Cleaning Out your Marriage Closet: Couples Counseling

People are often worried about drudging up the past with their loved ones. There is controversy as to what is healthy for the relationship. People certainly don’t like to bring up an old fight when everything is going well. The issue is that we all have a closet of sorts where we hide everything that “isn’t worth the fight.” At first this closet is empty and the intention of putting things in there is good, you intend to talk about it later, it’s just not the right time.

The problem is that you enjoy the times you’re not fighting, who wouldn’t! You soon forget about what you’re storing in the closet, and you continue to throw everything “not worth the fight” into the closet. Your closet becomes full, and when you try to fit one more thing in there everything topples over. This is the fight of all fights, this is when you seemingly “loose it” out of nowhere about nothing and everything. This fight happens at a time when something was already “not worth the fight” and you were trying to put it in the closet. Therefore, you are probably not up for resolving everything in that closet either. It’s like if your junk closet toppled over just as company is coming over, you’re going to scoop everything up and stuff it back into the closet because you don’t have time to sort through it. This fight leaves everyone upset and confused and often nothing is resolved in this fight.

So how does one clean out this closet? Well its much like spring cleaning, you are going to take everything out and you begin to sort everything into categories. You evaluate if it is something that only happened once and will never happen again, if this is the case it truly isn’t worth the fight and can be thrown out. If it is something that continues to happen you need to address it, you will be bringing up the past not as a weapon against the other person, but as a justification for bringing it up as an issue. It is absolutely necessary that cleaning this closet is done at a time when your calm and you remain calm to be able to assess what the core of the problem is, what does their behavior tell you about your relationship with them. For instance, If someone is always late, how does their behavior effect you, why does it feel disrespectful to you and how does it create distance in your relationship, what is the message you receive about their feelings toward you. As opposed to judging their behavior as something you wouldn’t do and lecturing them about how it affects them.

When you clean out the closet you are transferring responsibility to the people it will be useful with. You will find that the cleaner your closet becomes the more clarity you will have in your relationships. Your intent in cleaning out the closet is not to change other people’s behavior, it is meant to change your relationships. You will find that some people will choose to become more distant because they are unwilling to make changes, but the relationships that become closer and the internal peace will be worth the distance in others.

Written by Madison Price, MS, LAMFT – therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families

Latino and Hispanic Mental Health Care

There are many trials one might face in this lifetime, and finding proper mental health care should not be one of them. Specifically, there is an issue for Latino and Hispanic persons to be able to receive the proper care that they need. Throughout this article, I will be using both the terms ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’ interchangeably to describe members of this beautiful population, while meaning no disrespect to those who identify by either Hispanic or Latino.  

Currently, there are over 400,000 Latinos living in the State of Utah (Roughly 14% or 1 in 7)1. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 46% of Latino women and 20% of Latino men have struggled with depression2. However, less than 10% of Latino individuals suffering mental illnesses reach out to mental health care specialists. Additionally, Hispanic students between the 9th and 12th grades are more likely to commit suicide than their black and white peers3. Furthermore, first and second-generation Hispanics are more likely to experience depression than immigrants. 

Stigma/Cultural Differences 

There is a stigma surrounding mental health issues in most cultures. Within the Latino population, there is a fear of being labeled as “locos” (crazy) that can cause shame and fear to seek out the treatment that they need. Approximately 1 in 5 people are affected by a mental illness2. This statistic is no different for those within the Latino population.  

Understanding that there are few differences in regards to those who can be affected by mental illnesses, it is important to note that there are some differences in the way mental health treatments should take place among different cultures. I personally have visited and done humanitarian/therapeutic work in many countries, including: Spain, Costa Rica, Chile, Perú, and México. I understand that each of these countries have their own unique culture as well as do the other countries and cultures within the Hispanic and Latino communities. Finding a mental health care professional that can understand the cultural differences and possibly even the language is a big challenge and something that needs to be taken into account when looking for someone who can help you the best.  

Uninsured and Undocumented 

The fear of finding affordable health care is a real struggle if you do not have insurance or proper documentation. I have spoken to many individuals who do not seek out mental health care out of fear deportation. If this is a fear for you, it is important to seek out clinics and providers that care for all persons, regardless of legal status.  

Resources 

If you are uninsured, the Affordable Care Act is a resource available to you to see what you can qualify for. To learn more, go to https://www.cuidadodesalud.gov/es/ 

According to NAMI’s website, you can go to the website: findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357). If you do not have papers, contact local Latino organizations that might be able to help or provide a referral. Additionally, you can search NAMI’s Compartiendo Esperanza to learn more about the importance of mental health awareness within Latino communities. 

 

1-US Census, 2015. 

2-National Alliance on Mental Illness 

3-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015. 

