Fun and Play by Dr. Jeremy Boden, LMFT, CFLE

When was the last time you and your partner really had fun together? When was the last time you were truly playing together?

Family in PoolWhen working with couples at the Center for Couples and Families, one of the most consistent questions I ask to evaluate the current vitality of their relationship is about their level of fun and play. I’ve found in both my therapeutic and educational settings that couples overwhelmingly underestimate the power of play and fun in their long-term relationships. In fact, two findings consistently show up in the research: 1. Couples give too little notice to fun and play in their relationship and, 2. playing together and having fun is a key contributor to marital happiness among couples.

You might contend, “We are too busy for fun.” If this is your sentiment, let me be the first to validate that concern. Yes! our lives have become increasingly busy. Having fun just doesn’t seem productive when there are jobs to go to, rooms clean, kids to feed, and activities to attend. I know. It’s tough. However, humor me and let’s see if I can bring in another perspective to the importance of fun and play in marriage.

MP900309139Dr. John Gottman, an award-winning marital researcher, has interviewed and observed couples in his “love lab” for the last twenty-five years. He found that when couples maintain at least five times as many positive interactions as they do negative interactions their relationship is more likely to be stable. However, few people have wedding vows that state, “I promise to make this relationship stable all of our married life.” At the genesis of most marriages, couples hope for their relationship to be full of vitality and happiness for the length of their lives. Thus, the goal for couples should be to have 10 to 20 times as many positives as they do negatives. I believe the main reason this is important is because during times of tension, conflict, or frustration, if you don’t have a reservoir of positive interactions stored up, the negative interaction can drain any positive feelings you have for your partner and create more tension than the issue probably deserves.

MP900289480So, what is a positive interaction? A positive interaction is any pleasant interaction (great or small) where a bond is strengthened and fortified. Therefore, having fun and playing together as a couple is a form of positive interactions. This can include dates, surprises, romantic acts, flirtations, appreciation, physical affection, or just plain silliness. An example of a simple positive interaction occurred the other night between my wife and me. As we were winding down from the day, she found an app on her phone where one can take a picture and manipulate a self-photo with crazy hair, make-up, morph their face, and so on. We sat there for about 15-20 minutes making a variety of different silly pictures of me, her, and other family members. It was fun, silly, and, most importantly, bonding. That simple act, created a positive interaction between the two of us.

In my experience with couples, those relationships that do the best are those that are proactive and intentional about positive relationship habits. Most relationships don’t just accidently succeed but rather it is two partners committed to intentionally nourishing and enriching their relationship daily. So, let me help you be a little more intentional by giving you a little homework or, what I like to call, Home Practice. Tonight, set aside 20 minutes when you are both relatively relaxed and wound down. Then, with your partner, engage in the following activity:
1. Separately write down five ideas of things that would be fun.
2. Together share your ideas and be open to your partner’s ideas.
3. Do your best to engage in activities that are, for the most part, fun for both partners. But also try to stretch yourself a little.
4. Make a plan for this upcoming weekend to engage in one of the activities.
5. Finally, make a point to not shy away from moments in your day together where you could be more spontaneously playful, affectionate, flirtatious, and/or silly.

Make fun and play a healthy habit in your relationship and watch the fruits begin to blossom.

Jeremy2(1) (297x221)About the Author: Jeremy Boden, PhD, LAMFT, CFLE is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. He has a PhD in Family Studies and is a Certified Family Life Educator as well as an instructor at Utah Valley University.

Balance by Jamie Porter

?????????????Lately, I have been challenged to find balance. This wasn’t by any particular person’s request or by a class requirement, but by a chain of events that redirected focus onto myself.

What exactly is balance? How does one achieve it? Why is it so important? And how do you do it?

Balance is defined by a state of equilibrium or equipoise (dictionary.com). In biomechanics, balance is an ability to maintain the line of gravity (vertical line from centre of mass) of a body within the base of support with minimal postural sway.[1] Sway is the horizontal movement of the centre of gravity even when a person is standing still. A certain amount of sway is essential and inevitable due to small perturbations within the body (e.g., breathing, shifting body weight for one foot to the other or from forefoot to rearfoot) or from external triggers (e.g., visual distortions, floor translations). (wikipedia.com). The merium-webster.com dictionary defined it as a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

An activity I do often with overwhelmed clients, is to have them hold onto a small plate. As I ask them what they have on their plate, I add sugar packets for everything they list. I have a doctor appointment, homework in science, need to wash my car, take my daily medicine, talk to the neighbors about babysitting my dog this weekend, washing clothes, paying the bills, cleaning my carpet, calling back my grandmother….. The list can go on and on and on. When the plate starts to overflow and sugar packets are falling on the floor, I am reminded by the overwhelming fact that there is absolutely no balance and it’s my job to help my clients prioritize, re-structure and build better coping skills.

