How Porn Addiction Hurts

Porn AddictionI was watching my son’s baseball game the other day and happened to overhear an exchange between two parents and their two sons that compelled me to write this post.

The two boys were joking and laughing with one another through out the game. One of the boys joked with his mother sitting near by and goaded her to ask the other boy why he had been grounded from his smart phone. The second boys father walked up and jokingly gave the reason by saying, “somebody likes the P-O-R-N a little too much”. The father, his son, and the other boy laughed and continued on with their activities.

I began to think through some of what I had been learning from the book Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain written by William M. Struthers. I missed my opportunity to share with this father how pornography hurts his son. But, will share with you now what I have learned about the impact of pornography on boys.

Porn Addiction Corrupts Intimacy

We all, boys included have a built in need for connection with other people. We are driven to seek relationship, closeness and safety with those we love. Pornography corrupts this desire by making intimacy all about the physical act of sex rather than vulnerability, and emotional connection. Struthers states it this way,

“pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate. It pulls consumers and producers in with the promise of intimacy, but fails to deliver the connection between two human beings”.

Sex is a part of deep intimacy but it is not the whole picture. Pornography promises the connection that boys long for but delivers shame, guilt, secrecy and pain.

Porn Addiction Consumes the Brain

New brain research demonstrates that experience changes the brain. The viewing of pornography and the subsequent acting out is no different. The more pornography is consumed the greater the impact it has on the brain. Again Struthers describes it well by saying,

“As men [boys] fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed… with each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow”.

The more pornography that is consumed and the younger the age of exposure the more significant the impact will be on the brain.

Thankfully brain research also demonstrates that the brain is plastic. This means that it changes through out the entire course of ones life. So, the neuro-pathways developed in response to viewing pornography can be rewritten over the course of life. So what can you do to help your son?

 

What Can Parents Do?

Build Emotional Mastery

For those dealing with porn addiction the viewing of pornography and sexual acting out often become the primary way they deal with stress and overwhelming emotions. They never learned how to adaptively regulate emotions and pornography has become the only strategy that works.

“emotional mastery is important because it teaches boys how to regulate and control their feelings. As a father pushes and challenges, he offers an opportunity for his son to experience these human emotions in a safe place.” (pg. 141)

 Connect in Relationship

As stated before we all need connection to other people for survival. Struthers says that the depth of porn addiction is correlated with a boys unmet emotional and relational needs. If you are concerned that your son is addicted to porn it may be tempting to avoid discussing it or to distance yourself from him in anger. What he needs however is more connection with you. His needs for connection and intimacy will never be met through pornography. Those needs are only met in genuine connection with you or other loved ones. Move toward your son in relationship communicate compassion and love in the midst of your heart break.

Get Help

It can be difficult to reach out for help when struggling with pornography. Our culture tends to view porn addiction as one of the things that cannot be talked about. Reach out to trusted friends, a pastor or professional counselor to walk with you and your son through the struggle.

If you, your son, or someone you know struggles with porn addiction and you are ready to get help please call me at 217-231-1413 and I will help you build the emotional mastery and connection you both need.

Learn more from William Struthers by Watching this Helpful Video.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical Behavior TherapyDialectical Behavior Therapy is an evidence-based form of counseling that was developed for the treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Marsha Linehan developed the model by combining the commonly used concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with mindfulness and meditation practices. Research has demonstrated that dialectical behavior therapy is an effective treatment for BPD and has contributed to improvement in overall functioning for adolescents.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Four Phases

DBT consists of four phases and four modules of treatment. Each phase is focused on a specific area of treatment with the overall goal of decreasing self-harm, improving compliance with counseling, and reducing other high risk behaviors.

Phase one of treatment focuses on establishing safety by reducing self-harm behaviors. Self-harm is viewed as the culmination of a chain of events that begin with powerful emotions. Emotional dis-regulation stemming from an internal or external trigger overwhelms the client leading toward the use of self-harm to stop the unbearable feelings. DBT assists clients in learning to tolerate the overwhelming emotions through the use of more adaptive and less harmful coping strategies.

