The Benefits of Using RPGs for Mental Health

What are RPGs?

Role-Playing Games (RPGs) have been around for over 50 years. In essence, they are games in which each player takes on the role of a character. The group of players then work together to tell a story with their characters. Many RPGs also include a Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM). This is a person who serves as the narrator, moves the story along, and plays all other characters including the monsters and villains. There are many different systems that have their own set of rules. One of the most recognized systems is Dungeons and Dragons.

Due to the potential for fighting and violence, RPGs can be controversial regarding their psychological effect on children. However, research has not been able to show any causal relationship between RPGs and poor mental health or delinquency. We will keep you posted as this research continues. The past decade, however, has started to produce research that shows several positive effects of playing RPGs both in and outside of therapy.

Role-Playing Games as Group Therapy

The most common way that RPGs are used therapeutically is through group therapy. Therapists who facilitate therapeutic RPG groups believe that there is an inherent opportunity in games to allow for skill building and positive social interaction. Skills that are gained can include emotional regulation, frustration tolerance, decision making, and cooperation. The therapist oftentimes takes on the role of the GM, guiding the players into situations that naturally allow them to interact socially and practice different skills.

The therapist also works to ensure safety for all players. The use of safety tools is an important part of therapeutic gaming. Common safety tools include lines, veils, and the X card. Lines are subjects that the player does not want included in the game. For example, racism is oftentimes a line that will not be a part of the game. Veils are subjects that the player doesn’t want included in detail, but can be mentioned or a part of a character’s backstory. For example, a player might not be comfortable with in depth descriptions of head injuries. This means that a character can have a head injury occur, but it will not be described in detail.

The therapist will ask each player if they have any lines or veils before the game starts, but they are free to add them throughout game play as needed. Players do not need to explain their lines and veils in front of the group, although many process these topics with their individual therapist outside of the game play setting.

Can role-playing games really help boost mental health?

The short answer is yes! Here are some of the ways in which RPGs can have a positive impact on mental health:

  • Screen time alternatives- You may have seen the acronym TTRPG. This stands for Table-Top Role Playing Games. TTRPGs allow for interactive game play that doesn’t include staring at a screen!
  • Character distance- When creating a character, people oftentimes put parts of themselves into their character. Even when this is consciously done, it can feel easier to work through these issues and characteristics when we aren’t talking about our real life situations. We can “talk about it” without directly talking about it.
  • Connecting with peers- RPGs can be fun to play with friends AND family! For people who have difficulty making friends, a therapeutic RPG group can give them a safe space to build friendships.
  • Connecting with family- RPGs can also be played as a family, allowing family members to interact in a fun space with less pressure. Many RPGs can be played online, which has been especially important during the pandemic. Online RPGs can also allow people to play with loved ones who they can’t be with in person.
  • Skill building- The skills that can be obtained through playing RPGs are endless! They can include educational skills such as practice in reading or math. They can also include skills in creativity, flexible thinking, social skills, emotional regulation, frustration tolerance, and more.

Where can I find more information?

Non-profit organizations such as The Bodhana Group and Game to Grow have put an extensive amount of time into developing therapeutic gaming techniques and collecting research that has studied the connection between RPGs and mental health. Other organizations like Geek Therapy and CASTT Gamers offer community and resources for therapists, spiritual directors, educators, and other professionals who are interested in the intentional and therapeutic use of RPGs. If you are interested, please check out these great resources!

What could you and your loved ones gain from gaming?

Find information about the Teen Gaming Groups that I facilitate in St. Paul, MN on the Sentier Therapy website.

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Mary Devorak, MS, LMFT.

Misgendering Do’s and Don’ts

Misgendering” is intentionally or unintentionally referring to a person, relating to a person, or using language to describe a person that doesn’t align with their affirmed gender. Referring to someone using their incorrect pronouns is an example of misgendering.

Folks in the LGBTQIA+ community already experience mental health issues at higher rates and not having their correct pronouns used, and by extension not having their gender identity affirmed and encouraged, can have negative impacts on their well-being that contribute to those mental health outcomes.

Even the most well-intentioned friends, family members, colleagues, (and even therapists!) can misgender someone without meaning to and that doesn’t make them a bad person. To be clear, purposefully using incorrect pronouns is highly disrespectful and an active denial of someone’s gender identity.

Oftentimes, however, misgendering is entirely unintentional and the person misgendering does in fact respect and affirm the identity of the person they have accidentally misgendered.

misgendering assumption mistakes

Assumptions about Gender

We have been conditioned to assume the existence of the gender binary and that leads us to make lightning fast assumptions about people at first glance even though someone’s gender should never be assumed.

Even if you understand the harm of that binary and actively work to unlearn it, chances are you are going to use the wrong pronouns when talking to or about someone at some point, whether it’s someone you just met, a friend who recently started using different pronouns, or even a close friend or relative whose pronouns you have known for a long time.

In case you misgender someone either directly or to other people, here are some things to keep in mind:

DO take responsibility but DON’T make it all about you.

The more dysregulation and distress that you display at having misgendered someone, the less space there is for them to feel the impact of what happened and ask for the care that they need in that moment. You may be having strong feelings about what happened such as guilt, embarrassment, or fear, but you can process those later without making them the responsibility of the person you misgendered to deal with in the moment.

DON’T make excuses.

Comments like “I just don’t understand this” or “I’m trying my best but it’s really hard to remember” are dismissive of the impact you’ve made and unhelpful for the person being misgendered to feel safe or comfortable. Resist the urge to become defensive about how you promise you are a good person even though you have just misgendered someone.

DO quickly correct and move on.

Repeatedly apologizing often leads to the person who was hurt by being misgendered to take on the role of caretaker by assuring the person who misgendered them that it’s okay. To avoid that, best reaction to misgendering is often a quick correction. That can sound as simple as “he–I mean she–went to…”

When misgendering someone while in a group or when they are not present, a quick correction is much more respectful than bringing your own feelings into the situation or trying to speak for the person who you have misgendered. If the person is present, this leaves the option for them to clarify more about their pronouns to the group or not to say anything at all depending one what they are comfortable with.

DO repair when needed but DON’T force conversation.

Depending on the situation, you may need to take a longer moment to apologize. If you sense that the person is feeling hurt and needs support, find a moment alone to validate their reaction and feelings about the situation, let them know that you care about them and their gender identity, and ask if there is anything they need or if there is anything you can do to help them feel more comfortable either in that moment or in the future.

That being said, don’t force this conversation as the person may not want to talk about it further and they don’t owe you a bigger conversation about their gender identity or pronouns.

DO be mindful of the person’s comfort level with conversation around pronouns.