Now the trick and truth of every therapist, is to not just give sound suggestions, but to follow it themselves.

single 2See the following….
MAKE YOUR LIST AND PRIORITIZE: take a couple of minutes to sit down, write out your list of things you need to get done TODAY, and then start putting numbers on what is most important TODAY. 1 would be most important and the higher the number, the less of importance. The higher numbers may even be done tomorrow or the next day, even set for long term goals.

PRIORITIZE SHORT TERM AND LONG TERM: As you are making your short term goals, long term goals will develop too. Prioritize those too. You may have a project that you want to do, but don’t need to do. If your attention was focused on it today, all the TODAY objectives would never get done and then your project that doesn’t need to be done today takes over the importance.

STAY FOCUSED:
A problem that people that ‘do too much’ or ‘focus on too many projects’ run in to, the they often lose focus of what really needs to be done. Some even hyperfocus on one subject, loosing focus on everything else. Additional tips to best manage distractibility might include:

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applauding1. SET AN ALARM: if you need to get something done in a short period of time, set your alarm clock.
2. GET A CALENDAR: use your calendar to remind yourself of deadlines. (paper, electronic, both)
3. BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: cross things off your list done, re-mind yourself what is on your short term, long term goal list, prioritized with numbers of importance and continue to attempt
4. REWARD: It’s only human nature to want to be rewarded when a project is done. Don’t forget to reward yourself with a break, a walk, a treat (food or financial), friends and family, internal gratification, words of affirmation

And remind me again of some things that will help me find balance?

MEDITATION/BREATH: Focusing on one word at a time like the word ‘Calm’, ‘Peace’, ‘Pause’ are very helpful for grounding emotions. Meditation allows the body to slow down, worries to fade and pushes the mind and body to be present in the current moment. Breath from the deepest part of your core, down to the floor in hale deeply, and breath loudly, slowly exhale out of your mouth and repeat. This is a good practice when you feel overworked, overwhelmed, out of balance, stressed. Go ahead, practice. Find a quiet place to sit. Cross your legs or sit in a position where your legs are bent at the knees. Then practice your core breathing, focusing on meditative words. Be completely and fully present.

ART: This is a great way to re-center too. Paint, color, pastels, chalk or other are great ways to get balance. Display your raw emotions on paper, capture a piece of nature, or just doodle/scribble the negativity away, looking for the balance in your revealed masterpiece.
READING: Reading is mindless. It takes you to another place. It distracts in a healthy way. It builds vocabulary. It restores balance.

Athlete Running Through Finish LinePHYSICAL ACTIVITY:
Move! Run, walk, hike, jump….it’s important that we get our endorphins moving to help us find an outlet. Sweat result leaves us with a heightened energy level, healthier body movement, and feelings of accomplishments.

THERAPY: the inside joke is that all therapists need a therapist. But the truth is they do. We have the tendency to focus so much on our own clients that we lose sight of what is important for us and how to manage, especially when overwhelmed with other’s emotions. One of the best ways to manage and maintain balance, is to be honest with yourself, with your therapist, and dig deep. Allow unhealthy emotions of the past to move past the detrimental stage and re-gain balance in your new life. So whether it’s at the most personal level as a therapist, or the personal level as a client, it’s important to not self-neglect.

singer 3PLAY: Don’t forget to play. Have fun. Smile. Play with your kids. Play with your spouses. Play with friends and families. Play card games, board games, pool, park, movies, and/or travel. ENJOY yourself!

BOUNDARIES: it’s okay to say NO! It doesn’t make you a bad person. It helps you stay accountable to the things you can do and can follow through with, versus over-planning and over-committing and not completing a task.

How does this work again? Taking the time to be cognizant of yourself, your emotions and your priorities will help you keep a balance. Balance exists in life, friendships, relationships, work, emotions and functionality. As long as you can PAUSE and reflect on where you’re sitting in the midst of your ‘full plate’, then you are more willing to take care of the things on the plate and the person balancing the plate. A great analogy is that of a waiter with their tray of plates, glasses and food. If one glass slides and all your focus goes onto that one glass, you will lose everything on your tray. If you move the whole tray to help rebalance the glass, than everything else on the plate gets a level of respect and attention that is needed for safety. The greatest of these challenges, is follow through. Take the balance challenge. Are you ready for a life of balance?

jamieAbout the Author: About the Author: Jamie Porter has a Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from UHCL. She has worked in non-profit settings working with women, adolescents, children, families, couples, and equine assisted psychotherapy. She is currently the Sugar Land Center for Couples & Families office manager, and an AAMFT approved supervisor.

