Sunday, July 29, 2012

7 Steps to Change a Habit

1. Believe in your heart and soul that you can change.
There is not a behavior under the sun that cannot be changed. Some are much harder to change than others but our minds are powerful and if we are determined enough,  with the right tools we can change!!

2. Specifically identify the behavior.
You have to know what the behavior is if you want to change it. If you want to stop treating your spouse bad, you have to know what you are doing that is “bad”.

3. Commit whole heartedly to do whatever it takes to end the habit.
This is not something you can do half-assed (excuse the expression). Either commit to it or don’t bother trying. Changing habits is hard work but is worth it if you are replacing them with healthier alternatives. If something isn’t working to change your habit, try something new.

4. Find someone who can hold you accountable.
Having someone to talk to about your new behavior gives you the extra boost of motivation to push through when you are feeling weak. Knowing in the back of your mind that so and so is going to ask you how you are doing often keeps people on track. These people can also encourage us when we are feeling like giving up or feeling like the progress is too slow.

5. Find an alternative to your behavior that you want to change.
If you do not replace your behavior with something else it will either be very hard to change or something not of your conscious choosing will take it’s place. You must be intentional about this.

6. Put up reminders around your house or on your body to help you stay on track.
Whether you are putting signs up or tying a string around your finger, any reminder helps. When we get into the swing of life it is easy to forget what we are working on. The reminders help to bring it to the front of your mind.

7. Practice Practice Practice
Do not be discouraged if you make mistakes or if your progress is not as fast as you would like it to be. Some habits have lasted for years. You cannot expect them to go away in a day. It takes a lot of practice and determination to change a behavior. You don’t have to be a slave to your habits. Practice, practice, practice and you can be free.

Some habits are extremely difficult to change. A counselor may be needed to get over certain habits. Don’t let needing help be an obstacle for you.  Remember you do not have to be a slave to your habits if you are determined enough. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Signs of an Abusive Person

Warning Signs

By-Woman's Center Northwestern University 

This is a list of behaviors that are seen in people who abuse their partners. The first four behaviors (past abuse, threats of violence, breaking objects and any force during an argument) are almost always seen in an abusive person. If someone exhibits more than three of any of these warning signs, there is a strong potential for abuse in the relationship. An abuser may exhibit only a few of these behaviors, but they may be quite exaggerated. 

Past abuse
An abuser may say, "I hit someone in the past, but she made me do it." An abusive person who minimizes what happened with a previous partner is likely to be violent with their current partner. Abusive behavior does not just go away; long-term counseling and a sincere desire to change are necessary.
Threats of violence or abuse
Threats can involve anything that is meant to control the victim. For example, "I'll tell your parents about your drug use if you don't do what I want." Healthy relationships do not involve threats, but an abusive person will try to excuse this behavior by saying that "everybody talks like that."
Breaking objects
An abuser may break things, beat on tables or walls or throw objects around or near the victim. This behavior terrorizes the victim and can send the message that physical abuse is the next step.
Use of force during an argument
An abuser may use force during arguments, including holding the victim down, physically restraining the victim from leaving the room, and pushing and shoving. For example, an abuser may hold a victim against the wall and say, "You're going to listen to me."
An abuser will say that jealousy is a sign of love. In reality, jealousy has nothing to do with love. It is a sign of insecurity and possessiveness. An abuser may question the victim about whom they talk to or be jealous of time spent with other people. As the jealousy progresses, the abuser will call the victim frequently, stop by unexpectedly or monitor the victim's activities.
Controlling behavior
An abuser will claim that controlling behavior is out of concern for the victim's welfare. They will be angry if the victim is late and will frequently interrogate the victim. As this behavior gets worse, the abuser will control the victim's appearance and activities.
Quick involvement
An abuser will often pressure someone to make a commitment after a very short amount of time. The abuser comes on quickly, claiming "love at first sight," and will tell the victim flattering things such as "You're the only person I could ever love." 
Unrealistic expectations
The abuser is dependent on the victim for everything and expects perfection. The victim is expected to take care of everything for the abuser, particularly all emotional support. The abuser will say things like, "You're the only person I need in my life." 
The abuser will attempt to diminish and destroy the victim's support system. If a female victim has male friends, she is accused of being a "whore." If she has female friends, she is accused of being a "lesbian." If she is close to her family, she is accused of being "tied to the apron strings." The abuser will accuse people who are close to the victim of "causing trouble."
Blames others for problems
Abusers will rarely admit to the part they play in causing a problem. She will blame the victim for almost anything that goes wrong.
Blames others for their feelings
An abuser will tell the victim, "I hurt you because you made me mad," or "You're hurting me when you don't do what I ask." Blaming the victim is a way of manipulating them and avoiding any responsibility.
An abuser can be easily insulted. The slightest setbacks are seen as personal attacks. An abuser will rage about the everyday difficulties of life as if they are injustices -- such as getting a traffic ticket or not doing well on an exam.
Cruelty to animals or children
An abuser may brutally punish animals or be insensitive to their pain or suffering. Pets can be used to control the victim or to emotionally abuse them.
"Playful" use of force during sex
The abuser may like to hold the victim down during sex. They may want to act out sexual fantasies in which the victim is helpless. An abuser may show little concern about whether the victim wants to have sex and use sulking or anger to manipulate the victim into compliance. They may demand sex or start having sex with the victim when they are sleeping or very intoxicated.
Rigid sex roles
Male abusers often expect women to serve and obey them. They view women as inferior to men and believe that a woman is not a whole person without a relationship with a man.
Jekyll-and-Hyde personality
Explosiveness and mood swings are typical of abusers, and these behaviors are related to other traits such as hypersensitivity. This is not always a sign of mental health problems but may be a way of controlling the victim by being unpredictable.

