The Connections Blog

Does Counseling Help?

CounselingAt times counseling seems like a secret and mysterious thing. Counselors rarely talk about what happens in a session. People are hesitant to tell others if they have been in counseling. Some counseling professionals use big words, with abstract meanings that add to the mystery.

Thankfully there has been a lot of research done to understand exactly what makes counseling effective for 75% to 80% of the people who experience it (Levy, Ablon & Kachele, 2012). Much of the research focused on what those in counseling find most helpful. They attribute 40% of change to outside factors like internal resources and life circumstances. 30% of change is attributed to the counselor/counselee relationship, 15% to hope or expectations of change, and 15% to technique or interventions (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014). So, if you have ever wondered how going to counseling would help here are four things that give counseling the power to change.

The Counseling Relationship

Carl Rogers described empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence as the three most important factors in the counseling relationship (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014).  Empathy is the feeling you get when someone truly understands you. They seem to have experienced what you have experienced and are feeling it with you in that very moment. Unconditional positive regard is the radical acceptance of you just as you are. In counseling it is the opportunity to share the deepest parts of your self and to have them accepted no matter how dark or scary. Congruence is the ability of your counselor to be authentic while providing clear, sensitive, and helpful feedback (Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014).

Hope and expectation

Those that experience the most benefit from counseling are those that have hope and expectation that it can work. They are fully engaged in the counseling process and understand that although counseling will be uncomfortable it is worth the effort. Motivation is another factor that leads to increased benefit. Willingness to self-disclose, confront problems, take risks, and try new things are all important factors in the counseling process.

Counseling Technique

Specific techniques implemented by the counselor are another important part of counseling success. A counselor must be able to create an environment of safety and trust for the client. It is also important that the counselor have a variety of interventions to choose from depending on the unique circumstances each client is facing. In my practice I use techniques like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Emotion Focused Couples Therapy (EFT). I adapt each of these techniques to address the specific needs of the individual or family.

Counseling with Presence

The best description I have found of how counseling works was given by Henri Nouwen in his book “Wounded Healer” he says,

“The emptiness of the past and the future can ever be filled with words, but only by the presence of a human being.”

Counseling is about sharing your story in the presence of an empathic, accepting, and authentic human being. It is in sharing this experience that one can begin to feel more human, more loved, and more connected to God, themselves, and others.

If you would like to begin this journey to connection call me at 217-231-1413

References:

Levy, R. A., Ablon, J. S., & Kachele, H. (Eds.). (2012). Psychodynamic psychotherapy research. New York, NY: Humana Press.

Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L. W. (2014). Theories of counseling and psychotherapy (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Sharing Faith With Your Children

Faith: Proverbs 22:6I have had the wonderful privilege of working with many Christians struggling to parent their child through the difficult teenage years. Most of these families are like any other family that enters counseling. They are struggling with conflict, rebellion, communication difficulties, trust issues, and emotional challenges. One unique concern for Christian parents, however, is the desire to pass their faith in Jesus to the next generation.

Some parents fear that their ability to pass the faith on to their children has decreased due to a perceived reduction in the influence of family. Others fear technological advances and social changes that seem to have eroded their ability to influence their child’s value system.

Recent statistical reports noting the significant rise in the number of “nones” (adults with no religious affiliation) in the United States seem to confirm the challenges facing parents when seeking to pass their Christian faith to their children. In his book “Faith and Families: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations Vern L. Bengston  gives five suggestions for parents hoping to pass the Christian faith to their children.

Bengston conducted a 35-year study of how religious families from a wide variety of faiths; pass their beliefs and practices to the next generation. He suggests that parents….

Have more religious influence than they think

Despite the popular opinions downplaying the influence that parents have on the religious beliefs of their children Bengston found parents to be the most important factor in the transmission of faith to the next generation. He also cited researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Denton as noting,

“Contrary to popular misguided cultural stereotypes and frequent parental mis-perceptions, we believe that the evidence clearly shows that the single most important social influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents”

Bengston also described the importance of a close and warm relationship between parent and child when determining the level of influence afforded a parent.