Positive on Purpose by Andy Thompson, LMFT, MS

business man with laptop over head - madA life dominated by negativity can be stressful, and stress causes wear and tear on our bodies, minds, and relationships. Have you ever noticed the tendency in yourself or in others to pay more attention to the negative things or problems in life than to the positive things and aspects of life that are going well? This is called negativity bias, which is the notion that things of a more negative nature, such as unpleasant thoughts, emotions, experiences, or interactions with others, will have a greater effect on a person’s emotional/mental/psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things, even when events are of equal intensity.
While I am not suggesting that we ignore challenges and difficulties, we do need to pay attention to the ratio of positive to negative experiences in our lives. For example, marriage and relationship researchers have come to recommend that for relationships to survive, a couple needs to have at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction.

In many areas of our lives, negativity can overwhelm us and begin to become chronic. Sometimes we might develop symptoms such as anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and distorted patterns of thinking. If negativity dominates our conversation, we might even start to notice that others distance themselves from us because they experience us as negative. This can turn into a vicious cycle that leads us to be unhappy.
Fortunately, there are many steps we can take in order to counteract negativity bias without invalidating the concerns we may have in our lives.

Businesswoman Ready for Work with Husband In Kitchen.What you can do in your head: Be aware of negativity bias and intentionally pay more attention to positive experiences. For example, eat a delicious meal slowly and really savor it. Pay attention to the positive sensations you get from your food, including tastes, textures, and smells that are pleasant.
What you can do with your actions: Intentionally bring more positive things into your life. Don’t wait until you feel positive to pursue positive experiences. Schedule in something positive, like a massage, a fishing trip, a movie with friends. If money is tight, there are still positive things to plan into your life, like a walk in the park, watching a sunrise, or a phone call to a family member or friend.
What you can do in your relationships: Prioritize. Avoid overloading your relationships with too many negative or difficult topics. Don’t try to fix every problem, correct every annoying behavior, or have all the hard conversations all at once. Pick the most important issues to deal with, and then work to have positive interactions in between facing challenges.

What you can do in your heart: Gratitude. Regularly think of things you normally take for granted (eg. Access to clean drinking water) and imagine your life without those things. This can often help us create an experience of appreciation for the good things in our lives, which can help us to feel more positive.
Again, I am not suggesting that it is a good idea to ignore or push away all negative experiences. Avoiding difficult conversations with a spouse, child, or other family members and friends can be harmful to our relationships. I’m also not suggesting that we need to put on our rose colored glasses and trust everyone and everything. What I am suggesting, however, is that if we make the effort to increase positive thoughts, experiences, and feelings in life, then we will be happier, healthier, and be more energized and capable of tackling challenges without getting overwhelmed by negativity.
<img src="http://ccfresources.com/testing/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2015/09/Andy-Thompson.jpg" alt="Andy-Thompson" width="270" height="179" class="alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-1069"About the Author: Andy is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at the St. George Center and the Cedar City Center for Couples and Families. He graduated from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science with an emphasis in Family Studies. To set up an appointment call (435) 319-4582.

Childhood Stress: 7 Signs and 7 Solutions by Joan Landes

Kids on School BusYour five-year old keeps having melt-downs over small incidents. Your ten-year old has stomach aches every day. And your 15 year-old plays video-games until three in the morning. Are these just normal developmental glitches, or is there something amiss that needs attention?

Stress can challenge the coping skills of even the most resilient people, but children, especially, are vulnerable. To make matters worse, children often communicate their distress with behaviors rather than words.

Parents shouldn’t expect their children to say, “You know Mom, I feel over scheduled, tired, and unable to meet your expectations. I suggest we re-examine our family goals.” Instead, youngsters often resort to emotional outbursts, avoidance and bodily complaints to express their feelings. Unfortunately, many families focus on punishing the symptoms rather than addressing the underlying causes. That is often a huge mistake.

?????????????????Here are some behavioral signs that your child may be over-stressed:

1. Emotional volatility caused by minor triggers including crying, fighting, anger or more subtle signs such as irritability and over-sensitivity.
2. Numerous aches, pains and other physical symptoms such as headache, stomach ache, fatigue, and asthma attacks.
3. Self-harming behaviors such as nail-biting, hair pulling, anorexia, cutting, burning or non-cosmetic piercing.
4. Avoidant behaviors such as isolation, withdrawal, procrastination, over-sleeping. Additional red flags include unsocial immersion in activities such as video-gaming, internet surfing, music, or even homework and reading books. Other avoidances include withdrawal from activities which were formerly pleasurable such as sports, the arts or socializing with friends.
5. Self-medicating behaviors such as over-eating and substance use. Stress-related over-eating can result in a pattern of binging and/or purging through laxative use or vomiting. Substance use can include prescription drugs, street drugs, inhalants, and the habitual use of “energy drinks”.
6. Distracting activities such as gambling, pornography use, promiscuity, obsessions, compulsions, shoplifting, and partying with high-risk friends.
7. Cognitive difficulties may include a lack of concentration, academic problems and test anxiety.