Adapted from Wilson, K.J. When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse. Alameda, CA: Hunter House Publishers, (1997).

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to Get Out of Your Dark Places

The Drama Bench
by Dan Saint, Youth Director at the Mission Church

The past week has been a high point in my life. I spent 5 nights cleaning toilets, made the best of my cooking for twelve meals and made somewhere around 12 trips to “the drama bench”. The drama bench happens to be a real place at the Sunny View Expo Center in Oshkosh, WI, but for me it represents a safe place where the students that I serve with can open up about the junk in their lives. As we go through life we all struggle and have pain, we are insecure, lonely, angry, confused, and overwhelmed. Often the thing we need most is the drama bench. A place where we can cry, yell or just be silent. It is a place where someone cares and listens, and sometimes can help us find the way out of our dark place. I have been in and out of many dark places in my life, and I am so grateful for the people who helped me through them. Sometimes that person is a mentor who listens quietly; sometimes it was my older brother telling me exactly how he saw what I was going through and that I should just knock it off.  So here is my giant THANK YOU to all those people who sat on a drama bench with me.
My challenge to you is to both seek out a drama bench in your life so you can vent and get out of your dark place, and to be available to sit and listen when someone else is in need of a drama bench.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Top 5 Reasons Why Woman Stay in Abusive Relationships

1. They have been brainwashed.
  • Woman who have been in a long term abusive relationship often have their self-esteem beaten down.  Messages like, “You couldn’t get better than me. You are lucky I put up with you.”, or “I wouldn’t of hit you if you weren’t being such a b*tch.”, told to a woman repeatedly can significantly wear down her self-esteem. Many women start to believe they deserve the abuse they received, and that they could not find better, nor do they deserve better. Do not underestimate the power of this dynamic. Women in these situations often have a hard time making decisions because they come to doubt themselves so much.

2. They were trained from childhood this is how they should be treated.
  • Many women grew up in abusive homes, so this is normal to them. Their moms were treated this way and so were they as children. They don’t know relationships can be any better. This can be applied to any level of abuse. If emotional abuse was normal in their childhood, emotional abuse is most likely going to be repeated in their adult relationships unless they consciously choose to do it different.  Same applies to physical abuse. Training yourself to be in a healthy relationship after a life time of abuse tolerance training is not easy to accomplish.

3. They are afraid to leave.
  • 75% of woman who are murdered by their partners are killed when they attempt to leave. Abusers often times make threats to take the children or harm people the woman care about. Leaving can be a terrifying act.

4. They truly believe he is going to change.
  • Often times after the abuse happens, the abuser will promise to change and apologize for what they did. This can be very convincing! This is called the honeymoon stage. Abusers will often go to great lengths to convince their partner that they have changed and it will never happen again. Unfortunately this is often just a stage and the change is not long term. In my office I have heard the apologies on many abusive men and at times, I myself have been convinced of the sincerity only to find out later it was false.  One speech is not enough. Long term actions must be seen.