Fervent faith cannot compensate for a distant dad

The fervency with which parents teach or adhere to their faith does not outweigh the power of a warm and close relationship in the transmission of the faith. Bengston found that children who felt a warm and close connection to their parents were more likely to share their parent’s religious affiliation than those with a cold or distant relationship. Not only that, this association was especially strong for the relationship between children and their fathers. (Go HERE to read more about how to connect with your children)

Allowing children religious choice can encourage religious continuity

Those children that are allowed to experience religious choice were more likely to share their parent’s religious beliefs. This one can be especially difficult for parents to put into practice.  The strong desire for our children to share our faith may cause us to become overbearing and rigid.  Remember that ultimately the Holy Spirit does the work of regeneration. It is not possible to “parent” our children to faith in Christ. Allowing for honest questions, open dialogue, and “belief exploration” may create the space needed for the Spirit to do his work.

Don’t forget the grandparents

Bengston found that for many families, grandparents have become the moral and religious compass. Grandparents offer important support to exhausted and over worked parents that encourage the continuation of religious practices and beliefs.

Don’t give up on Prodigals, because many do return

One of the most painful experiences for Christian parents may be a child who rejects the faith they have shared. Bengston found that those parents that waited, were open and accepting, and did not push were most likely to have their children return to the faith. Additionally, he found acceptance and affirmation as opposed to judgment and preaching as important factors.

What have we learned?

Ultimately parents cannot control whether or not their children come to faith in Jesus Christ. That is the domain of the Holy Spirit. It does appear however that a close and warm relationship with parents, particularly dad, belief exploration, support from grandparents, and patience can be important factors when seeking to disciple your children in faith.

 

What do you think? Do these points fit with your experience? What do you find helpful when raising your children in faith?

Adolescent Boredom Busters

Boredom1

For many parents the worst phrase that could come out of their adolescent’s mouth is, “I’m Bored”. This phrase can push the parent fear buttons of “entitlement”, “laziness”, “ungratefulness” or “failure-to-launch”. These buttons when pushed tend to produce feelings of failure, inadequacy, and helplessness.

The problem of Boredom

Richard Winter described the problem of boredom in his book “Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment”.  He views it as an issue of over-stimulation rather than under-stimulation. He argued that we live in a culture in which “to be entertained” is the highest value. This desire creates an incessant need for novelty and excitement. The problem, however, is that life is full of routine, mundane, and repetitive tasks that must be accomplished.

Types of Boredom

Winter defines two types of boredom, the first is a temporary boredom that is the result of repetitive tasks. The second, is an on-going pervasive sense of boredom that results from having nothing to do that one likes. I think it is this second more pervasive type of boredom that is most problematic for today’s adolescents. It is a sense that no matter what is happening there is just nothing in life to enjoy. The perspective that life cannot be enjoyed unless it is always entertaining, exciting, or extreme  creates a sense that “my life is not good enough”. Thankfully Winter offers 6 ways to combat this pervasive sense of boredom

The Boredom Busters 

Remember the Big Picture:

Recall that even the most mundane tasks (doing the dishes, mowing the lawn) are wonderful gifts. Not everyone has the ability or the means to pursue these tasks. Additionally, these tasks can create a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, capability, and resourcefulness.

Stop and Smell the Roses:

Adolescent bordeom busters

Living in a culture of constant entertainment has caused us to lose sight of the marvel and grandeur of the simple things around us. We are so busy looking for “extreme” experiences that we miss out on the incredible beauty of the flowers in our yard, the baby birds in our trees, and the stars in the sky. Stop to smell the roses by intentionally noticing the small details of the world around you. I wrote about several ways to practice this skill in a post on mindfulness found here.

Cultivate Wonder

Winter quotes philosopher Rene Descartes’ description of wonder as an “intense intellectual interest”. We live in a time in which a massive amount of information is available at the click of a mouse. Although incredibly convenient we may lose the experience and pursuit of curiosity. Remain curious by seeking to understand the inner experience of the people in your life. The inner world of people can never be fully contained in a book or webpage.  Relationships, therefore, offer an inexhaustible mine for our curiosity. Learn more about how to do this by reading this post I wrote on listening well.

