off. I’m happy to do it.”

Chris persists, “You should enjoy your day off. I can fit it into my work day.”

They go back and forth like this for a while.

When the resolution for the conflict feels like it should be easier than it turns out to be, that is the indicator that there might be some dreams within the conflict at play. Step back and go deeper to the dream level.

Questions to gain understanding
To get there, Sam and Chris can ask each other these kinds of questions:

“Can you tell me what makes this important to you?”
“Does this relate to your background in some way?”
“Is there a deeper purpose or goal for you about picking up our child at school?”
“What do you feel about it?”
“What is your wish in this situation? What is your need?”
“What will happen if your dream isn’t honored?”

Chris might share that when they were growing up, Chris’s parents weren’t involved in the daily school pick=up. Perhaps because of this, Chris feels distant from their parents. Chris has decided to parent differently.

Sam might share concerns about Chris’s job stability and doesn’t want to interrupt Chris’s workday when Sam could do the pick-up without intruding on work. Sam might further express a craving for financial security because that was absent from Sam’s childhood.

Dreams within conflict
Consider two things. First, relationships are not better if they are free of conflict, and in fact, all relationships have some sort of conflict in them. Second, the purpose of conflict is not resolution. The purpose of conflict is to more fully understand your partner.

With this conflict definition, understanding each other’s dreams within the conflict can lead to a successful conflict outcome.

Learning to recognize when there is this deeper dream level in a conflict will allow you to explore the dreams within the conflict and then move through the conflict more easily and peacefully.

Sam and Chris now understand each other’s perspectives more fully. Even if they still disagree, they’ve deepened their understanding of one another, they’ve grown closer, and they can come to a solution.

Article By: Jennifer Pesetky of The Gottman Institute

How to find the best therapist near you

How To Find The Best Therapist Near Me…

The first time I went to therapy, my parents chose a psychotherapist quickly (an easier decision than which mechanic to use). The way they found this nutter-butter-can-of-cashews: My first pediatrician didn’t know what to do for my all-night, every night nightmares, and so he sent me to a therapist. He thought she was good because of her seemingly impressive pedigree. And let me let them tell you as they told everyone who asked: “She did therapy on the Prime Minister from Israel.” Even at age 10, I found this bit of information troubling and logistically dubious, as we lived in a beachside suburb in Los Angeles and the Prime Minister from Israel lived in Israel.

Here are a few examples of her wacky behavior:

1. She ate cottage cheese with her mouth open during our sessions. I feel sure that her mouth full of curds gave me more nightmares.

2. She read her mail during our sessions. While I get that my 10-year-old chatter was not very stimulating, she was getting paid to listen to me and not to read what the latest edition of Readers Digest said about how to declutter your desk. Good God, do I wish I was making this stuff up.

3. I have since learned that she asked patients for rides to the airport. She never asked me for a ride, but I was only 10 and I didn’t even own a bike.

I thought, as a public service of sorts, and because I am a therapist and I write about being in therapy, it might be a good thing if I shared some thoughts about picking a therapist—should you ever find yourself in need of one—as they can be harder to find than a good mechanic.

1. Ask friends and family

Ask friends who are in therapy if they like their therapist. If they do, find out what it is they like about them and ask your friends to ask their therapists for referral lists.

2. Shop online

Google is very effective these days, in addition to Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory. When therapist shopping I would look for therapists who are not selling themselves but rather those telling you about their work and their philosophy of working with patients.

3. A picture tells a story

Take a look at therapists’ pictures on their website or Psychology Today’s Therapist Directory. Red lights for me: Therapists who use glamour shots or whose portraits seem in any way seductive. I would also steer clear of therapists who use a photo of themselves partaking in a favorite hobby or recreational activity. If you have any doubts about a therapist based on photos, I would listen to your intuition. See if you can find someone who you could easily sit across from. I am not saying your therapist needs to look like a supermodel; you just want to look at the therapist without feeling any concern or apprehension. I would heed any intuition.

4. Gender

When choosing a therapist, almost all people have an instinctive idea on gender they would prefer to work with. I don’t think there is a right or wrong when it comes to choosing which gender you prefer to work with. However, I think it can be clinically valuable to notice which gender you absolutely wouldn’t want to work with. I would make note of that and let my therapist know about my strong feelings of “no way” when considering a certain gender for a therapist.