Continuing to talk about and apologize for what happened, either to the person you misgendered or to the person/people you misgendered them to, may bring more attention to the situation than the person who was misgendered feels comfortable with. Be aware that someone’s pronouns may be a topic that they don’t want to be discussed openly unless they are bringing it up themselves.

DO ask people’s pronouns when you’re unsure.

You should never assume someone’s gender identity or pronouns and asking them directly when you meet them is a great way to avoid misgendering them in the future.

There may be a tendency to defer to gender-neutral pronouns (they/them) when talking to or about someone who’s pronouns you are unsure of. Sometimes this is perfectly fine and the person can correct you if needed. Other times it may cause hurt if the person does not identify with they/them pronouns.

Some folks would rather be misgendered with gender-neutral pronouns (they/them) than gendered pronouns (he/him, she/her) but others don’t appreciate others using gender neutral pronouns for them if it’s not how they identify.

Regardless of whether they don’t mind the mistake or have a strong negative reaction, the important thing is to repair if needed and listen deeply to the person when they tell you their pronouns to avoid making a mistake in the future.

In conclusion, there is no one way to respond to misgendering. Reading the situation will allow you to decide the best course of action for responding and repairing.

It is important not to let the fear of making mistakes like misgendering stop you from interacting with, working with, or engaging with people. You will probably misgender someone at some point that is okay. Your responsibility isn’t to be perfect, but to help the person feel respected, even when mistakes happen.

Respecting people’s gender identity is more than just saying their correct pronouns out loud. It’s about internalizing what they mean and taking the time to see and appreciate the person for who they are.

What gets in the way of you responding in one of the “right” ways when you misgender someone?

Blog written by Ellie Struewing, Client Care Coordinator at Sentier Psychotherapy.

My Teen Has No Friends

In life, human friendships are filled with joys and pitfalls. Most of us can probably even remember a time when we got into a fight with our friends in grade school, leaving us feeling lonely, sad, frustrated or any other mix of emotions. These emotions can become even more amplified if we are a parent watching our teen navigate the high and lows of friendship.

There are numerous factors that filter into how our teens maintain their friendships. First, our teenage years are a time for trying out different identities which means it can become normal for teens to experience a change in friend groups. It also should be noted that in the age of technology it has become easier for teens to connect more easily virtually than in person. The pandemic has unfortunately contributed to this as this was how our teens interacted with their peers for roughly one year of their schooling experience. Adjusting to being back in person has brought to light the effects of this as teens are reporting a struggle with relearning how to interact in person without having a computer in front of them as a barrier. On the same note, online groups can be a place of positive support and allow teens to establish to people who share similar interests that might not be in their everyday social circles.

Help! My teenager has no friends

While it is important to remember and respect the independence and autonomy of our teens it can be helpful to parents to have some ideas of how best to support our teens during these sometimes difficult time in our development:

  • Encourage your teen to join a club (at your local community center or through their school). This is a great and fun way for your teen to engage with peers of close age who share a similar interest. Let’s also be honest, this can be a sneaky way to get your teen out of the house!
  • Help your teen highlight their strengths! Helping your teen identify and highlight their own strengths helps them boost their confidence. Having an increase in confidence is a must, especially when our teen years are usually focused on their underlying worries and fears of what our peers might think of us.
  • Attend local events (within their interest). Have your teen create a list of a couple local events, the Events page on Facebook is a great source. Offer to help your teen coordinate transportation, if needed, and encourage your teen to reach out to a peer to attend the event with.
  • Talk with your teen and learn more about why they might be struggling with their peers. Your teen might have some underlying anxieties contributing to their external appearance of distancing themselves from their peers. Talking with your teen can help them identify cognitive distortions and highlight positive reframes when approaching a social situation.

What have you done to support your teen during times when they wanted more friendships?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Bridgett Brye, MSW

Meet the Therapist

Mary Devorak (she/they) joined the clinical staff at Sentier in July, 2022. Mary enjoys working with adolescents and their families as well as young adults in therapy. They are also passionate about leading group therapy and finding ways to connect with clients through their love of gaming. They are also a master gamer.

Sentier: How did you decide to become a therapist?
Mary: After seeing so many of my neurodivergent family and friends have negative experiences with therapy, I decided to become a therapist who celebrates and affirms each person’s identity.

S: Who do you love working with, and what excites you about working with your chosen populations?
M: I love working with neurodivergent people and nerds! It’s so rewarding to see them open up and embrace the parts of them that make them unique.

S: How would you spend a free day?
M: I would play some kind of game – usually a video game or table top role playing game with my family and friends.

S: You’re getting takeout. What’s your meal of choice?
M: Pizza!

S: What is your favorite method of self care?
M: Playing games and spending time with my cats are my favorite methods of self care.

S: What are your professional goals for the next year?
M: I plan to finish certification in brainspotting, so that I have a body-based tool to help work through trauma. I’m also excited to get multiple therapeutic gaming groups started at Sentier.

To schedule an individual or family therapy Meet & Greet or group intake with Mary, contact our Client Care Coordinator: ellie@sentiertherapy.com


Blog written by Sentier therapist, Mary Devorak, M.S., LMFT

Are My Thoughts Facts?

Thoughts play a very powerful role in our self concept and the way we feel. Cognitive distortions – or thinking errors – can occur when the thoughts we have about ourselves, other people, or situations do not match reality. Thinking errors usually first develop out of adverse situations that feel threatening and then often stick around to become automatic thoughts. These faulty patterns of thinking easily become repetitive and can get us caught in thinking loops or ruminations.

When automatic thoughts are also negative, they cause high anxiety, low sef esteem, difficulty trusting others, trouble in relationships, and under-performance in our work. Therefore, it is important to challenge automatic negative thoughts and irrational thinking errors in order to have a healthier mentality and feel better about ourselves and various situations.

Please note: It is normal and healthy to have some negative thoughts. The goal is not to eliminate cognitive discomfort. The goal is to be fair and rational so that you can acknowledge when a situation is not ok but avoid exaggerating it in your mind or slipping into a state of aimless rumination.

Cognitive restructuring is the umbrella term for identifying and then challenging automatic negative thoughts. Here are a few strategies from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that may be helpful in this process.