5. They have nowhere to go.
  • Often times abusers isolate their partner. They cut them off from friends and family to the point of little to no contact. The abuser can be so controlling that leaving is practically impossible. Some abusers will slash their own tires in an attempt to get their partner to stay. Many times women are cut off financially so they cannot make it without the abuser.

If you are in an abusive relationship reach out for help.  Counseling may be necessary to undo some of the brainwashing you experienced.  It is scary to leave but there is support out there for you.

If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship reach out to them. Offer support and do what you can to build their self-esteem. They may reject your help initially but don’t give up. Keep in mind however you do not want to push them away with your intention to help. Try to find balance in your compassion. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Common Responses to Trauma

By Patti Levin, LICSW, PsyD
© 1989, 2001, 2003, 2004 by Dr. Patti Levin
Please let everyone know that I give permission for my fact sheet to be used by anyone, either as a whole, or in part, as long as my name appears somewhere on it for credit. [Specifically,] its OK to make unlimited copies [of this document] for educational and noncommercial uses in a disaster situation, provided no fee is charged. People can also contact me by email or by telephone (617) 227-2008. Warmly, Patti 13 September 2001
After a trauma, people may go though a wide range of normal responses.
Such reactions may be experienced not only by people who experienced the trauma first-hand, but by those who have witnessed or heard about the trauma, or been involved with those immediately affected. Many reactions can be triggered by persons, places, or things associated with the trauma. Some reactions may appear totally unrelated.
Here is a list of common physical and emotional reactions to trauma, as well as a list of helpful coping strategies. These are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events.

Physical Reactions

  • aches and pains like headaches, backaches, stomach aches
  • sudden sweating and/or heart palpitations (fluttering)
  • changes in sleep patterns, appetite, interest in sex
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • easily startled by noises or unexpected touch
  • more susceptible to colds and illnesses
  • increased use of alcohol or drugs and/or overeating

Emotional Reactions

  • shock and disbelief
  • fear and/or anxiety
  • grief, disorientation, denial
  • hyper-alertness or hypervigilance
  • irritability, restlessness, outbursts of anger or rage
  • emotional swings -- like crying and then laughing
  • worrying or ruminating -- intrusive thoughts of the trauma
  • nightmares
  • flashbacks -- feeling like the trauma is happening now
  • feelings of helplessness, panic, feeling out of control
  • increased need to control everyday experiences
  • minimizing the experience
  • attempts to avoid anything associated with trauma
  • tendency to isolate oneself
  • feelings of detachment
  • concern over burdening others with problems
  • emotional numbing or restricted range of feelings
  • difficulty trusting and/or feelings of betrayal
  • difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • feelings of self-blame and/or survivor guilt
  • shame
  • diminished interest in everyday activities or depression
  • unpleasant past memories resurfacing
  • loss of a sense of order or fairness in the world; expectation of doom and fear of the future

Helpful Coping Strategies

  • mobilize a support system n reach out and connect with others, especially those who may have shared the stressful event
  • talk about the traumatic experience with empathic listeners
  • cry
  • hard exercise like jogging, aerobics, bicycling, walking
  • relaxation exercise like yoga, stretching, massage
  • humor
  • prayer and/or meditation; listening to relaxing guided imagery; progressive deep muscle relaxation
  • hot baths
  • music and art
  • maintain balanced diet and sleep cycle as much as possible
  • avoid over-using stimulants like caffeine, sugar, or nicotine
  • commitment to something personally meaningful and important every day
  • hug those you love, pets included
  • eat warm turkey, boiled onions, baked potatoes, cream-based soups n these are tryptophane activators, which help you feel tired but good (like after Thanksgiving dinner)
  • proactive responses toward personal and community safety n organize or do something socially active
  • write about your experience n in detail, just for yourself or to share with others
People are usually surprised that reactions to trauma can last longer than they expected. It may take weeks, months, and in some cases, many years to fully regain equilibrium. Many people will get through this period with the help and support of family and friends. But sometimes friends and family may push people to "get over it" before they're ready. Let them know that such responses are not helpful for you right now, though you appreciate that they are trying to help. Many people find that individual, group, or family counseling are helpful, and in particular, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a phenomenally rapid and wonderful therapeutic method. Either way, the key word is CONNECTION n ask for help, support, understanding, and opportunities to talk.
The Chinese character for crisis is a combination of two words -- danger and opportunity. People who fully engage in recovery from trauma discoverunexpected benefits. As they gradually heal their wounds, survivors find that they are also developing inner strength,compassion for others, increasing self-awareness, and often themost surprising -- a greater ability to experience joy and serenity than ever before.