5. Theoretical orientation

This one is really tricky. There are many theoretical orientations and I certainly cannot explain them all in one single post. Here is what I can say in a huge and gross oversimplification:

-If you believe there is an unconscious motivation for your behavior, you might want to go to a psychodynamic therapist.

-If you want to change your thoughts and you think doing that will change your life, and you don’t believe in an unconscious, then you might want a cognitive therapist.

-If you don’t ever want to talk about mom and dad and you only want the here and now then maybe narrative, behavioral, or solution-oriented therapies are something to consider.

-If you want to work on your family and not just on you, then try a family-oriented systems therapist.

-If you still have no idea at all about what orientation you might want, I would then ask the referrals you found and ask about orientation. If the therapist says, “I am an existentialist” and leaves it at that, then have her explain what that means and how you would experience that orientation. Keep asking until you find someone whose style resonates with you.

6. Contact them

When you find a therapist to contact, then reach out to them. It sounds easier than it is; I have had the numbers of therapists in my possession for weeks before I dared to reach out. Email them and ask to schedule a complimentary consultation. When you meet with this therapist, think about asking these questions:

-What is their specialty?

-Have they worked with people with your issues? Share a little about your presenting issue and see how the therapist responds.

-What is their training?

-Are they licensed? Feel free to look up the license and make sure.

-Are they now, or have they ever been, in therapy? This is a big one. Do not, repeat, do not, get into therapy with someone who hasn’t done her own work. Seeing a therapist who doesn’t do her own therapy is like going to a priest who has no relationship with God. This is a big one for me. Unless one has done her own work, she is likely to have issues that create an increased chance of boundary issues, unmanaged counter-transference, and blind spots.

-How much do sessions cost?

7. Notice

Notice how you feel during the consult with the therapist.

On your first appointment, notice how you feel when you are in the room with your new therapist. Do you feel heard when you speak? Notice how you feel in that person’s presence. Notice everything. You might not decide on the first session if the therapist is for you. It may take some time to determine if you have picked the right therapist.

If you’re feeling like the therapist you chose isn’t the best fit, it’s best to tell them what it is you’re looking for and why they aren’t the best fit for you. The therapist might have some ideas for a referral that would work for you. And sometimes that desire to not go back is motivated by some more unconscious anxieties about being in therapy. Best to discuss those, too.

Want more help finding a therapist that’s right for you? Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation. Let us help you “Live A Life You Love!”

Article by: Traecy Cleatis of Psychology Today

Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Welcome Jacob Martinez, Milwaukee’s ACT Expert And Relationship Therapist

You should have listened to your gut, but didn’t, and now you feel stuck. Stuck in a life (relationship, career, city) that isn’t making you happy. The tricky part is…you know intuitively what changes you need to make, but are frozen by your mind, expectations, social pressure, or other responsibilities.
     As an experienced therapist, Jacob can help you create a road map to re-align your life based on what matters most. He is passionate about helping his clients cultivate a life they love.
     Jacob works with highly motivated, deep-thinking individuals who know that tomorrow is not guaranteed and are eager to live a more fulfilling life. He enjoys working with first-time therapy clients, and those who have tried therapy before, but are looking for a more action-oriented therapist who can provide specific guidance.
     Jacob also enjoys working with couples and relationship units who struggle communicating. After careful examination of the way his clients communicate, Jacob offers feedback on crafting words that are more likely to be understood by their partner. Through communication training, deeper connections and more workable solutions can be found. Jacob uses the Gottman Method for relationship counseling, a research-based approach to successful relationships.
     Ultimately, Jacob excels at helping his clients find new and different ways of coping, while moving toward what matters to them most according to their values.
Read more about Jacob on our website:
https://www.hillarycounseling.com/meet-jacob-martinez-lpc/
Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Let us help you “Live A Life You Love.”
Man hiking

Can You Train Yourself to Become a More Optimistic Person?

The brain has a natural optimism bias—we are what I call “wired for love”. This means that when we are connected to others in deep and meaningful ways, and when we are satisfied with where we are in life and where we are going (even if we have ups and downs, which are normal!), we can function at a healthy level. The brain likes it when we are in a good place!

If this is so, why does the negative seem so…overwhelming? Why do bad things and bad people tend to stick to our mind like super glue? Why is it so easy to fall into negative thinking spirals?