  1. Record Your Thoughts. Automatic thoughts occur almost as reflexes and can be hard to even notice until we feel awful in our emotions and bodies. That is why it’s helpful to talk about it with another person and/or write thoughts down in order to sort through what is really going on in your mind. A thought record is a simple way to identify and then move toward challenging thinking errors.
    1. Parse through your thoughts by writing down everything you are thinking, one thought per line. (It might be a lot.)
    2. Put a star next to the thought(s) you believe are automatic negative thoughts or thinking errors.
    3. Note the date, time of day, and situation/place
    4. Note any physical sensations, emotions, and behavioral changes taking place when the thought occurs.
  2. Socratic Questioning. Once a thinking error has been identified, the distortion can be called into question.
    1. Ask yourself the following questions about the distressing thought:
      1. Do I have evidence for this thought?
      2. Do I have evidence against this thought?
      3. Would a rational person believe this thought to be true?
      4. Would I say this out loud to another person about myself?
      5. Would I say this to another person about them?
    2. Rewrite the thought..
      1. Rewrite the thought using words that are rational and evidence-based.
  3. Decatastrophizing. This one is pretty simple and especially effective for worry-based thoughts. Simply ask and answer this question: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” over and over until you get to the end of your worry. You will likely notice the fact that even the worst-case scenario is a. Unlikely, and b. Manageable, even if it is scary or uncomfortable. Then you can use step “b” from above to rewrite the thought based on rationale and evidence instead of a worst-case scenario worry.
  4. Adopt Flexible Thinking. Thinking errors occur when we adopt a rigid way of thinking. The flipside is to stretch ourselves to see things from a different – or opposite – point of view. One way to reduce anxiety is to stop looking at the thought in a black and white way and, instead, to consider the entire spectrum of options and possibilities. In order to be cognitively flexible, avoid using words like “always”, “never”, “should”, and “must” to describe yourself, situations, or people in your mind.

Sometimes, the mere awareness of a thinking error or automatic negative thought is enough to eliminate it. Other distortions are more deeply ingrained, requiring extra work. Keep at it – it’s worth the work to dig out from under thinking errors and find a more rational, truthful version of the way you talk to and think about yourself.

Simply put: Don’t trust everything you think.

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd, LPCC

How To Make Peace with Food

Many people struggle with their relationship with food or their body image. Right now there are endless ads about getting a “beach body” or social media influencers showing what they eat in a day, which can really make people feel terrible about themselves and think they need to change the way they look. You are enough just the way you are! A lot of people have felt pressure to diet from messages they’ve gotten from friends, family, society, and sometimes doctors. Diets are not long-lasting for weight loss and can be gateways to eating disorders. The “anti-diet,” Intuitive Eating, is actually the way to make peace with food once and for all.

make peace with food

Here is an overview of the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating:

  1. Reject the Diet MentalityDiets do not work long-term. People will inevitably gain the weight back at some point, if not end up at a heavier weight than they were prior to starting the diet. When people gain weight back, they often feel like a failure or like they do not have willpower, when in reality it has nothing to do with lack of willpower. When people diet, they end up in a state of deprivation and the body has many natural biological mechanisms to help you in this state. Your body cannot tell the difference between you choosing to restrict calories or there being an extreme scarcity of food.
  2. Honor your HungerYour body gives you signals when it is hungry. Listening to your body when it gives these signals is important. If you do not listen to them, you will become excessively hungry and could overeat. Your body gives other signals, such as telling you when you have to go to the bathroom. You wouldn’t ignore those signals, so why ignore hunger cues?
  3. Make Peace with FoodGive yourself permission to eat any foods. Having foods that are “off limits” leads to cravings and when you finally cave in to cravings you will feel out of control because your body does not know when you will be able to have this food again. If the food is always available your body does not need to binge on this food.
  4. Challenge the Food PoliceThe food police is the negative self-talk you have about foods being “good” or “bad” or even you being “good” or “bad” for what you’ve eaten or how much. All food is guilt free because food is not a moral issue! It can take practice to “talk back” to these messages, but it is possible.
  5. Discover the Satisfaction FactorEating can be an experience that brings joy if you allow it. Eating what you really want in a pleasant environment can be a truly pleasurable experience.
  6. Feel Your FullnessBe mindful while you are eating and honor when you feel full. Some people were taught they have to finish what is on their plate or they eat until they are uncomfortably full. Listen to your body.
  7. Cope with Your Emotions with KindnessSome people use food as a way to cope with emotions. This may soothe emotions in the short term, though it does not fix problems and can make people feel worse in the long run. Instead, find effective coping strategies that don’t lead to you feeling worse.
  8. Respect Your BodyThere is body diversity in the world. Some people live in bigger bodies and some people live in smaller bodies. No matter your body size, your body deserves respect. You don’t necessarily have to love your body to respect it.
  9. Movement-Feel the DifferenceLots of people exercise for the purpose of losing weight but this creates a negative association with exercise when your body is not changing in the ways you want. Instead, change your mindset about movement. Focus on how it decreases stress, helps you feel more energized, builds strength, etc. When movement is no longer tied to losing weight, it is more fun and enjoyable.
  10. Honor Your Health with Gentle NutritionMake food choices that make your body feel good. You do not have to follow rigid food rules in order to be healthy. One meal or snack will not make or break you.This has just been a quick overview of intuitive eating. If you would like to learn more about it, I recommend the following books:

    Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, 4th ed.

    The Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens: A Non-Diet, Body Positive Approach to Building a Healthy Relationship with Food

    If you need support around your relationship with food or body image, make an appointment with a therapist who is knowledgeable about eating disorders and intuitive eating.

Blog written by Sentier Psychotherapy Therapist, Andrea Schroeder, MS, LPCC.

What is a Zine?

Every time someone asks me this question, I find myself tripping over my words to try and arrange a coherent answer.

While there is no singular definition of a zine,  I like to think of zines as small book-like or magazine-like containers for expression of all kinds. Terms like DIY, self-published, non-commercial, easily reproduced, small batch, and hyper-local are often descriptors of a zine and many zines are hand folded or bound. 

Zines can be made in large batches or be one of a kind. Some are sold and others are handed out for free or traded. Some zines are submission-based and others are made by one person. Zines can include writing, photographs, artwork, poetry, collage, and more. 

Zines are an outlet for self expression and artistic passion as well as a form of insider communication and a way to critique capitalistic and elitist systems within the hierarchical world of mainstream media. Their DIY nature makes zines a relatively accessible form of artistic and personal expression–all it takes to create one is a single piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Add a photocopier and that zine can reach the hands of many many people, all without relying on formal publishing networks. 

As The Bindery puts it, zines are “a glorious mash-up of art, letters, story and emotion; just like the brains, hands and hearts of those who produce them.”

Still confused? Me too!