Other Resources

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Are Video Games Safe for Children?

Video games effects on children have been a long standing debate. Many parents are fearful that video games will make their child violent or cause behavior problems.  After reviewing the literature it sounds like the debate is not over. More quality research is needed. With that being said I can tell you what I learned.

One common thread in all the research is moderation is important, but ‘how much is too much’ is not defined.  Most of the research linked video games and TV as having similar effects.

A review of the literature by Frölich et al pointed out that there are populations of children that are more at risk to negative effects of violent video games or TV. Children with ADHD, ODD, and children that grew up in violent homes are more likely to respond poorly to violence in video games. In his research he points out that these children are already at high risk to be violent no matter what the stimulus. The research confirms that children in stable, non violent homes are less likely to show negative sides effects after playing video games.

A study by Greitemeyer and Osswald pointed out that children that played “prosocial” video games were more likely to help when seeing someone in need compared to peers that did not play pro social video games. They also suggest that video game can provide an outlet, like sports, to work through aggression and can lead to better mental functioning and lower levels of aggression.

Many studies have pointed out that playing video games can improve hand eye coordination, increased peripheral attention, and increased reactive decision-making skills. This can be a great tool if you have a child struggling in any of these areas.

Another fear people question about video games is if it confuses children’s conception of reality. The Supreme Court case Schwarzenegger vs. Entertainment Merchants Association, found that “the ability to differentiate automatically between real and virtual violence has not been diminished by a long-term history of violent video game play, nor have gamers' neural responses to real violence, in particular, been subject to desensitization processes.” This means video games do not cause people to have trouble knowing what is real or pretend.

Anti social children can use video games to further their anti social tendencies. If you are a parent of one of these children you can compromise by agreeing to your child only playing video games that have a social component to them and buy them a head set so they can participate in the socialization.  This form of socialization can form a bridge to build confidence and help them to make friends face to face.

To conclude, if we use common sense with our video games, our children should be protected. One truth we know is that what we expose ourselves to influences us. So monitor your children’s video games. Buy video games that promote the values you have.  

For more detailed review of the literature go to:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Who am I and What am I About?

Many people want to know who their counselors are and what they are about. Some people like knowing nothing about their counselor because they feel safer opening up that way. If you are that person discontinue reading.

First things first I have the privilege of living my passions: God, my family and my job. I have wanted to be a counselor since I was a child, literally as long as I can remember. Now that I am doing my dream I some times cannot believe I have arrived. I have spent my whole life preparing for this.

As a child I never dreamed about being married or having kids but then I met Dan. Very soon after I started dreaming about those things. After spending a few months dating him I thought to myself, "I would like him to be the father of my children." Which if you knew me at the time you would have realized what an odd thought that was for me.

Dan and I got married in 2005 and now have two amazing boys ages 3 and soon to be 5. I was right about wanting Dan to father my children. He is an incredible dad. My children also amaze me, challenge me and melt my heart all at the same time. Being a mom has been such an asset to my job, in the sense that there are a lot of things about parenthood that I never understood until I lived it. For example potty training some times goes smoothly, other times it is a horror of horrors.

My life isn't all picture perfect. There are situations in my life that break my heart and skyrocket my anxiety, but I'd rather not get into the details of them, as they are very personal. But if you are wondering if I know what anxiety feels like, the answer is yes I do. Do I know what depression feels like? Yes I do. Do I know what pain and heart break is first hand? Yes I do. Have I experienced it as deeply as you? I'm not sure but I do know I will meet you with compassion and tools to help you get out of that painful place.

What if you and I do not have the same belief system? For example I am a strong christian and faith is a big part of what and why I do what I do. If you do not share those beliefs should you see some one else? The answer to that is up to you. I do not talk about my faith in session unless invited to, so if you do not want that to be part of your session it certainly does not have to be. You will never be met with judgement or shame by me NO MATTER WHAT YOU HAVE DONE. I believe in change. I believe that all people can change if they want to. It is a privilege for me to help you do that.

New CEU now ready!!

  Objectives:  Participants will gain an understanding of common comorbid diagnoses associated with Autism (ADHD, Depression, and ODD).  Par...