Active Engagement rather than Passive Expectation

A culture of entertainment has turned us into passive consumers. We sit back and wait to be entertained. Anything that requires effort is passed over for something less challenging. Challenge however creates engagement. When a task entails just the right amount of challenge it creates a wonderful sense of excitement, accomplishment, and competence. This active engagement heightens a sense of purpose and passion that leaves little room for boredom.

Ultimately, boredom is a mindset. It is a perspective that develops in a culture that values constant entertainment, excitement, and leisure. Unfortunately life is not all excitement and pleasure. Life is full of routine and mundane tasks.  Remembering the big picture, stopping to smell the roses, cultivating wonder, and actively engaging are ways to combat the life of boredom.

 

What do you do when your children say, “I’m bored”? leave a comment below.

Boys and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the moment, without judgment Jon Kabat-Zinn“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”                   -Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is all the rage these days. It seems like teachers, parents, news personalities, and especially counselors are talking about how mindfulness helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. (I wrote about other ways to help you son Here)

I am one of those counselors that talk about mindfulness.  Not only that, I regularly teach it to those that I am counseling. It appears to me that many people think about mindfulness in a rather narrow context. When I ask people about it they tend to describe sitting calming, taking deep breaths, having their eyes closed, and thinking about something intently.

I don’t think this works very well for boys, however. Telling a boy that the best way to reduce stress is to sit as still as possible, take deep breaths, and think really hard seems more like cruel and unusual punishment than helpful. It is for this reason that when I am teaching boys about mindfulness I refer to it as being “in the zone”.  When we practice it in session I use active and engaging activities. Here are a few ways to practice mindfulness that will speak to the heart of your son:

Target shooting or Hunting

I do not know of any activity that requires more mindfulness than target shooting or hunting. This activity requires incredible focus, regulation of breathing, management of emotion, and the ability to block out distractions. Your son will learn to breath smoothly and slowly squeeze the trigger in order to minimize barrel movement. He will realize that noticing and managing his heartbeat enables him to regulate his level of excitement and therefore his accuracy. The novelty of the experience will create a sense of being present in the moment enhancing his ability to block out distractions.

A Wilderness Scavenger Hunt

Take your son to a state park or hiking trail.  Provide him with a list of natural objects (leaf, smooth rock, black rock, deer antlers etc.).  Then hike through the woods on a mission to find each of the objects. This activity will have him fully engrossed in the moment.   He will actively notice the tiny details of all that is happening around him. Be sure to include noises and smells on the list. These objects will encourage him to use all of his senses in the scavenger hunt and will enhance those abilities in other contexts.

These are only a few examples of ways that you could actively engage your son in the development of mindfulness. No matter which activity you choose, the purpose is to be fully engaged (no electronics), use all five senses, and participate without judgment. Don’t worry about if you are doing it right or good, hitting the target, or finding all of the objects. Enjoy the moment with your son, connect in relationship, and move away from distraction, anxiety and depression. (Here is another post about connecting with your son)

How to Teach Emotional Intelligence to Your Son

What is the most important thing you hope to teach your son before he turns 18? Many parents focus on skills like, driving a car, spending money wisely, working hard, or study habits. But, research seems to show that teaching our sons emotional intelligence may be the most important thing we do.

In 2003 researchers at Yale University studied a group of college age students and found that as emotional intelligence goes up so do positive relationships with others. These researchers also found that the ability for a person to manage their own emotions is closely related to positive interactions with others.

The same group of researchers later discovered that Lower levels of EI are associated with adolescent risk taking behaviors like use of illegal drugs, consumption of alcohol, and deviant behavior.