Maybe parsing apart a definition of a zine is a fool’s errand, but historical context helps crystalize  the timeless power of zines.

how to make a zine

A brief history zines in the United States:

 

  • The term “zine” was first utilized in the 1930s and 40s by fans of science fiction writing. These superfans created “fan magazines” to connect with other fans and share their writing, analyses, and artwork. The term “fan magazine” was shortened to “fanzine” and then again to “zine.” 
  • Zine culture grew significantly alongside the DIY punk music scene of the 1970s and 80s.  Zines were often cheaply distributed or traded and they traveled with touring bands all across the country. DIY punk culture was highly informed and motivated by a pushback against mainstream corporate elitism and zines from this era included writings and art that echoed that anger towards capitalism, sexism, racism, and more. Punk zines “represented the aesthetic and ideals of an entire subculture, a condensed version of this cultural revolt against authoritarianism.”
  • Just as with any other movement, the punk movement is not without flaws and has been critiqued for its overwhelmingly white middle class representation. Pushback against that emerged in the form of subcultures within the movement that aimed to elevate the experiences of marginalized groups within the punk scene, and one of the ways that those movements grew was through the distribution of zines. For example, Queercore was a subculture that critiqued homophobia in the punk spaces as well as more widely in cultural and movement spaces. Queercore zines were one of the main forms used to spread the ideas and beliefs of the movement. riot grrrl brought attention to the overwhelming dominance of white male influence in punk spaces. riot grrrl zines spread feminist ideologies and shared artists, musicians, and fans’ personal experiences of sexism in the music industry. Both of these movements used zines to encourage discussion and share experiences about topics that would be considered taboo or risque in other publishing contexts. 
  • A more recent theme in contemporary zine making is prisoners rights. In these zines, compilations of political essays, works by scholars and activists, and writings by people who are incarcerated critique the prison industrial complex and make accessible theories and writings of prison abolition and broader radical social change that are often gatekept within the academic world.

what is a zine examples

Zines are for everyone. 

There is no way to make one, and there is no right or wrong thing to make one about. They can be hyperpersonal or broadly relatable. They can fit in the palm of your hand or take up an entire table. They can fold like a book or unravel like an accordion. 

Making zines can be an act of resistance and an act of love. They can also be a slow Saturday morning activity with a few friends or a Tuesday night alone with some music or a T.V show. Zines can be created in order to spread far and wide, or shared with one or two people, or with nobody at all.

For me, zines are a way to release something that I am holding–not necessarily release it forever, and not necessarily in a way that fixes or solves something. They are a way to take something in my heart or head and hold it in my hands. 

They can help me unravel grief, and visualize love, and arrange something when so much of the world around me is out of my control. They can also be about absolutely nothing. When I sit down to create a zine, they include not only the pages that I end up with, but all of the emotions and interactions that went into creating it, which is why I particularly love creating in community with others. 

Sometimes they take weeks and months to write and arrange, but more often, the one-page zines that I create emerge from just one sitting and a burst of silly creative energy. Zines don’t have to be sold or distributed, and most of mine end up somewhere on my desk.

You don’t need to consider yourself an artist or a writer to make a zine. All you need is to sit down and do it. 

So, how can you start your zine collection?

  • Zinefests are gatherings of zinesters (zine-makers) and artists and a beautiful space to sell and collect zines as well as meet other artists and zine-lovers. (Check out the Twin Cities Zine fest!) 
  • Zines are also often found in independent and radical bookstores like Boneshaker and Moon Palace which are both located in Minneapolis. 
  • There are also extensive online archives of zines. 
  • Zine Workshops at Sentier Psychotherapy

Want to try it yourself?

Like zines themselves, the zine shops that I facilitate at Sentier Psychotherapy are also for anyone and everyone. For those that are new to zine-making, there will be a demonstration of one of the simplest and most popular zine making techniques, one that uses one sheet of paper with four folds and one cut–that’s it!

Each workshop has a theme but these are loose and all participants are welcome to create whatever they feel. Sentier will provide all of the supplies–books, magazines, paper, glue,  etc.– so that participants can collage mini-zines. 

Come ready to write, collage, and create in community about whatever is calling to you and see what emerges. To read more about the upcoming workshops, visit Sentier’s website. If you have questions or would like to register, please email ellie@sentiertherapy.com

The cost of the workshop, including all materials, is $25 with sliding scale fees available. Sentier Psychotherapy is located in St. Paul and the room where workshops are held is located up one flight of steps. 

Please note that these workshops are artist led and not therapy groups. 

Go to eleanorstruewing.com to see more of Ellie’s artwork, including their zines. 

 

My Teen is Depressed

Since the onset of the pandemic, mental health concerns, including depression have risen globally. It makes sense that this is the case. Events that people look forward to have been canceled, people are isolated, and there is uncertainty about when the pandemic will end, creating a perfect storm for depression to manifest. Not to mention depressive symptoms that existed before the pandemic.

If your teen is depressed, that is completely understandable.

talking to your teen about depression

What can you do as a parent?

It is really important that you find a way to be a support person for your teen. You can show them by saying validating statements. Validating statements acknowledge that someone else’s feelings make sense. Some examples include:

  • “I can tell that this is a really hard time for you.”
  • “You are not alone.”
  • “I’m sorry it is so difficult right now.”
  • “I understand you are feeling depressed.”

Validating statements help teens (adults and children too) feel seen, heard, understood and they strengthen relationships.

Here are some examples of invalidating statements (these are the types of statements to avoid):

  • “Why are you depressed, you have such a good life, you have no reason to feel that way.”
  • “I had it way worse when I was a kid.”
  • “Just be happy.”
  • “You are just being dramatic.”

A lot of times people are inadvertently invalidating. Some invalidating statements are really well-meaning. For example, telling someone to focus on the positive may genuinely be trying to help someone feel better. However, it could also convey that they SHOULDN’T feel the way that they do. We want to be compassionate and let teens know that how they are feeling is okay.

You can let your teen know that they can always come to talk to you about feeling depressed/sad/down. It is okay if your teen declines this. Pressing your teen to talk when they do not want to will not build trust or strengthen the relationship. Your teen will likely open up more over time as they see that you are a safe, trustworthy, validating person to go to.

Sometimes with depression, people have suicidal thoughts. This of course is very scary as a parent. If you have concerns for your teen’s safety, you can call a teen crisis line at 310-855-4673 or bring them directly to the emergency room.

At Sentier, we have multiple therapists who specialize in working with teens. If you think your teen needs additional support, please reach out today!

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Andrea Schroeder.

My Teen Won’t Go to School – Part One

You wake up on a cold, Monday morning to the annoying sound of your alarm and struggle to drag yourself from your bed. The temptation to resist is strong but you finally get out of bed to start your day and deal with the next battle… making sure your teen is up and ready for school. You walk into your teen’s room and are immediately greeted with a groan of disgust. After numerous attempts and even the potential yelling match, you admit defeat and walk away. You are left with a mix of emotions and think to yourself yet again, why won’t my teen just go to school?

teenager school attendance

what do you do when your teenager starts missing school?