Of course, some of these behaviors may be normal and transient as children grow up. But if you suspect that these behaviors are interfering with your child’s family life, social life or school success you may want to consult with a clinical counselor. In the meantime, apply some of the following strategies to relieve some of your family’s daily stress.

joan297x222About the Author: Joan Landes is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. She feels that therapy should be an adventure for her clients and (gasp!) actually fun. Joan loves learning the latest neuroscience underpinning human resilience and is enthusiastic about skill development in her clients.

Spring Cleaning Your Marriage by Chad Olson, LMFT

yellow 3How do you “Spring Clean” when it comes to your marriage? When I was growing up, I knew that every spring at the Olson household we would have a major cleaning session. It was time to dejunk, get organized and deep clean for the coming year because the house and yard tended to get neglected during the long winter.

As I reflect upon those “spring cleanings,” it was not an event I really looked forward to; in fact, I dreaded all the work. Yet, if I am honest with myself, there was something satisfying about working hard to get organized and make things look good again. These experiences have always reminded me that spring is a wonderful time of year because it’s symbolic of new life and rejuvenation.

Attractive couple portrait.New opportunity
Because of this, spring can offer an excellent opportunity to reflect on one of the most important relationships people experience during this life, their marriage. Because of “long winters” that occur at various times in marriage, there is value in taking time with your spouse to do a marital spring cleaning.
Sometimes when my parents asked me to complete a big project during spring cleaning, it seemed overwhelming and I didn’t even know where to start. My parents would then help me break down the bigger picture into smaller parts which made it possible for me to eventually complete the whole task.

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of analyzing your whole marriage, consider the following suggestions to start the cleaning. You may even want to share with your spouse these ideas or ideas of your own that would be helpful for your own personal marital spring cleaning.

Take a look back at your wedding
First, I would suggest that you take some time as a couple to look through your wedding album or watch your wedding video. As couples reflect upon their wedding, they start to remember the reasons why they decided to get married in the first place. They can think about everything they did in their dating and courtship that made their relationship strong.

Relationships are governed by laws and it will come as no surprise that couples who spend time together talking and doing fun things together are more attracted to each other. On the other hand, that same law states that for couples who neglect doing the fun things they did during dating and courtship, their relationship gets stale and mundane.
I realize that life gets busier after the wedding with careers, children, and challenges, yet couples who want to keep their relationship fresh will make time to do the things that made them fall in love with each other in the first place. So, get that photo album out and remind yourselves of that deep attraction you once had.

MP900440326Improve your friendship with your spouse
The next suggestion is to improve your friendship with your spouse. Research from the Gallup Organization indicates that a couple’s friendship could account for 70 percent of overall marital satisfaction. In fact, the emotional intimacy that a married couple shares is five times more important than their physical intimacy. This research is in line with other research studies asking happily married couples who have been together for over thirty years to what they attribute their marital happiness. The number one response was their friendship.
It seems simple, but friendships require time and effort. So what makes a good friend?
Simple qualities such as thoughtfulness and showing appreciation are a good start. Try to remember the little things throughout the day that your spouse is involved with and ask how they went. Make birthdays, anniversaries and holidays special by doing little things that remind your spouse they are your best friend.
A true friend is loyal, fiercely loyal. A genuine friendship is also based on principles of reciprocity, wherein both spouses are contributing and the result is mutually beneficial.

Consider the following quote from a well-respected ecclesiastical leader, Marlin K. Jensen:
Friendship is … a vital and wonderful part of courtship and marriage. A relationship between a man and a woman that begins with friendship and then ripens into romance and eventually marriage will usually become an enduring, eternal friendship. Nothing is more inspiring in today’s world of easily dissolved marriages than to observe a husband and wife quietly appreciating and enjoying each other’s friendship year in and year out as they experience together the blessings and trials of mortality.

Remember that even though spring cleaning can seem a little daunting, it can be very satisfying as well. So, let’s get cleaning.

OlsonAbout the Author: Chad Olson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah and the clinical director of the St. George Center for Couples & Families. He enjoys working with couples, families, and teens on various issues.