The negative affects us more because it is so unusual. Think about the many noises you hear at night: cars driving by your home, the chittering of crickets, the hum of the washing machine or refrigerator—these sounds are “normal” and don’t disturb your sleep because you are used to them. But, if you hear a door quickly open or a window break, you are suddenly on high alert. Something is out of place/out of balance, and your attention will stay fixed on that noise until you figure out what is going on and if you are safe.

The negative is like this “out-of-place” noise: it doesn’t make sense and your brain is not happy about this imbalance, so it tries to figure out how to fix this situation. It is easy to fix all your attention on this abnormality until it does make sense, but this can have some serious mental and physical repercussions if we are not careful, because, over time, toxic rumination disrupts the energy flow in the brain. Whatever we think about the most grows!

As I mentioned above, when we think too negatively or just focus on the bad (a pessimistic state of mind), the energy flow in the brain becomes distorted and incoherent, which can result in inflammation in the brain and body, jumps in cortisol levels, digestive issues, heart problems, mood swings and so on. In fact, this state of mind, which is what is known as a “red brain” on qEEg scans can even activate weaknesses in our genetic code! And, over time, it can become a pessimistic thinking habit—the more we think this way, the more the world seems like a terrible place.

Thankfully, we can combat and heal the effects of focusing too much on the negative by self-regulating our mind. This means focusing on how we think, feel and choose. Dr. Caroline Leaf discuss’s this in detail in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. When we learn how to control our mind, we can rebalance the chemicals and energy in the brain and combat the negative health effects of toxic rumination.

This doesn’t mean that we should fear negativity. It is normal to have negative thoughts and experience uncomfortable emotions. If we think we are happy all the time, then we are lying to ourselves—we are suppressing the negative, which will only make things worse. Rather, we need to change the way we perceive the negative. We need to see negative thoughts and feelings as signals that something is going on in our lives that needs to be addressed; there is an “out-of-place noise” in our mental house that we need to get to the root of. This means asking questions like “why I am so pessimistic?”, “what are my triggers?”, “how does the negative affect me?” and “what is the thinking pattern behind my thoughts and feelings, and how can I change or rewire this?”.

The brain changes all the time because it is neuroplastic. The great news is that you can direct this change with your mind (your thinking, feeling, and choosing). You are always thinking, which is why self-regulation is such a great habit—it gives you the tools to control your mind!

Based on decades of research and practice, Dr. Caroline Leaf developed a self-regulation method that harnesses the neuroplastic nature of the brain through specific techniques to combat the negative influence of toxic rumination. Although there is a lot going on behind the scenes when you self-regulate your thinking and manage your mind, the process itself is not only simple but also accessible, no matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing:

1. When you find yourself getting trapped in a toxic thinking spiral, take a 10 second pause, for as many times as you need. I recommend deep breathing during this pause, which helps bring brain energy back into balance. Breathe in for 3 counts (say, mentally or out loud, “think, feel”), then breathe out for 7 counts (say mentally or out loud, “choooooooose”).

This is like a reset button in the brain, and will increase your decision-making ability and clarity of mind. Indeed, doing this 6 to 9 times can really reorganize chemical chaos that results from negative thinking in the brain by transferring this energy from the toxic thinking pattern to cleaning up your mental mess!

2. Do a NeuroCycle, which is the self-regulation technique.

Here are the steps:

  • Gathering awareness of your physical and emotional warning signals. We can only change what we are aware of!
  • Reflecting on why you are feeling these things in your body and mind.
  • Writing down your reflections to organize your thinking.
  • Rechecking what you have written and how your thoughts and feelings have changed.
  • Active Reach: taking action to reconceptualize your thinking and find sustainable healing.

If you do this daily for 63 days, you can actually rewire a negative thinking habit or a pessimistic mindset. Each of these steps essentially reset the brain, taking you deeper into your own mind and transferring energy from toxic to healthy. Doing this not only makes your mind and brain more resilient to the pull of negative rumination; it teaches you to use your mind to change your brain! It shows you how to make negativity and life challenges work for you and not against you—YOU TAKE CONTROL, which will have positive carryover effects in other areas of your life.

When you learn how to self-regulate your thinking, you change the energy flow in the brain, which has a host of positive effects on your wellbeing. You still have negative thoughts, of course, but they don’t control your thinking, you control them!

For more information on the optimism bias and self-regulation, listen to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s podcast on MindBodyGreen.

Want help improving your own optimism? Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a COMPLIMENTARY 30-minute consultation. Let us help you “Live A Life You Love!”

Article by: Dr. Caroline Leaf