School refusal isn’t a new problem, but has noticeably become a bigger issue due to the pandemic. Refusal rates are estimated to be 15% to 20% higher than previous pre pandemic rates of 1 to 5% of students. The pandemic has created a rollercoaster of ups and downs in schools. One week students are in-person and the next they are back to sitting in front of a computer and talking to their friends through a screen. Peer relationships are important in helping teens develop their social skills, problem solving skills and discovering their sense of self. Being distanced from their friends can cause your teen to feel lonely and isolated.

However, school refusal cannot just be credited to the pandemic. On a daily basis teens are learning to manage and navigate school workloads, extracurricular activities, and peer relationships. Dealing with this can feel immensely unbearable to teens as their problem solving skills have not fully developed.

Some other factors that lead to school refusal or absenteeism include: anxiety, friendships or bullying, family struggles and difficulties with classroom learning.

student school attendance

How can you help your teen?

  • Talk with your teen: Express interest and empathy in the struggles they are experiencing. Ask them if there is anything you can do at home to help with these feelings. Let your teen know they are heard! (Remember, some issues might seem small but can feel overwhelming large to your teen)
  • Connect with their teacher: Reach out to their teacher and see if there is a way to get your teen some help with managing their struggles in the classroom. (You can even include your teen in this conversation so they can feel like they have a voice. Teachers spend a significant amount of time with your kid and might have insights into their classroom struggles that you don’t.
  • Limit electronics: Removing video games, cell phones or other electronics can let your teens know it isn’t a fun, free day off. Holding firm limits during regular school hours takes away the temptation for them to stay home curled up in their bed scrolling through social media or trying to pass the next level in their video game. Electronics might only be adding to your teen’s stress, especially if bullying is happening.
  • Brainstorm fun mid week activities: Schedule fun activities to help keep your teen feeling connected with others and give them something to look forward to. Get creative and keep it simple. Have your teen pick a place to eat/order take out, plan a movie or game night, etc.

What tip will you try to help make that school struggle a little bit easier?

Blog written by Sentier therapist Bridgett Brye, MSW, LGSW

What your Sentier therapist does behind the scenes

teen counseling saint paul

Sentier Therapy at work and play

You park the car, enter the building, and open the door to the waiting room, where you are met with the calming whir of white noise machines.

Maybe you browse through a National Geographic or scroll through Instagram while you wait for your therapist, or maybe you make a cup of coffee or hot chocolate to sip on during your session.

Eventually, you walk into your therapist’s office and sink into the comfy chair of your choice.

Or, alternatively, you open your laptop, click the Doxy link, and wait for the ding that means your therapist is ready to begin.

What you may not realize once you leave the building or close the laptop is just how much your therapist is doing outside of your sessions. Here are just a few things that are part of your Sentier therapist’s job that you may not know about:

  • Therapists complete a case note for each and every therapy session they do in order to monitor their clients’ progress and keep track of what is covered in sessions. If you’ve noticed your therapist writing or typing during a session, they were probably adding to the session’s case note. These aren’t extensive reports but rather a quick summary of what happened during the session. What was discussed and what topics did the client bring up? What was the client’s mood and demeanor? What changes occurred between this session and the last? What sorts of activities or exercises were done during the session? Was any homework or practice assigned for next time?
  • Every day, each of the therapists at Sentier updates a massive spreadsheet with 18 tabs outlining everything from therapist availability for new clients to new client inquiries to important dates for the team to remember. Each time someone inquires about therapy at Sentier, it is carefully logged in this spreadsheet. The date and times of Sentier’s groups are outlined months in advance. The list goes on and on! This spreadsheet is a puzzle that keeps the clinic running smoothly and therapists maintaining each piece of it is crucial to the success of the clinic.
  • Sentier is an out-of-network clinic which means that therapists submit claims for some clients sessions to insurance providers. By doing this step for our clients, we are trying to make it easier for folks to get reimbursed if possible. Submitting to insurance also means that therapists work with clients to troubleshoot with insurance companies if issues with claims or reimbursement arise.
  • Therapists also monitor their sliding scale availability. By logging what sliding scale fees they have offered to clients, they are able to keep track of what they can offer to future individual and group clients.
  • Your therapist also updates their waiting list, reaching out to people when availability opens up and communicating frequently with clients about scheduling. Therapy is in high demand, and keeping these waiting lists organized and updated is an important part of your therapist’s job.
  • Sarah trains the team on HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) guidelines that keep your private health information safe.
  • Andrea is the resident expert on Sentier’s Electronic Health Record (EHR). She fields your therapist’s questions about the software and updates a manual that therapists often refer to when they need help.
  • Once a month, Sentier therapists gather in the Group Room of our office. We each do a brief check in, updating the team on both our personal and professional lives, and each share something we are grateful for, all while munching on breakfast provided by a rotating member of the team. These gratitudes are recorded in a journal so that your therapist can look back on them whenever they want. The team goes over big and small changes that may have come up in the past month, perhaps about our EHR or how our COVID policies continue to evolve. Therapists bring questions to the team about their approaches to client care and receive feedback and advice on how to proceed.

A few other things you might not know about what goes on at Sentier when you’re not in session:

  • Megan can tell who is coming to hang out in her office before they arrive based on their footsteps and her door is always open for a chat or a question.
  • Mailboxes fill with paperwork, and then are emptied, and then fill again, and sometimes chocolate or other treats appear in them from the Sunshine Committee. The Sunshine Committee is in charge of birthday gifts, handwritten messages of support and encouragement for therapists, and other random offerings that make our team a family.
  • Ashley provides the team with an endless supply of fidgets and help with the printer when it inevitably decides to stop working.
  • The thermostat is adjusted often, as half the therapists are always shivering and the other half are too warm.
  • Andrea keeps the kitchen stocked with sweet snacks.
  • Your therapists ponder the temperature of the lighting in the waiting rooms—too bright? Too warm?—and discuss how the furniture is arranged.
  • Jenga, Sentier’s therapy dog, plops down at your therapist’s feet between sessions and looks expectantly at them for pets, love, and apple cores, his tail eternally wagging.

These little things make all of the difference in the way daily life is shaped here at Sentier.

At Sentier, we’re lucky. Having such a small group of therapists allows the team to get to know each other and develop a flow so that we can all help one another be successful.

These personal moments that your therapists share help them maintain the momentum to get all of the other things done. It is a privilege to work with our clients and with one another, and we help each other out so that we can better help you.

Blog written by Client Care Coordinator, Ellie Struewing.

DBT Therapy – What Is It? (Part 2)

See our first blog about DBT: “DBT Therapy: What is it?” to learn about types of concerns that DBT can help relieve. 

So, what else is there to know about DBT?

DBT has four modules: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. 