The Role of Spirituality in Health Care by Dr. Victor Sierpina, MD

Lone Tree in SnowSpirituality and religious beliefs may seem like an inappropriate topic to discuss in the health care setting. Perhaps such conversations are best held by a pastoral counselor, clergy, or the hospital chaplain. Patients and their families always have some value system in place, whether based in traditional religious structures, personal spirituality, or some philosophy of life. It is often helpful to elicit these beliefs in order to understand a person’s support system, how and why they make health care choices, and how they might affect palliative care or end-of-life choices.
One model for addressing spiritual belief systems has been developed under the auspices of the John Templeton Foundation and is taught to health professionals through the George Washington Institute of Spirituality in Health. It is called FICA. This is a rather straightforward approach that allows a neutral, non-threatening, and supportive approach to inquiring about the patient’s beliefs. FICA is an acronym for:
Faith and Belief. A question like, “Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious?” can open up rich dialogue on personal values and beliefs.
Importance. A physician or health provider might ask, “What importance do your faith or beliefs have related to your health.”
Community. “Are you part of a spiritual or religious community?” This helps determine the support system.

balanceAddress in care. “How would you like me, as your healthcare provider, to address these issues?” They may not want to go any further at this time, but at least we now have permission to enter into this level of conversation.
In my experience, patients are eager and open to discuss spiritual beliefs with their doctor, yet most physicians feel uncomfortable initiating such discussions. By normalizing this kind of conversation and including it in the routine intake history with a patient, it becomes a matter of record and, with practice, easier to discuss. This requires more than dutifully recording the patient’s religious affiliation in the medical record. It also helps to avoid making the patient feel like they are at death’s door, as their doctor is suddenly talking about their belief system or religion.
Of course, healthcare professionals must be cautious not to proselytize their own religious beliefs on patients and to be diligently mindful of any conscious or even unconscious bias about someone of a different faith or spiritual belief than their own. We are there to explore the patient’s support system, to understand how they process the mysteries of life, and how they make decisions. If a patient and provider share the same religious outlook, patients often feel reassured by discussion, prayer in the office, sharing scriptures of relevance, and the like. Be attentive for “faith flags,” like religious symbols, certain verbal expressions, religious jewelry, T-shirt mottos, reading materials, even tattoos, as these might give a clue to a patient’s spiritual orientation and thus occasion a deeper discussion.

In his landmark book, Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and death camp survivor, observed that even under the horrific conditions of the concentration camp, those who held onto some kind of personal goal, hope, or meaning for their life frequently survived. Often, those right next to them without such a spiritual construct were the first to die. Without hope, without meaning, without spirit, the body shuts down.
Our goals as health providers are to value our patients as human beings, mind, body, and spirit; to relieve both physical and metaphysical suffering; and to offer love, support, and caring on as many levels as the patient is ready to accept. Spirituality belongs in the clinical setting for these reasons.

Sierpina_Victor_5x7About the Author: Dr. Victor Sierpina is currently the director of the Medical Student Education Program at UTMB, Galveston. He is a WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine, and also a Professor in Family Medicine. He is a University of Texas Distinguished Teaching Professor. His clinical interests have long included holistic practices, wellness, lifestyle medicine, mind-body therapies, acupuncture, integrative oncology, nutrition, and non-pharmacological approaches to pain.

Nothing Mellow About Yellow! by Camille Olson

yellow flowerJust the other day I found myself at the shoe store buying ballet shoes for my daughters. I don’t know a woman on earth that can be at a shoe store and not “just look” for her own size. So next thing I knew, there I was, trying on shoes for myself. On the bottom of the rack and on clearance was a pair of yellow shoes. I could not believe my luck! I loved them and bought them without another thought. It wasn’t until I brought them home, did I start thinking about why I loved that bright and vibrant color so much. To me, there is nothing “mellow about yellow.” Here are a couple things I learned from the color YELLOW.
1. Yellow is bold and confident. Confidence is power. People are drawn to others who are confident in themselves. Does this mean we have to be “fake” and pretend we are confident when we are not? No! This just means celebrate the talents you have to offer this world! Hold your head up high. Be bold and secure that you are enough. It is easy to feel inadequate, especially in the “social media” world that we live in. At our finger tips we have access to the good things in everyone else’s lives. We need to remember that very few people are posting their struggles and hardships online, rather they are more often trying to make their lives look perfect. We cannot compare our challenges to someone else’s success. It is not fair to YOU!