Originally published on http://utvalleywellness.com/

Pornography Addiction: An Epidemic

Pornography is a big business. Americans spent 97 billion dollars on pornography over the past five years. The monetary cost of this epidemic is only a part of the real cost of this problem in our country. Over the past decade, increasing attention has been given to the damaging effects of pornography on the brain and, by extension, the lives of individuals and families. The accessibility of pornographic material and the multitude of technologic means by which it comes into our lives has brought this issue increasingly into the spotlight. In fact, you may be reading this because pornography has impacted you, personally, or someone you love.  

There has been controversy in the psychiatric literature about whether those who struggle with pornography are “addicted.” Whether or not it is formally designated in the professional literature as an addictive disorder, it certainly has been shown to affect the brain and the lives of its users in ways consistent with other addictive disorders. As with any addiction, an understanding of the process is key. Let’s start with how the brain responds to pornography. Our brains are designed to catalog our experiences with the end goal of preserving life and eliminating threats to our safety. Essentially, our brains are effective at remembering what feels good and what doesn’t. While this process is complex, a basic understanding of a few key brain chemicals is critical. 

The brain responds to pornography by releasing a powerful chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is released whenever we have pleasurable experiences. The release of dopamine and another powerful chemical called epinephrine (adrenaline) floods the brain in connection with pornography. With repeated exposure, a neural pathway in the brain is created that links arousal and associated neuro-chemicals dopamine and adrenaline with pornography use. As pornography exposure and dopamine release increases, dopamine receptors are eliminated. This “flooding” of the brain creates habituation or tolerance, resulting in the need for even greater stimulus (more explicit and “hard-core” pornography, novelty and intensity) to achieve the same effect.  

Dr. Donald L. Hilton, Jr. MD, a neurosurgeon at the University of Texas, has written extensively about the effects of pornography on the brain. His research and other reviews conclude that the effects of pornography on the brain are comparable to potent drugs, such as cocaine. He also explains that when the body orgasms, the brain produces a particular neurotransmitter called “oxytocin” which creates bonding. Oxytocin is also secreted in the brains of babies and moms during breastfeeding. So we are literally bonding to pornography (a digital image) when we reach climax. In an article published in the Harvard Crimson, Dr. Hilton states that “pornography emasculates men—they depend on porn to get sexually excited and can no longer get off by having sex with their women alone. What happens when you are addicted to porn is that you crave it. Real sex even becomes a poor substitute for porn, and you lose interest.” ¹ 

A final neurophysiologic effect of pornography is the damage created to the impulse control center of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex. With constant flooding of the brain with dopamine and epinephrine, there is a reduction in size and control of this area. Essentially, the ability to self-regulate and exercise impulse control is reduced until, ultimately, the addiction drives appetites, desires, and behaviors. As individuals fall into the grip of this addiction, they often experience other effects, such as isolation, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and relationship distress, among others – all of which spiral the individual away from resources that can lift and help them toward recovery and healing.  

As awareness of this issue increases, so do resources aimed at educating and assisting those affected by pornography addiction. A relatively new campaign called “Fight The New Drug” (www.fightthenewdrug.org) is an excellent resource for those seeking more information regarding the impact of pornography. There are also many religious/spiritually-based programs available², many of which are based on the twelve-step program utilized by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  

Pornography Counseling

Pornography addiction is becoming more prevalent in our society. Organizations like Fight the New Drug do a great job of educating the public on the harmful effects of pornography. What do you do if you struggle and can’t seem to find a way out? For many, the way out seems elusive and unobtainable. It’s difficult to find how when you have tried so many things, only to have this problem keep coming back. Many that come into counseling have already been before and are discouraged that they just can’t ‘get over it’. Knowing how to use the power or education and relationships is part of the answer. A good therapist can help you access both in your efforts to let go of this addiction. At the Center for Couples and Families we specialize in relationship therapy in regard to pornography use. Knowing how to communicate with your loved ones about this difficulty is an important part of the process.

How do I Get My Husband to Come to Counseling?

Counseling, if done right, is husband friendly! Find the right therapist and you’ll understand. The problem is that many husbands worry that the therapist is going to take their wife’s side and gang up on him, or that therapy will be uncomfortable. While the latter may be true, the former isn’t. A good therapist doesn’t take sides or act as a referee. I have had many couples want to hash out an argument in front of me in counseling so that I can tell them who is right. I stop them, and explain that even if one of them ended up right, that they would be so wrong in their rightness – their marriage would suffer because they insisted on being right instead of compassionate and forgiving. A good therapist, rather, is able to foster healthy interactions between spouses so that they both feel safe and are able to be vulnerable and genuine with each other. When husbands understand that what they feel and think is important, then they are more willing to make this uncomfortable leap with their spouse. Women are more likely than men to initiate therapy, but without buy-in from the man, it is difficult to be successful in therapy. My suggestion to women who want to initiate counseling, but have a reluctant spouse is to recognize that this is scary for your spouse. They may feel as if they will be attacked, or worse yet, that they will lose you. Help them understand that your desire for counseling is because you love him and because you want this to work – but aren’t sure how to make fix it. Ask him to give therapy at least 3 sessions – after that, if he still feels reluctant there might be another counselor or approach that you could try. Most men feel better about therapy after at least 3 sessions if you have the right therapist for you.