DBT Mindfulness

Mindfulness skills teach people how to live in the present moment. Wouldn’t it be so great to spend time with friends and fully enjoy that time together, rather than thinking about all the chores you have to do once you get home? You may be thinking, “What if doing chores is awful? I don’t want to do that!” Even when your present moment is unpleasant, it is beneficial to be present in it because if you are aware of what is going on, you are better able to decide how to proceed.

DBT Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance skills help you avoid acting on impulses. A lot of times, impulses that people have might feel good in the short term, but end up having negative consequences in the long term. These can include drug or alcohol use, self harm, and disordered eating. Distress tolerance skills help you find effective ways to manage negative emotions in the moment  in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling worse later. 

DBT Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation skills help individuals have more control over their emotions. This module includes tips for improving your emotions in the short term by doing activities you enjoy, but it also helps you have more stable moods over time by helping you examine your sleeping habits, eating habits, and other factors. 

DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness

The Interpersonal Effectiveness module includes skills for everything relationships. People often struggle with assertiveness skills and communicating effectively (especially in the Midwest). Have you ever avoided a hard conversation? Do you find yourself saying yes to favor after favor when you really don’t have the capacity to take something else on? Or do you struggle with getting your own needs met because you are too afraid to ask for what you need? Skills in this module help you ask for what you want and need in such a way that makes the other person more likely to say yes and without getting defensive as well as respect your “no”. With these skills, you can ask for something and say no to something all while maintaining your relationships and your own self respect. Sounds pretty good, right?

Why DBT Is Useful

As you can see, DBT skills can be useful for just about anybody! At Sentier, we offer a Teen DBT Skills Group and a Young Adult DBT Skills group. Each of these groups is 10 weeks long and teaches some of the skills from each of the modules. I like to say we go through the “Greatest Hits” of the skills. New groups are offered quarterly. 

What module sounds most helpful to you?

 

SPACE Treatment: How Parents Can Support Your Child or Teen with Anxiety

You cut your evening short because your child won’t fall asleep without you in bed with them.

You order for your adolescent at a restaurant when they turn away from the server.

You tie your child’s shoes every morning because they claim they “can’t do it right.”

You often cancel plans to attend events as a family because your teen feels uncomfortable in new places.

Do any of those sound familiar to you? If so, you may be stuck in unhealthy patterns due to child or adolescent anxiety and parental accommodation.

It is common for parents and caregivers who are stuck in these patterns to feel overwhelmed with what may appear to be child misbehavior. The truth is, no one is to blame and everyone is responsible for making changes to get unstuck and move forward in healthier ways. A therapeutic intervention used for getting unstuck is called SPACE: Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. SPACE treatment may be helpful to your family if you find yourself changing plans or noticing that your child’s anxiety interferes with day to day functioning.

From www.spacetreatment.net:

SPACE is a parent-based program for children and adolescents with anxiety, OCD, and related disorders.” It is also appropriate for concerns such as separation anxiety, social anxiety, fears and phobias, and selective mutism. SPACE Treatment is unique in that, although the interventions are intended to treat the child’s anxiety, the adults are the ones attending therapy sessions, gaining new tools, and making strategic changes to their own behaviors.

When parents accommodate anxiety to help their child (or themselves) feel better in the moment, it actually upholds the symptoms and increases anxiety over time. SPACE is a collaborative process between the therapist and caregiver with the basic recipe of learning: 1. To respond more supportively to your anxious child, and 2. To reduce the accommodations you have been making for the child’s symptoms. Caregivers who participate in the SPACE treatment protocol report increased family satisfaction, decreased anxiety in the household, and increased confidence in both child and parent.

For more information about the SPACE treatment protocol, check out this video:

At Sentier, Sarah Souder Johnson is available to deliver SPACE to families who are eager to reduce the systemic effects of anxiety in their household.

What Does Grief Look Like?

The Parts of Grief We Do Not Expect and Do Not Talk About

I am a Covid Widow. I lost my partner of nineteen years at the very beginning of the pandemic before we knew what Covid was, and before it was being diagnosed. We do not have an official diagnosis of Covid as the cause of death for my partner, however, all of the signs and symptoms and her cause of death point to Covid as the cause.

Since losing my late wife, I have become a non-consensual expert on Grief. Not only do I sit in and process my own grief, but I now have a collection of widow friends (we call ourselves “the weeping”) that I have formed a deep and intimate relationship with over these past eighteen months. Having a community of people who know what it is like to be a griever is a game-changer in being able to sit with and process grief. My weeping and baking bread are probably the two things that have made it possible to continue to exist in space with folks.

This blog isn’t necessarily about me and my experience with grief and it’s not about all of the usual mainstream conversations around grief, either. This blog is about the unspoken pieces of grief and the things that crept up or surprised us Weeping Widows while going through our Journeys.

grief is normal

First off…

Grief is not a horizontal line, and it’s not even a circle. Grief is like an ocean. Some days you have giant capsize your boat waves, and sometimes you just have little laps on the shore.

Grief has a starting point but never an end point. I think this is one of the hardest things to learn when going through the process. So many folks ask me when grief will end. I am the forever optimist and I want to say that it will end soon or someday, but the realist in me (and the griever) has to say unfortunately, never. Grief stays with you. At first it’s really intense and ever-present. As it continues to flow through you (and as you continue to process along your journey) it evolves. It still can be intense and ever-present, but hopefully those days get further apart and don’t linger as long as they did in the beginning.

Grieving is unpredictable and pops up in strange ways during the most inconvenient times. It can be a song or a smell, a bird or a flower, or something you didn’t know was going to bring on strong feelings. When talking with my widow friends, we all agree that those “surprise griefs” are the worst. Surprise griefs are the moments that show up when you least expect them; you have no idea where they came from. These are moments in grief that you can’t prepare for.

I asked my widow friends what were the things that surprised them the most after they lost their person, and here are their responses:

The build-up is always worse than the day…

The buildups to the big anniversary milestones (birthdays, hospitalizations, etc.) are hard and painful. We spend so much time and brainpower thinking about all the things that are, were, or what could be. We are also just anxious about how it’s going to be on the actual day. I have had 18 months worth of anniversaries and this statement is always true: The build-up has always been worse than the actual day. When the day comes, it might be sad, but it is never as tragically sad as we prepared for.

Those who you thought would stick around don’t, and those you didn’t think would stick around, will.

Is very interesting to see who stays after a significant loss. Everyone shows up obviously for the first two weeks to a month after the death, and then the world tapers off and gets back doing their thing. At this point, we as grievers are left feeling very lonely. Many of the people that I thought would hang around and be supportive did not support me, and I was constantly surprised by who was able to lean in and stay present even after that first month.

Grief math or “Widow Math” as I call it.