So, what is emotional intelligence? There is some disagreement about the exact definition but the one that I find most helpful can be summarized like this:

Emotional Intelligence is,

  1. The ability to Perceive Emotions
  2. The ability to Utilize emotions to facilitate thought
  3. The ability to Understand emotions
  4. The ability to Regulate emotions of self and others

So, What are some ways that parents can help their son to learn emotional intelligence? Here are my thoughts

  1. Focus on Connection

The research about how children develop emotional intelligence shows that it is passed on through connection with parents. Those parents that use an authoritative parenting style (balance between control and empathy) have children with higher levels of emotional intelligence. Sometimes our fast paced culture encourages parents to get their children involved in activities that will enhance their brains and build their resume. What research shows, however, is that it is “us” that matter, the time spent connecting over low cost activities enhance our children’s lives. So, build connection with your son by using the basic listening skills (I wrote about them here). Play their favorite board game one evening a week. Schedule them to cook dinner for the family one night and help them through the process. Spend a few minutes talking about the day before shutting off their bedroom light for the night.

  1. Focus on Perception of Emotions

Help your son to understand that other people’s behavior is a clue to all that is happening on the inside. Your son can learn about how to interpret facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and other communication from you. You can help him to accurately perceive emotions by guessing at what you think he is feeling and expressing it verbally (ex. You are angry) if you are correct he feels heard and now has a word for what he was just feeling on the inside. If you are incorrect he can tell you and therefore clarify his feelings for himself and for you. It is also very helpful when you verbalize what you are feeling in the moment with your child. If you have lost your keys you might say, “I am really starting to get frustrated” when you experience a setback at work you might say, “I am disappointed that…” The bottom line is; help him to perceive his own feelings by verbalizing them for him and then discussing it, help him to perceive what others are feeling by sharing your feelings in the moment.

  1. Focus on Managing Emotions of Self

Again, the best way to help your son learn to manage his emotions is to be good at managing yours. Modeling appropriate emotional reactions to normal and difficult situations shows him exactly how to do it. For younger children games like red light/green light are helpful. Older children can learn skills like belly breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques. Additionally, the way you listen can be a very powerful way to co-regulate your child, which enables them to learn to regulate emotions by experiencing the process with you. (read about it here).

Emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills that a boy can learn. You can help him to learn it by focusing on connection, perception of emotions, and managing emotions of the self.

Check out this video to hear some more about boys and their emotions.

What are some other ways you have found to help increase your sons Emotional Intelligence?

How to create a great marriage

A great marriage

How do you create a great marriage? At the end of couples counseling sessions I often ask, “what is one thing you could do to serve your spouse this week?”  If a great marriage is something that is created, I believe serving your spouse is the first act of creation.

What are some ways we can serve our spouses?

How To Raise Self-Reliant Kids

My wife and I were rushing the kids out the door for school this morning and one of my worst parenting fears was “triggered”. While all his siblings were climbing into the car, one of my sons came stumbling out of the laundry room. His backpack was haphazardly draped over his shoulder, crumbs were strewn across the front of his shirt, and his hair was uncombed, “I can’t find my shoes” he said.

This may not seem scary to you, but for me this brings up fears of a son that cannot care for himself, irresponsibility, lack of initiative, and laziness. I saw images of a grown man living in my basement playing video games with orange chee-to stained fingers. These are the things of nightmares!! I have been encountering these moments more and more lately as my boys grow into the preteen years. They are changing, developing their own unique personalities and ways of acting in the world. I love to see this, but it also creates fear.   I am beginning to realize that I cannot control the outcomes of their life. I could be the best parent in the world and yet there will be struggles, difficulties, and challenges. In fact, Alfred Adler believed that the behavioral struggles for many children occur in direct relation to their parents value system. So, if you strongly value cleanliness, you will likely struggle the most with your child that has difficulty keeping his room clean. If you value kindness, your child’s misbehavior may manifest itself as disrespect and selfishness. I value responsibility and personal initiative. So, the behaviors that bother me most are lack of responsibility and forgetfulness. These behaviors push a button in me and I begin to imagine the worst possible outcome. I feel responsible for his lost shoes, I feel responsible for his future self, growing up to live in my basement. I start to respond in ways that are less than helpful for the current situation. Some times, this looks like me running around looking for his shoes, huffing and puffing about where they are SUPPOSED to be or threatening to leave the house with out him. Unfortunately, this behavior communicates to him “you are not responsible, so I (your father) must take responsibility for you”. Of course this is the exact opposite of what I want to communicate, which is, “you are responsible, you can handle this and I am here to help”. So, what can I do to avoid this train wreck?