yellow 32. Yellow is a happy color. Surround yourself with things and people that make you happy. I believe that gratitude goes hand and hand with happiness. When we are busy looking for the good and appreciating things, we have little energy left to be critical. When my boys were little, I spent five minutes a day writing down three things that I was grateful for. At first, it was really hard for me to come up with different things to be grateful for. Little by little, it became easier, and before long I could fill up half a page with little or no effort. I found that my heart was more grateful for the little things. I was quicker to recognize small blessings in my life. Many interesting things happen to us when we are grateful. Here are my favorite three things: (see below for reference)

  •  People with an “attitude of gratitude” are in better physical health, sleep better, and spend more time exercising.*
  •  People with an “attitude of gratitude” have lower levels of stress hormones in their blood.**
  •  People with an “attitude of gratitude” undo the cardiovascular after effects of negative emotions.***

 

yellow flower 23. Yellow is uplifting. No one has ever said (to my knowledge) “Oh great, here comes another beautiful ray of sunshine to lighten my day.” We should all splash a little color into our lives by taking time for ourselves. Spend that extra minute or two in the shower relaxing or tuck yourself into bed an hour early so you can read that chapter you have been waiting to read. Take a walk with a friend or just enjoy the peace and quiet of the day. When we color our lives with things that make us a feel better, we act and treat others better.

 

“Taking time for yourself gives your brain a chance to reboot, improves concentration, increases productivity, helps you discover (or rediscover) your own voice, gives you a chance to think deeply , and helps you problem solve more effectively. It also gives you a better sense of balance and self-awareness that can lead to a better understanding of yourself–what drives you, what inspires you, what excites you. This, in turn, can have a positive effect not only on the quality of your relationship with yourself, but also on the quality of your relationships with others.”****

 

Next time you see something bold and beautifully yellow, remember the quest to be more like that dynamic color and reflect its values in our own lives. Is it any wonder why some of the most beautiful creations of this earth are yellow?

* Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well being in daily life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84: 377-89.
** R. McCraty, B. Barrios-Choplin, D. Rozman, M Atkinson & A. D. Watkins (1998) The impact of a new emotional self-management program on stress, emotions, heart rate variability, DHEA and cortisol. Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science. 32 (2) 151-70.
*** C. Branigan, B. L. Fredrickson, R. A. Mancuso, & M. M. Tugade (2000) The undoing effect of positive emotions, Motivation and Emotion 24: 237-58.
****Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout(Prometheus Books, 2011).
camille2About the Author: Camille Olson is currently working in the marketing department at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families. She received her B.S. degree from Brigham Young University in elementary education. She is married and is the mother of five children.

Avoiding Abusive Relationships (and Building Good Ones) by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

stock-1In my work as a therapist and relationship educator the most frequently-recurring issue I see among single adults is the belief that all of the good men/women are already taken. Many seem stuck in a pattern of abusive, controlling, neglectful relationships that they desperately want to escape. Others have heard the horror stories of their friends and are understandably reticent to enter the dating scene themselves.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid getting into negative relationships and develop healthy ones instead. Dr. John Van Epp, a counselor with decades of experience working with single adults, has developed a research-based program, charmingly titled “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk” (based on the book of the same name) that offers essential tools for dating well.

MP900309139As a certified instructor of this “No Jerks” class, as well as a marriage and family therapist who was single for years, I’m well aware that it’s a jungle out there. Allow me to offer four keys to help the never-married, the divorced, the widowed, and the struggling to date with confidence and caution, but without fear.

1. Don’t allow your level of touch to exceed your level of commitment.
2. Don’t trust someone more than you actually know them.
3. Be the type of person that you want to attract.
4. Live a life worth living on your own.

Let’s dig a little deeper on each of these:

1. Don’t allow your level of touch to exceed your level of commitment.
In popular media we frequently see couples entering very early into a physical relationship; the decision to enter (or not) into a committed relationship often comes much later, if at all. This seems to work fine on the page and screen, but remember that those are fictional destinies, determined by authors and screenwriters instead of by reality. In real life, explains Dr. Van Epp, early physical involvement creates a false sense of intimacy. In other words, you think that you’re more in love than you actually are.

Couple holding hands.This is because physical intimacy triggers the release of bonding hormones that make you feel intensely attached to the other person. Of course, if you don’t really know the other person and haven’t developed a pattern of reliably meeting each other’s needs over time, the sensation of “love” is actually a mirage that may or may not actually materialize. The other person may not be dependable, they may not be who you think they are, or they may be lying to you. A breakup after physical intimacy is usually far more painful than one where things didn’t go as far.