This is the subconscious need to countdown until the next significant event. How many days until the next anniversary? how many days has it been since the first anniversary? how many days until I’m older than they were ever going to be again? That constant counting of time is our brains trying to keep us connected to the human we lost, and also breaking down forever into measurable moments. It is not an anxiety easing process or technique. In fact, grief math is incredibly difficult and intrusive for most folx.

It’s really hard to be around people who don’t also experience grief.

This one surprised me. I am a people person and I love to be with people. I now find it hard to be around people who don’t know what it’s like to experience grief on a cellular level the way I have. I’ve asked a lot of widows about this, and this is something that they feel as well. It is a common theme. We tend to lean into each other and into our network because it’s a lot easier to be around people who get it than it is to explain it.
You see grief and death everywhere.

Until becoming a widow, I never realized every show has a character who deals with some sort of significant loss. Many shows have widowers or widdudes as we call them in the Widow’s Club. You can’t help but see those characters differently after joining the Widow Club/Grief Club. Or maybe you didn’t even notice that character at first, and then that’s all you can see.

The body remembers before your brain will.

There is something to be said about the body keeping score. We hold trauma in our bodies, and our body then reacts in somatic ways. My body told me an anniversary was coming up before the calendar did. It was shocking to make the connection between the physical pain and the proximity of the anniversary. Grief does not just hurt emotionally, it hurts physically, as well.

minnesota counseling can help

What is the takeaway from all of this?

If you are a griever:

Find a community. Find people who know what it’s like to experience what you have experienced. A community will give you common language, and most importantly connection. Grief is such an isolating experience that creates such big internal and external spaces of loneliness. Most people need to have people around them in order to get through, and out to the other side of those dark spaces. Remember that you’re not alone. There are so many of us out there. Just come find us.

If you’re not a griever:

Don’t forget about your friends who have lost humans. Be patient with them, as they may not be the same person they were before the loss. Allow people to grow into their new selves as they work on figuring out who they are becoming after their loss.

Don’t take silence personally. If your grieving friend withdraws, it is not about you. It is most likely because they needed to go inward and do some work.

Be there for them when they return with open arms, and not with judgment. Remember, they are different now.

Trust your grieving friend when they share things with you about their experiences. If you don’t understand why they are doing a certain thing or you don’t agree with the choices they are making, ask them about it. They may be doing things a certain way because they have to protect themselves or because they may be dealing with other people’s grief. They have to be a certain way in the world right now in order to keep themselves safe.

Do your best not to put your own grief onto the person who is grieving. If your friend loses a parent or a partner, going to your friend and talking about how sad you are and leaning into them to help you process your feelings of grief and loss may be incredibly overwhelming to that individual. If you’re able to take your feelings and process them with somebody else who is not as close to the loss, that is going to be more beneficial to your grieving friend. Grievers do not have the emotional space to hold grief for other grievers the way that other grievers need. This is not Universal for everybody but in general it’s very hard for those who are in it to be there for others.

One important thing to remember is that we will all be Grievers one day.

Unfortunately, death and loss are inevitable and every person will experience some sort of significant loss. As a culture (in North America), we are generally not great about talking about death. Death is scary, so it is avoided. But it is a thing that happens. The more we can all remember that we will all be grievers one day, the easier it will be for us to lean into that experience and to feel what we need to feel and process what we need to process.

You cannot bypass grief, you cannot avoid the loss, and grief can never be outrun. The only thing you can do is go through, feel it, process it, and even eventually embrace it. It is not scary, it is just beautifully sad.

What has helped you in your grief?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Ashley Groshek, LMFT

How to Nurture your Teenager

How to Nurture your Teenager During Conflict

My Teenager Hates Me – Part 2

Being a parent is challenging. One day you have a beautiful baby who is the center of your universe, and then your baby grows into a teenager who you might not recognize. You may be asking yourself, “where did this argumentative young person come from?” Many parents of teens come into our office feeling hopeless. Parents are unsure if they did something wrong, and feel that they can’t understand their teen.

Well, good news! Teenagers are designed to oppose their parents. Adolescence is all about teenagers finding their identity (separating from their parents) which leads them to challenge the main source of authority, their parents.

shutterstock_86748775

Teenage years are filled with extreme highs and lows. This highly emotionally charged period of life is coupled by developmental changes and growth, surging hormones, and societal pressures. Teens are trying to navigate the waters of their new body, new feelings and emotions they have on things they thought they once understood.

Five things a parent can do to help their teen through this time:

  • GUIDANCE
    All teens need guidance. Their inability to consider consequences and fully engage in future thinking, means they need their parents to do that for them. Part of a parent’s job is to keep their teen safe from harm and guide them to become the best person they can be. To be clear, we are not recommending that you helicopter. Ask your teen questions, let them make mistakes, talk with them a lot (note: do not lecture them) and you are on your way to properly guiding them!
  • PERSPECTIVE
    Keep perspective. This too shall pass. The attitude your teen is presenting (and their need to challenge you) will subside. Don’t let these battles become wars, find ways to keep perspective on the situation, and soon their emotions will fade. Find out what is important to your teen and learn how to negotiate so you can support them in the independence but also keep them safe. Get external support if you need it.
  • VALIDATE
    Validate your teenager’s emotions and let them know that you hear them and care about how they feel. Most teens don’t like to hear you say that you “get it,” so drop that if it is an irritation to your teen. Although these emotions may not make sense to you, there is merit to your teen’s feelings and validating the feelings allows the teenager to feel that you care for them.
  • LOVE
    This goes without saying, but love your teen unconditionally. Although they may scream, “I hate you!” and respond with one or two-word responses, know in your heart that they need you and love you too. Sometimes expressing this is difficult (if your teen is really argumentative) but try to get past your hurt and continue to communicate your love to them. Again, get external support if you need it.
  • CALM
    Your teen needs you to be the adult. If your teen is irrational and yells, things will only get worse if you start to act the same way. Be aware of how you respond, how your physical posture (non-verbals) comes across, and what the tone of your voice communicates. If you feel that you are unable to stay calm, state that you will continue this conversation later and walk away until you are able to manage your emotions properly. If this dynamic is not pretty and tends to not resolve itself well with you and your teen, either your and/or your teen might need help with emotion regulation skills.

Good luck, parents! Let us know how things go!

This blog was written by Rachel Samuelson and Megan Sigmon-Olsen, M.S.W., LICSW

How to Sleep Better

Help me Sleep!

How well do you sleep?  If you are like most teens and college students, then probably not too well. Most people between the ages of 14 and 24 have demanding school, work, and activity schedules that favor the Night Owl lifestyle with hopes of “catching up” on the weekends. Additionally, the biological clock naturally shifts forward in adolescence, which means that adolescents experience a surge in energy in the evening while rising in the morning is more difficult. As many as 75% of college students report difficulty falling asleep, excessive sleepiness during the day, or sleep disturbances. Many of these students report that emotional and academic stress worsen their sleep problems, which can in turn increase the stress, which then leads to more sleepless nights. If this sounds familiar to you, there are ways to reduce your stress by improving your sleep.