Phase two of treatment is focused on desensitization of past traumatic experiences and events. Unresolved traumatic experiences and messages are susceptible to present triggers leading toward overwhelming emotions. Once safety has been established and the clients window of emotional tolerance has been widened they are ready to process the experience at the core of the issue.

Phase three of Dialectical Behavior Therapy centers around building everyday life skills and behaviors. This phase focuses on self-respect, individual goals, and the application of new learning to future endeavors.

Phase four of the treatment plan involves the integration of spirituality, acceptance of self, individual goals, coping skills, and future planning. This phase seeks to apply the newly acquired skills to a broader context and looks toward future growth and achievement.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy – Four Modules

The four modules of DBT are interspersed through out the four phases of treatment. These modules are core mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance.

Mindfulness is the practice of  “Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” Jon Kabat-Zinn.

DBT assists the client in focusing on the experience of all five senses in the present moment. The counselor might ask the client to notice 5 colors, 4 sounds, 3 smells, and 1 taste right at this time. This focus on the present pulls the client out of the overwhelming emotions and into the safety of the therapy room. Mindfulness can be used to increase emotion tolerance and ground oneself in reality when experiencing difficult flashbacks or negative thoughts.

Emotion regulation enhances the client’s ability to regulate oneself in the moment. It focuses on adaptive coping strategies rather than harmful ones. These strategies may involve understanding and labeling emotions, increasing positive emotional experiences to counterbalance negative experiences, and decreasing emotional pain by letting go and taking the opposite action.

Interpersonal effectiveness focuses on enhancing the client’s communication and relationship skills. The main objective is to enhance one’s ability to ask for what is needed and to say no when appropriate.

The fourth module of Dialectical Behavior Therapy is distress tolerance. Sometimes people avoid uncomfortable feelings, in DBT however, the goal is to understand that negative feelings are a normal part of life. Since negative feelings are normal it is helpful to learn to accept these feelings.  DBT teaches adaptive ways of coping with the difficulty in the moment. Distress tolerance skills are distract, self-sooth, improve the moment, and focus on the pros and cons.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy – What next?

DBT is a well researched treatment model that helps adolescents and adults struggling with emotion regulation, self-harm, depression, or anxiety.  If you are looking for a therapist trained to provide DBT go HERE to meet Danielle. If you have questions about getting started in DBT treatment or would like to schedule an appointment Call 217-231-1413.

Additional Links:

Boys and Mindfulness

Goodtherapy.org articles on DBT:

Distress Tolerance,

Interpersonal Effectiveness

References:

Underwood, L.A. & Dailey, F. L. (2017). Counseling Adolescents Competently. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Seligman, L. & Reichenberg, L.W. (2014). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Helping Your Teen With Depression

depressionWhat is Depression?

The DSM-V defines depression as:

“The presence of sad, empty, or irritable mood, accompanied by somatic, and cognitive changes that significantly affect the individual’s capacity to function”

More specifically the DSM lists the criteria for a Major depressive episode as

5 or more of the following symptoms when they occur during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms is depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  2. Diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
  3. Significant weight loss or gain when not dieting, or change in appetite
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly everyday
  5. Movement agitation or slowing
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death

If your teen exhibits some of these symptoms, what are you to do?

Pay attention to thoughts:

Depression is primarily about mood, but our thoughts can have a significant impact on the way we feel. So, helping your teen to label and verbalize his/her thoughts can be very helpful. Sometimes teenagers get stuck in a cycle of negative thinking and are not aware of the pattern. Verbalizing these thoughts helps your teen to become more aware of them and how they are impacting feelings. Talk with your teen about their thoughts and ask them to decide if they are unhelpful. If the thoughts are unhelpful brainstorm new, more helpful thoughts that can replace the negative cycle. Through practice they will begin to recognize and understand how thoughts impact mood. Go HERE to read more about ways to get your teen talking.

Pay attention to Feelings:

Some teens have a hard time expressing what they feel. They are really good at bottling their feelings inside. Unfortunately, for most teens bottled up feelings lead towards explosions of anger or periods of depression. So, helping your teen to express their feelings (no matter how difficult) is a great way to improve mood. You can do this by empathizing with their emotions. Empathy is a three-step process:

  1. Listen carefully to what your teen is saying
  2. Go inside yourself and ask, “what would I be feeling right now”
  3. Express your empathy through a statement such as

You feel ______________because _______________.