2. Don’t trust someone more than you know them.
Dr. Van Epp describes trust as the mental image you have of the person, i.e. who you “think they are.” We don’t trust others, we trust our idea of them, which may or may not be accurate. This is why, when someone betrays our trust, we say “You’re not who I thought you were!” Early on, we gather bits and pieces of a person’s identity from what we observe and what we’ve heard about them. If we’re not careful, we may rush to fill in the gaps with what we hope they are or who we assume them to be, based on limited information.
What’s more, they may be, at best, trying to make a good impression or at worst actively deceitful. This is why it’s important to take time to get to know somebody before entering into a relationship. Build a friendship. Talk frequently and observe them in a variety of situations. See if their actions match their words and if they are who you think they are. Watch carefully how they treat other people. It generally takes at least 90 days for true behavioral patterns to reveal themselves.

3. Be the type of person that you want to attract.
I once had a client in my office for therapy (story shared with permission) who told me that he’d probably never marry because his standards were too high. When I asked him what those standards were, he offered to bring me a list he’d prepared, which he did in the next session. The lengthy list of traits required of his “perfect woman” went on and on. With each requirement this dream female was sounding more and more like a cross between Mary Poppins and Wonder Woman. I took my client’s list, turned it towards him, pointed at it, and said: “Here’s the thing. The woman you describe here… what her list look like?”

The man looked like ice water had been thrown on his face. He realized that he wasn’t living up to the standards that he had set for his mate. He had to be the type of person that he wanted to attract, and if he expected her to embrace and tolerate his imperfections, he’d better be prepared to embrace and tolerate hers. If you want an honest person, be an honest person. If you want a loyal partner, be loyal. If you want someone hard-working, work hard. If you don’t want to be pressured into a relationship, respect the right of others to make their own choices as well.

yellow flower4. Build a life worth living on your own.

It’s fine to want someone to hold and to make memories with here and now, but as soon as that want becomes need, you’re likely to get hurt. Why? As soon as you need to have a man or a woman in your life right now, you’re in love with the idea of being in love. That’s when you scare people away by coming across as desperate. That’s when shady characters can use your neediness to manipulate and use you.

I look at it this way: if you aren’t able to swim on your own, if you’re afraid of drowning in loneliness and despair, you’re going to cling to whatever piece of slimy driftwood comes floating by. The best way to combat this is to build a life worth living on your own. You can still love your life by helping others, developing your relationships with friends and family, and pursuing worthwhile goals. This will make you less desperate, less needy, more attractive to others, and more able to swim on your own. That way, if you end up with someone, it will be because you choose to be with that person, not because you need someone right this moment or you’ll fall apart.
While I’ve much more to share on the subject (and will in the future) these four keys are essential to dating well. Good luck, and happy hunting!

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113.

Forgiveness: Spiritual & Medical Implications by Christina Puchalski

This is an interesting article taken from The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.

“Forgiveness: Spiritual and Medical Implications”  by Christina Puchalski, MD.

(http://info.med.yale.edu/intmed/hummed/yjhm/spirit/forgiveness/cpuchalski.htm)

 

MP900385327“On a societal level, we face social injustice, urban crime, terrorist acts and war. These realities of society can also lead to resentment, territorialism and hatred. While many of these aspects of our society are wrong and perhaps even warrant a justifiable anger and hatred until we can forgive even the most horrendous of these acts, how can we as a society, or as a civilization, live together in peace? Thus, forgiveness is the basic building block of a tolerant society.
There have been many studies looking at the role of forgiveness in health. Unforgiving persons have increased anxiety symptoms, increased paranoia, increased narcissism, increased frequency of psycho-somatic complications, increased incidence of heart disease and less resistance to physical illness. Others have found that people who are unable to forgive themselves or others also have an increased incidence of depression and callousness toward others. The act of forgiveness can result in less anxiety and depression, better health outcomes, increased coping with stress, and increased closeness to God and others.
MP900440326There have been numerous studies looking at forgiveness interventions. The interventions involved counseling and exercises which were used to help people move from anger and resentment towards forgiveness. In one study, incest survivors who experienced the forgiveness intervention had at the end of the intervention increased abilities to forgive others, increased hopefulness and decreased levels of anxiety and depression. In another study, college students were randomized to a group that received a forgiveness education program and another group who studied human relations. The group that received the forgiveness education program showed higher levels of hope and an increased willingness to forgive others. This greater self-forgiveness was associated with increased self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of depression and a more positive view of their patient.
In many of these studies, it was shown that people who are able to forgive are more likely to have better interpersonal functioning and therefore social support. In terms of social support, there is a large body of literature that demonstrated the value of social support. Social support has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risks, promote faster recovery and increased survival rates from several types of cancer. Therefore, forgiveness, since it improved interpersonal functioning, might mediate these better health outcomes through the ability of people to have increased social support.
MP900289480Thus, act of forgiving from a research end seems to indicate that forgiveness can improve personal, interpersonal, and societal well-being.”