First of all, I need to stay calm and stop indulging my worst fear images. The images of 10 years down the road are irrational and unhelpful. Instead I need to exercise patience, acknowledge my fears, and give him some time to find his shoes. I don’t have to find them, I can brainstorm possible solutions, but he is the best person to hunt them down (they did come off his feet after-all). I recently read a book by Ben Sasse entitled “The Vanishing American Adult: Our coming-of-age crisis and how to rebuild a culture of self-reliance” this book offered five practical ways that parents can help their children to build self-reliance they are

  1. Flee age segregation
  2. Embrace work pain
  3. Consume less
  4. Travel to see
  5. Build a book shelf

Check out this video I made to share some of my thoughts about these ideas.

What do you think? will these things work to build self-reliance in the next generation? Leave a comment below

5 Ways to Listen So Your Son Feels Heard

5 Ways to listen So YourExpress Empathy

  1. Listen to your sons statements
  2. Go within & Check, “How would I be feeling if were him?”
  3. Express your understanding through an empathy statement of

“You feel______________because _________________

It sounds like you feel…

I sense you feel…

As I listen to you, I am aware of how ___________you must be feeling.

In other words, you feel…

I am imagining how intensely you must feel…

Summarize His Experience

This whole situation can then be summed up to…

You seem to be saying most of the time you feel…

You recall this happening at least three times then.

These are the options you currently see open to you…

Paraphrase His Meaning

You don’t think he’s very competent…

You feel your parents would be upset if…

You wonder what will happen in the future

So it’s a question of clarifying your role in your relationship

Prompt Him to Say More

Non-verbal prompts:

Nods, Hand gestures, eye contact, leaning in

Single Words or Phrases:

Never?

And then?

And for your part?

Statements:

I am not sure what you mean by “the worst”

It’s not clear to me which option you prefer.

I am unable to get a clear idea of the importance of this to you.

Use Open Ended Questions

How does this impact your school work?

How have you handled situations like this before?

In what other situations have you experienced similar feelings?

5 WAYS TO HELP YOUR SON WITH ANGER

5 ways to help your son WithI regularly encounter families that are struggling to assist a pre-teen or teenage son with managing his anger. I have encountered it so often that I have made the focus of my practice working with adolescent males. The unfortunate thing about anger is that it often gets a bad rap. Yes, sometimes anger is expressed through violence, aggression, or harsh words. However, in other situations anger can be a powerful motivating force that moves your son to take action against an injustice. I have memories of being angry about a good friend being bullied on the play ground, this anger moved me to protect and stand up for this friend. Some boys are moved to anger when they see a friend that is hungry or struggling in school. My point is that not all anger is unhelpful, but when you find yourself not knowing what to do in the face of an angry son here are five things that might help.

Validate his feelings

Anger is a very powerful emotion. Many times anger is expressed on the outside when on the inside he is feeling sadness. Acknowledging your sons anger helps him to feel heard and can actually decrease the intensity of its expression. When you say, “you are really angry about this” it communicates to your son that you understand him therefore he can decrease the expression of the anger because you recognize it.

Listen without judgment

Validating feelings begins by listening and seeking to understand his perspective without judgment. The temptation is to correct misperceptions or misunderstandings however this is not helpful. Correcting perceptual mistakes only communicates that you don’t understand HIS perspective. When your son realizes that you “get it” from his perspective the anger will decrease and you become an ally in the problem solving process. When you are his ally in problem solving you can ask questions that provoke thought and reflection encouraging him to find conclusions and solutions to his own problems.

