How can I help my stressed child

Stressed childI am often asked, How can I help my stressed child? We live in a culture full of stress. There is pressure to be involved, pressure to be the best, and pressure to fit in. Some claim that the current generation is exposed to more stress than any previous generation.

Psychologists define stress as “the demand made on an organism to adapt, cope, or adjust.”

When we think about stress in this way it is easy to see that since we live in an ever-changing world and culture the ability to adapt at a young age may be more important than ever.

Psychologists also acknowledge that not all stress is bad and actually claim that some stress (Eustress) is good. Eustress is the type of stress that propels one forward to accomplish the next stage of development or to learn a new and exciting skill. Eustress can be exciting and motivating where as stress can be overwhelming, debilitating and pervasive. So what can be done to help a child that is experiencing the negative type of stress? Researchers have discovered a number of things that when practiced on consistent basis moderate the level of stress that one is experiencing. That is these things help to reduce the negative impacts of ongoing stressful situations.

Self-efficacy expectations:

When one believes that they can, they can. We can instill in our children a sense of “you can do it”. This can be done by supporting them through the learning and development of a new skill or hobby. (Check out this post on Self esteem to learn more)

Psychological Hardiness:

Hardiness is comprised of the characteristics of commitment, challenge and control. According to research people who are strongly committed to their activities, view challenges as a part of life to spur personal growth, and those that believe they have control over their lives were more hardy and resistant to stress.

Humor:

Researchers found truth in the biblical saying “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” Proverbs 17:22.   One study found that those with an ability to see humor in a stressful situation were less impacted by that stressful situation.

 Emotional support:

Research has also found that support from trusted family members and friends, decreases the level of stress and depression that people report experiencing in the last month.

How to help your stressed child?

Believe in your stressed child so they can believe in themselves. Provide unique challenges for them and support them in accomplishing these things to build that sense of “I can do it”. Encourage your child to see challenges as opportunities for growth and view them that way for yourself and your family. Laugh at yourself, keep a light heart, and share the connection of humor. Lastly, be there with a listening ear and word of encouragement when the road gets tough. They may act like they don’t need you but we all need the support of our family and friends.

 

If your child may need the assistance of a professional counselor call 217-231-1413 to talk with Brandy

 

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.).