 

Originally published on www.tristonmorgan.com

 

The Secret of Pornography

Secrets fuel addiction. As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, addictions, such as pornography addictions, are a shame-based experience. This means that when someone uses pornography they feel as if they are a bad person, rather than feeling that they are a good person despite making a mistake. When someone feels shame, they often compartmentalize what they have done – they hid it and separate it from who they think they really are, or, think that that mistake totally defines who they really are.

This is where secrets come into play. Over time, a man (or woman – I’ve worked with both in therapy for pornography issues) who has been using pornography and feeling shame because of it will gather many secrets. He won’t want to tell anyone what he is doing, or won’t want to tell them all that he is doing. He might only present the best parts of himself or just tell enough about his mistakes to others to appease them or to feel like he is being open. But, in fact, he is keeping secrets. These secrets start to bury him and make him feel more shame. They take an effort to maintain and keep hidden. They cause him stress and to feel disconnected from others. All of these things can lead to more addictive acting out.

Being transparent is key. This, in part, is why in the 12-step model of recovery (for alcohol, sexual addiction or substance addiction) addicts are asked to write a fearless moral inventory and to share it. Being open with others can feel uncomfortable and embarrassing. Many would say, “It’s in the past – let it stay there” or, “I don’t want to hurt her, so I’m not going to tell her about it”. These mindsets only make things worse for someone using pornography and their spouse/family. Telling others and being transparent is on the path towards recovery.

Pornography counseling offers a venue to be transparent and honest with yourself and with your loved ones. A good therapist will help you through this process in a way that might be painful, but certainly not shameful.

Originally published on www.tristonmorgan.com

 

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

You might exercise to improve your physical health and appearance, but did you also know that exercise has serious benefits for your mental health and relationships? It can lead to a healthier and happier life. I ran on the cross country and track team at BYU and as an avid runner and someone who has suffered from postpartum depression, I have reaped the benefits from running for nearly two decades. Running helped me tremendously throughout college, as a young mother, and in my professional life. 

Reduce Stress 

One of the most common mental health benefits of exercise is stress relief. Working out can help you manage physical and mental stress. Exercise also increases amounts of norepinephrine, which moderates your brain’s response to stress. So, working out will reduce stress and increase your body’s ability to deal with existing psychological stress. 

Boosting Happy Chemicals 

Another common mental health benefit to exercise is its increase of endorphins in the brain, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can alleviate symptoms among clinically depressed persons. In some cases, exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication in treating depression. Just 30 minutes a few times a week can instantly boost your mood.  

Improve Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem 

Consistent exercise leads to improved levels of fitness. Physical fitness can boost your self-esteem and improve your self-image. Regardless of your weight, size, gender or age, exercise can improve your perception of your own attractiveness and self-worth. A study of adolescent girls found that running was linked to their greater self-esteem. Girls who could run more laps at a faster pace reportedly exhibited higher levels of self-esteem. In additional studies, overweight kids who participated in vigorous aerobic exercise such as running experience an elevation in self-esteem levels.  

Alleviate Anxiety 

Running and other forms of vigorous exercise can reduce your anxiety and help you relax. The chemicals released during and after exercise can help you calm down. Also, engaging in some moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise (HIIT/intervals) can reduce anxiety sensitivity.  

Help Manage Addiction 

The brain releases a chemical called dopamine in response to any form of pleasure whether it’s from exercise, sex, drugs, alcohol, food, or shopping. On a positive note, exercise can help in addiction recovery. Short exercise bouts can effectively distract drug or alcohol addicts causing them to de-prioritize cravings in the short-term. Alcohol abuse disrupts many body processes, including circadian rhythms. Thus, alcoholics find that they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep without drinking. Exercise helps reboot your body’s clock and helps you go to sleep at normal time. This leads to better sleep quality. A study from Vanderbilt University found that heavy marijuana users experienced a marked decline in both cravings and daily use after a few sessions of running on a treadmill. Several other studies found that running reduces cravings for other drugs including cocaine, meth, nicotine, and alcohol.  

Food can be an addiction when taken to extremes and exercise can help manage food cravings as well. Studies show that after one hour of fast running, participants were more likely to choose healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables over junk food.   

