Sunday, June 24, 2018

Psychology 101 – ABC’s of Modern Mental Health

Current Psychology is filled with acronyms, and these often stand for evidence- based treatment theories.  I thought it might be helpful to put some of the most talked-about, current theories in easy-to-understand language.

CBT- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This method aims to teach clients skills to modify dysfunctional uthinking.  We look at how the maladaptive cognition (harmful or unacceptable thought) was developed and correct the ensuing behaviors.  Example – Your spouse has moved out of the house, because of you yell and scream during every confrontation.  Your counselor helps you uncover that you yell and scream easily, because it was "normal" in your house of origin.  You don't even realize that you do it or how deeply it hurts others.  So now that your clinician has helped you uncover this “maladaptive thought pattern,” the two of you can work to train you to change your behavior using practicable techniques.

DBT – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – This method works to teach emotional regulation and coping skills.  While it is important to understand where negative thoughts and behavioral issues come from, sometimes Clients need to understand what they are experiencing in the moment and have tools to deal appropriately.  You may have heard of “mindfulness” – being aware of your emotions in the moment.  Mindfulness is the core principle of DBT.   If you are aware of your emotions, you can learn to either control them – if they are emotions like anger or depression – or fully enjoy them – if they are emotions like happiness or contentment.  So let’s say you deal with anger issues.  You've lost relationships and had significan health issues, because you are easily angered and have little control over your reactions.  So one day after you've started counseling, someone cuts you off in traffic. If your counselor has worked with you using DBT, you become aware of your blood pressure escalating, your neck muscles clenching, and your stomach knotting.  You willuse the coping skills you have been taught to de-escalate yourself, to avoid the negative effects of your anger. 

EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – This method was originally developed for soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is used for Clients dealing with difficult current or past experiences that are causing them stress, anxiety, and/or depression.  Often, patterns can be found in multiple events that compound negative “core beliefs”.  EMDR uses the same method your body uses to process daily events – Rapid Eye Movement – to re-process negative perceptions of events and try to make them more manageable.  So let’s say you, as the client in this scenario,  were adopted at age 6, and your best friend moved away when you were 11, and your fiancĂ© broke off your engagement at 25.  You could have a negative core belief such as “it is not safe to feel”, “I am defective”, or “I am abandoned”.  You are going to reprocess these events with guidance of a therapist to soften or disprove that core belief.  You're then going to work with the therapist to find positive experiences that disprove your negative core belief. Together, you will strengthen these more positive memories through EMDR processing.  Clients who have dealt for years with long-term difficulties report achieving relief and peace, after having worked with a trained EMDR therapist.

Of course, there are many other theories in the world of mental health counseling.  Some clinicians find benefit in focusing on one method.  Others (myself included) assess their clients and “mix and match” their treatment to the client’s needs and personality.  Hopefully, this blog gives you relatable descriptions of the ones being talked about the most, right now, so that you can choose the right clinician for you.

Friday, April 27, 2018

72 Days After Our Tragedy

I write this blog post from my perspective.  I am:
·       A Mom of a  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Student
·       A Parkland/Coral Springs Community Member
·       A Mental Health Counselor
72 days ago, a shooter took the lives of 17 Stoneman Douglas students, injured 17 others and changed the mental perspective of every student, teacher, worker, parent, and community member in our area.  Our once unknown little town – the one I always described to others as a modern day “Leave it to Beaver” kind of place – is now full of anxiety, tension and conflict.  There is healing that needs to happen, and in my own small way, I wanted to try to offer suggestions.  At the end of this post are some resources.
The Students and Staff – Each person experienced this traumatic day differently.  Some were directly in the line of fire, and some didn’t hear gun fire from their location.  This doesn’t necessarily correlate to the amount of mental health issues that will surface after the fact.  Each person processes events with different levels of sensitivity and resiliency.  One student may have been in the 1200 building watching the events transpire, and she is now back to playing soccer and excelling at school. Another student might have run off the campus at the start of the events, and he is not able to attend school most days.  There is no right or wrong, and there is no set amount of time that will “make it all better.”  Support, counseling, development of coping skills, processing through techniques such as CBT Trauma Training and EMDR, and time are elements that can help these people move forward. 
Family Members – I hear from friends and read on Facebook a high level of stress and anxiety from family members, especially parents.  As a parent of one of the students on campus that day, I can relate.  Our adrenaline kicked in, when our children were in immediate danger.  We did what we do best – we took care of them.  We picked them up, hugged them, got them counseling, called them in sick when they couldn’t go to school, etc. But now, the stress and pressure of almost losing our kids seems to be sinking in.  Our safe little haven seems scary and unsafe. 
It is time, if you have not already done so, to take care of yourself!  Your kids and you are being affected by your anxiety levels.  Please take advantage of the group counseling opportunities being offered or seek private counseling.  Get back to your exercise routine and practice relaxation techniques to get enough sleep.
Community Members – On a positive note, there are several groups trying to do good things, since the tragedy.  Some are trying to change laws and policies.  Some are increasing awareness for issues they believe are at the center of the problem.  Many are raising money to help victims, survivors, causes, changes and policies.  Here’s the problem: There are diametrically opposed views, they affect our kids and their schools, emotions are running high, and it is causing rifts and strains in our community, when there should be unity and support.
While I can end this post with resources for counseling and support, I don’t have an easy answer for this community issue.  I do have a request:  as we each consider responding to an idea with which we do not agree, could we please consider that the other person is trying to come from a good place?  There is no need for aggressive, disrespectful, personally hostile messaging.  It’s toxic to you, as you write it, and it’s toxic to our community.  Take a deep breath, when a post agitates you. Try to scroll past it.  And if you can’t, re-read your reply a few times before posting it.  Ask yourself, “is there any good that will come of my post?  Will it change the other person’s mind?  Could I hurt other people on the string of the post?”  Of course, there are people –and “robots” who try to insight us and stir the pot – we, as a community need to stop allowing it.  

This is for the healing of our little haven. 

Some Resources:

The school currently has 10 social workers on staff to spend time with the students, if they go to the media center. They do not need a teacher’s permission. They can go at lunch.

There are group counseling opportunities available for students and family members through the Parkland Resiliency Center. 754-321-HELP

Parkland Cares, website lists several non-profit community counseling resources.

Most private therapists in the area are offering reduced rates