Understanding Self Harm By Jamie Porter

Young Woman Biting Her Finger NailI’m often asked WHY cutters cut. For those that do not cut, they have difficulties seeing how something that appears to be so painful can cause a relief? It’s beyond their mind’s capacity to understand why someone would do this to themselves. The hardest part about trying to answer what appears to be a simple question is that there is not a simple answer. I’d like to take a moment to share with you what I have experienced as a clinician, what I have read from books, collected from research, and have heard from the mouths of my clients. Secondly, I’d like to share some basic tools or coping skills to gather and use as a lay person, a parent, a friend or a therapist. My greatest goal is that you build an ability to be open-minded to help those that are hurting.
Cutting is a form of communication. At the basics of cutting, self-harmers live in a world where they are either afraid to speak their true emotions, will be criticized if they do, or lack the ability to articulate their emotions. Our job as clinicians is to help bridge the gap. We must help our clients find a healthier coping skill, build verbal communication, and help mend emotional turmoil.

1.  First, we must assess the cutters. Most cutters cut to avoid suicide. This is a very important concept we must teach the parents’ of cutters. However, there is a small number that actually have suicidal ideation while cutting, and an even smaller number (4%) that have actually died from self-harm. If this is the case, it is important that we refer our clients to the nearest hospital and make sure that their families are aware that they must be under greater supervision than one-hour a week therapy sessions.

 

2.  We start to help our clients to build a vocabulary list of emotions felt before, during and after conflict-cutting.

 

3.  We help them go over coping skills that can be traded for cutting. We need to help our clients heal the internal and external pain. We must be compassionate for each client will have a different reason for cutting. ‘I want to feel alive’, ‘ I want to stop the bad feelings’, I want to feel numb’, ‘It makes me feel numb’, ‘It’s my way to avoid people, punishment, consequences’, ‘It’s my way of control’, ‘I’m bored’, ‘It’s my way to punish myself’, and/or ‘I want to be paid attention to’. If we can understand their pain, we can help our clients communicate that to those around them.
For parents, some basic tools include opening lines of communication, listening to your child, not judging, not giving ultimatums/threats/punishment, help aid their cuts and provide medical assistance if needed, and help them find professional help to process their pain/emotions. Most importantly, for a parent to remind their child that they deserve to be happy and that you are trying to be there for them, not against them, could be most beneficial.
Sick Young Woman Lying in BedFor the therapist/clinician, starting off with an impulse-control log, can help your client start to document how often, where, when, with what tool, and emotions attached to the behavior. You can also help start to identify some healthy coping skills including writing, drawing, music, physical activity, art, meditation, etc. One of the greatest tasks as a clinician is to help the client vocalize their emotions to their parent and to get a response that will not only verbally and emotionally be a safe response, but physically. Most of our clients lack a relationship of verbal comfort or even physical comfort (hugs). It can be a long process for clients that are fearful to open up. We must instill safeness again and remind our clients that their current level of coping is not healthy for themselves or their families.
Cutting is a topic that some clinicians stay far away from and that parents are highly fearful of. I want to remind both clinicians and parents that suicide is not the ultimate goal for cutters. I want to demystify the behavior and build a sense of clarity and compassion for those who are fighting the battle and those that watch the fighting battle. For ‘self injury is a sign of distress not madness’. – Corey Anderson

 

Resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Mental Health of America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net
Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults: www.crpsib.com/researces.asp
S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self-Abuse Finally Ends):  www.selfinjury.com
Self-Harm: Recovery, Advice and Support: www.thesite.org/healthandwellbeing/mentalhealth/selfharm
Self-Injurious Behavior Webcast:  www.albany.edu/sph/coned/t2b2injurious.hmt
KidsHealth: www.kidshealth.org
Christianity Today: www.christianitytoday.com/cl.2004/005/29.18.html
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: www.aacap.org
Book:
Strong, Marilee (1998). A Bright Red Scream. New York, New York: Viking Press.
Conterio, K. and W. Lader, Ph.D. (1998). Bodily Harm. The breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers. New York, New
York: Hyperion.
Magazine:
The Prevention Researcher. Parental Guidelines for Preventing and Constructively Managing Inevitable Self-Injuring Slips, 19, February 2010

 

Jamie Cropped2About the Author:  Jamie Porter has a Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from UHCL. She has worked in non-profit settings working with women, adolescents, children, families, couples, and equine assisted psychotherapy. She is currently the Sugar Land Center for Couples & Families office manager, and  an AAMFT approved supervisor.