Give YOURSELF a Timeout

Sometimes the hardest thing about having a son that expresses lots of anger is managing your feelings in the moment. Sons can say hurtful things, your fears may be triggered, or you may be afraid for your family’s safety. In this situation, give YOURSELF a timeout. The issue does not have to be resolved right now, give your son some space (as long as everyone is safe) this space allows for all parties to calm down, think things through and make better decisions. After sufficient time has passed reconnect with your son, apologize for any mistakes you made and start over by using suggestions 1 and 2 from this list.

Practice Self-regulation

Large expressions of anger are a clue to you about how “powerfully” your son is feeling his anger. Sometimes, he will have a difficult time calming down, or keeping his “bottle from bursting”. These times of feeling out of control are normal for a boy that is still learning to self-regulate. You can help him to learn to self-regulate by modeling calmness, using controlled breathing, and practicing mindfulness (more on this in future posts).  You can also talk to your son about how his brain helps with regulation.  Watch this video from Dan Siegel to learn more.

Set Limits

One of the major challenges parents encounter in the face of their sons anger is maintaining family limits when things get really heated. It is important that you calmly, and consistently set limits on behavior in the home. These calm and consistent limits allow your son to know “how far he can go” in expressing himself. He will push up against them and test them but when you calmly maintain the expectation it feels safe and comforting to him. Sometimes, these limits are broken in such cases it is important to refer to suggestion 3 and give YOURSELF a time out before calmly talking to your son about what will happen next. Giving time for all parties to calm down is a very helpful thing.Five ways to help your son with Anger

So what do you think, what have you found to be successful when helping your son to manage his anger? Leave a comment below

What is EMDR?

communityI have been getting a lot of calls lately regarding my use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). It seems that word has gotten around about the effectiveness of this treatment and that more people are searching for a counselor/therapist that is trained to use it. I am pleased and honored to have gone through eight full days of training in the use of EMDR as well as a period of consultation in its protocols. Although, I am not certified in the technique I have completed levels 1 and 2 of the training.

The EMDR international Association (EMDRIA) described EMDR as “an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorportates elements from many different approaches”

Ok, so what does that mean? Well, The protocols are a set of guidelines that trained practitioners use to assist clients in processing traumatic events and stimuli. The practitioner starts out by establishing a strong relationship with the client so that the client feels safe and cared for. This relationship helps the client to trust that when difficult emotions arise the counselor is there for support and will walk alongside them through the experience. The next step is to identify the specific traumatic event or events that the client would like to process. After identifying this target event the counselor assists the client in recognizing specific thoughts, and feelings about the event that tend to provoke strong emotions or sensations. The client rates these thoughts and feelings on a likert scale (1-10) as a way to measure how effective the processing of the treatment has been. After this “assessment” phase the counselor and client begin to process the trauma using Bi-lateral stimulation (eye-movement). These eye movements, directed by the therapist, allow the client to access memories, thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the events to be processed and to desensitize the client to the material. This process results in the client being able to think about the traumatic experience with less emotional difficulty, subsequently decreasing symptoms. The entire process is experienced within the safe environment established by the client/counselor relationship.

The following quote from the EMDRIA website provides a very succinct understanding of what it means to “process” trauma

“Processing does not mean talking about it. Processing means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be ‘digested’ and stored appropriately in your brain.”

Again, according to EMDRIA, EMDR has been demonstrated effective for treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, it has also been used for other issues such as Panic attacks, complicated grief, phobias, performance anxiety and stress reduction.

The 8 Phases of EMDR treatment are listed below.

  1. History and Treatment planning
  2. Preparation
  3. Assessment
  4. Desensitization
  5. Installation
  6. Body Scan
  7. Closure
  8. Reevaluation

If you are considering EMDR treatment for PTSD or another issue I encourage you to visit these websites to learn more about the treatment

EMDR International Association

Webmd

If you decide that EMDR is the right treatment for you give me a call at 217-231-1413 to schedule an appointment or go to EMDRIA FIND A THERAPIST to find a therapist in your area.