Empathizing with your teen’s feelings helps them to be more aware, and makes you a safe place for emotional discussion.

Seek Professional Help:

Sometimes, all of our best efforts do not have the impact we hope for and it is necessary to seek professional help. Reaching out to your primary medical provider is a good place to start. Most practitioners can provide an initial screening for depression and suggest trusted resources for mental health services.   Professional Counselors (LCPC) are specifically trained and licensed by their respective states to provide treatment for depression. It can be unsettling but a professional counselor can accurately diagnose the problem and provide individualized treatment to meet the needs or your teen. The best counselors create a strong sense of safety for their clients. They develop specific goals and openly discuss treatment strategies.

Helping your teen with depression may seem difficult. Start by paying attention to their thoughts and feelings. If your teen does not improve or things get worse, talk to your primary medical provider or a professional counselor. They will walk with you on the journey to healing.

To learn more about my approach to individual counseling go HERE

To learn more about how I use EMDR to treat depression go HERE

If your teen is depressed call me at 217-231-1413 to get help.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling for couples that have experienced disconnection, infidelity, conflict, or separation is one of the most important services I have the privilege of providing. Often time’s couples come to me not knowing exactly what went wrong in their relationship. Not only that, they struggle to figure out how to make things better. I am honored to walk with them as they discover the three key strategies for healing a hurting marriage

Marriage Counseling – Creating a Secure Base

The first task of marriage counseling is creating a space in which both partners feel safe, heard, and respected no matter the circumstance. It is crucial that this sense of safety be created between the counselor and the couple, as well as between the couple themselves. John Bowlby says, “From the cradle to the grave, we all need a secure base”. Early in life primary caregivers function as this secure base. Parents create an environment in which children are safe to explore the world, while knowing that they can return to the protection and nurture of their parents when needed. The marriage relationship serves a similar function for couples. Ideally it serves as a context in which both partners exercise dependence on one another for the nurture and love we all need. This context, however, also allows autonomy for both partners to express themselves through work, play, and individual preferences. My first goal, then, in marriage counseling is to make the counseling relationship a safe place in which the marriage relationship can develop into a secure base for the couple.

Marriage Counseling

Marriage Counseling – Expanding Emotional Experience

Susan Johnson describes emotion as “the music in the dance of adult intimacy”. Emotion is the beat that drives the interactions between couples. Many couples are stuck in a painful dance that creates greater and greater distance, rather than deeper intimacy and safety. They are not aware of the role that emotional experience plays in this dance and therefore have a hard time changing the steps. My second goal in marriage counseling is to enhance and expand both partners emotional experience in the relationship. This process entails a deliberate exploration, validation, and acceptance of the internal experience of both partners. A deeper experience and expression of the emotional music of the relationship will allow the partners to experience one another in new and more connected ways. These new experiences create a new “melody” for the relationship, which allows for healing to begin.

Marriage Counseling – Choreographing a New Dance

If emotion is “the music in the dance of adult intimacy” then interactions are the dance steps. Susan Johnson describes the distressed couples dance as “rigidly organized interactions”. She argues that it is the rigid nature of interactions, driven by emotions, triggered from unmet attachment needs that lead to distress in a marriage. My third goal in marriage counseling is to choreograph a new interactional dance. This new dance takes into account the new “melody” created by enhancing and expanding the emotional experience of the couple. The new dance allows a wife to experience her “uncaring” husband as hurt and scared. It enables a husband to experience his “critical” wife as overwhelmed and lonely. The new melody and new dance steps are slowly practiced and rehearsed in a way that enhances safety and respects individual experience.

The couple begins to draw closer to one another in trust and love. They begin to experience that returning home can be an experience of returning to a “secure base”

Read more about my approach to counseling HERE

Begin the Journey to deeper connection by calling me at  217-231-1413

References:

Johnson, S. M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (2nd ed.). NY, New York: Routledge.

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.