Helps the Brain Heal from Substance Abuse 

Amazingly, studies have found that exercise can help your brain heal from substance abuse even when the drug is as potent as meth. Meth decreases your brain’s production of dopamine and serotonin and burns out their receptors so it is harder for the brain to use dopamine and serotonin. Running helps to re-normalize the function of these two key neurotransmitters, and increases their production.  

Although exercise may not completely protect you from mental distress or illness, it definitely has positive effects beyond the gym. Furthermore, the benefits available to you through regular, consistent exercise go beyond your mental and physical health. When you feel better it affects other aspects of your life such as your relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. Improved mental health can lead to improved relationships and a healthier and happier life.  

 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

 

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Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: Healing and Creating Connections

All of us, from cradle to grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figures. – Dr. John Bowlby

Have we really cracked the code on love and romantic bonding? Perhaps. Scientists, poets, and lovers have long grappled with the question: “What makes romantic love work?” Through the work of Dr. Sue Johnson and the development of Emotionally Focused Therapy, it looks like we have an answer.

Through decades of research on the importance of emotional bonding and what it is like to feel disconnected, isolated, and alone, relationship researchers are starting to unravel the mystery of love and adult romantic bonding and how to mend loving ties. The truth is, we are all hard-wired to connect to one another. This drive to connect is infinitely stronger in family and romantic relationships. To be emotionally isolated is harsh on our brains. Loving connections offer us a safe haven to go to where we can maintain our emotional balance, deal with stress, and respond more lovingly to our romantic partners. Essentially, when those connections are secure and strong, love is safe; love flourishes.

Unfortunately, disconnections between couples do happen and frustration, sadness, and anger are all too common in marital relationships. When those secure and loving bonds are threatened, emotional “primal panic” and a cycle of negative interactions ensues. These wounds can be difficult to repair for couples when left to their own abilities, and therapy is often the last step before looking to end the relationship. Unfortunately, many well-meaning therapists utilize their individual-based, time-tested techniques and attempt to apply them to relational interactions, which usually has little effect in restoring their loving bonds. In addition, many therapeutic techniques focus on helping partners change behaviors or thoughts, or teaching them communication skills. The common result from these approaches and techniques is that they usually struggle to gain traction, and the couple leaves therapy with less hope than before.

But there is hope. Within the last 25 years, a substantial amount of research has emerged that gives hope to couples on the brink and helps them tune in to their underlying emotions, identify their negative patterns of interaction, repair their attachment, and eventually create new patterns of bonding and positive interactions. This model is Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Grounded in the theory of attachment, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an experiential, short term, structured, and tested model of therapy designed to help couples identify their negative communication patterns, interrupt this pattern, and create more positive, bonding, and secure emotional patterns. EFT does not see individuals as “sick” or unskilled, but rather “stuck in habitual ways of dealing with emotions with others in key moments.” As the title reflects, priority is given to emotion as a key organizer of inner experiences. EFT looks within the emotional experience of the couples and how they navigate their emotional connectedness. Dr. Sue Johnson has said, “The EFT therapist has a map. A map to relationships and how they work. A map to how they go wrong. And map to what is needed to put them right.”

A substantial body of research has shown promising results of the effectiveness of EFT. Research studies find that 70-75 percent of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements. EFT is being used with many different kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics, and many different cultural groups throughout the world. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and chronic illness.

In my work with couples, EFT has resonated with them on many levels. No longer are couples focused on fights and long-standing disagreements about specific content or trying to change the other person. When couples go through the process of EFT, perpetual problems are framed as negative disconnections that are about protests by each partner for a more loving connection and emotional safety. EFT takes the blame out of conflict and resentment and moves to fighting together against a common enemy—the negative pattern. As couples progress through the stages and steps of EFT and begin to accesses deeper emotions that underlie their struggle for connection, a new interaction emerges as individual partners see and experience each other differently. When partners experience each other as more accessible, responsive, and engaged, old wounds and negative patterns are healed, and love and emotional safety thrives.

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Written by Dr. Jeremy Boden

Welcome American Fork couples therapist Tiffany Winegar, MS, LAMFT

 

New to the American Fork Center for Couples and Families team, Tiffany Winegar is taking new clients! She specializes in couples therapy, family therapy, anxiety/depression, self-esteem/self-actualization, perfectionism and teen/adolescent girls. Tiffany received her Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from Brigham Young University, one of the top MFT programs in the world. Prior to, and during her masters program, Tiffany was mentored by world-renowned social relationships psychologist, Dr. Julianne-Holt Lunstand and worked as a member of her research team studying social relationships and health. In addition to her work with Dr. Holt-Lunstad, Tiffany has been involved in additional research in the field of health psychology including the study of stress and emotional regulation. She is passionate about applying the principles from her clinical training and research to improve the lives and relationships of her clients. Tiffany is a member of AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) and NCFR (National Council on Family Relations). Tiffany grew up in Southern California and now resides in Draper, UT with her husband and two boys.