Healthy Sleep Habits
If you have difficulty getting enough sleep or feeling rested, try some of these tips to develop healthy sleep habits:

  • Develop a bedtime routine and use this routine consistently. Following the same ritual before bed and having a consistent bed time (including weekends) can create and improve the consistency of your sleep patterns.
  • Make room in your schedule for 7-9 hours of sleep. This is the average amount of sleep an adolescent/college student needs, which is often far less than the schedule allows.
  • This is where naps come in! Naps late in the day are not very helpful, but a 30-minute nap before mid-afternoon can do wonders.
  • Only use your bed for sleep and the activities that promote sleepy time, such as reading and journaling on paper. If you avoid watching tv, doing homework, or playing on your phone in your bed, you train your brain to know that bed = winding down.
  • Exercise for 30 minutes per day on most days. Not only does exercise help you sleep more soundly, but it will also keep you more alert throughout the day.
  • If you lay in bed for 20 minutes trying to fall asleep, just go ahead and get out of bed. Sometimes the anxiety over not being able to fall asleep complicates the problem and makes it even more difficult. Get out of bed and do something mundane like fold laundry or clean your room before trying the routine again.
  • We recommend this chart as a way to track your patterns and get a baseline on your current sleep habits.A young woman is sleeping in a bed with a cat next to her

When to See a Doctor
If the tips listed above don’t do the trick or if you experience any of the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with your family doctor or with a sleep specialist:

  • You gasp, choke, or stop breathing during sleep. If you have a bed partner or roommate, ask that person if they have observed any of these behaviors in you while you sleep.
  • You fall asleep at inappropriate times, such as while eating, talking, or walking.
  • You feel excessively sleepy during the day and the tips above don’t seem to help.

Need a Laugh?
Hear comedian Mike Burbiglia’s recounting of his own experience with sleep disorders. But remember that even though his stories are amusing, sleep disorders can be extremely serious and should definitely be checked out by a doctor.

How Sleep Savvy are You?
Test your knowledge about sleep by reading the National Sleep Foundation list of common myths.

Blog written by Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd, LPCC

My Teenager Hates Me! How To Stay Connected with Your Teenager

In some ways, teens really have it rough (which also means that parenting teenagers is not easy, either). From a biological standpoint, teens are undergoing many changes. Their brains are developing the ability to engage in higher-level problem solving as well as a feature that allows them to “put on the brakes” in situations where they would have previously just acted on impulse. Some of these biological changes create an inherent inner struggle as they now have to “decide” who they are going to be in the world. The whole “saying no” thing actually makes sense to them now and they have to decide to make their own decisions or follow the crowd in different situations. Teens are also experiencing hormone changes & puberty. That’s a tough mix!

In other ways, teens have it made. They still live at home, they don’t have any/many bills to pay, they get to eat for free, etc. While all these things are great, the hard piece about this is that one of the developmental tasks of being a teenager is to separate from parents. So… they want and NEED to make their own choices, have their own opinions, etc.  With all of this in mind, here are a few ways to stay connected to your teen during these years of change:

1. Openly communicate with your teen. Your teen is no longer a child and they need you to talk with them in an appropriate way. They are young adults and need to be treated this way (most of the time). Talk about current events, what they have going on in their life, some of what you have going on, stressors they are experiencing, etc. Talk, talk, talk. If they put up walls… well… that’s a different blog. I promise I will also write about that. This blog might be helpful: Communicating with your Teen: Do’s and Don’ts.

2.  Let them have an opinion. Again, your teen is no longer a child. It is your job as a parent to teach them how to be an adult. When your teen no longer lives in your home (that’s just a few years away!) they are going to need to know how to make decisions, etc. The best place to learn how to do this is at home. Their opinion will often be different than yours. That is okay! You taught your kiddo to think for themselves! Though this can create controversy at home, remember that the goal is not to have a “mini-me.” The goal is to have raised an individual you can be proud of.

3. Listen to them. Let them tell you things without giving them advice. They will learn from their mistakes, and sometimes you have to let them learn the hard way. Also, do not tell other people things that your teen told you privately. This is a deal breaker for teens.

4. Have fun with them. Let them pick activities sometimes. Yes, you might end up rock climbing this weekend, but so be it! Allowing them to pick activities shows them that you value their opinion. Warning on this one: If your teen has no money and they choose an expensive activity, I encourage you to help them earn some of the money around the house, etc. My teen doesn't like me

5. Include their friends. Not all the time! Sometimes this is good, though. It is developmentally appropriate for teens to prioritize their friends. This is nothing that you did wrong. Include their friends in some activities and this will open up more lines of communication.

6. Be clear about expectations. Do not assume your teen knows what is expected of them. This is a very common mistake that I see A LOT. Be clear and have expectations written down. This will eliminate many arguments. Read here for my thoughts about teen expectations.

7. Help them reach their goals. Key word: THEIR goals. This one can be hard for parents. Let your teen be who they want to be in the world. They will be much happier as themselves than if they live their life to please you. Help them clarify their goals and help them attain their goals (as much as you can, anyway). You get to worry about their future. That’s part of what you signed up for as a parent. You can be honest with them about your thoughts about some of their goals, but please do not use guilt or shame. Again, I will blog about that in the future. For now, support them in their goals and this will show them that you love them and trust them as young adults.

8. The good ole’ family dinner. Eat together sometimes! Research consistently shows that families are happier when they eat some meals together (no phones at the table, please!).

9. You are not their friend. They still need you to be their parent. After they graduate, move out, go to college, etc., then you can have a more adult relationship with them. For now, don’t be the TOO cool parent. You can be cool, but know your limits ahead of time. Teens still need parents, rules, consequences, etc. It is your job to enforce the rules and consequences.

Hopefully these pointers help! There is no reason that you should not stay connected with your teenager. Are there any that you as parents feel that I missed?

How to Talk with your Teen about their First Therapy Appointment

First of all, if your teen has agreed to see a therapist, that is great! Teens are often anxious about their first appointment, which is why I have written this blog for you. There are a few things that will be helpful for you to talk with them about before that first session.

1. Provide your teen with some background information about the therapist. If the therapist has an online presence, let your teen look at the therapist’s website, etc. Seeing the therapist’s picture often helps ease some angst. If possible, have your teen help you select the therapist. The relationship your teen develops with the therapist will be a critical factor in your teen’s ability to make change (in their life) with that therapist.

2. Review with your teen the reasons that they are going to therapy. Reinforce the fact that they are not going to therapy to be “fixed,” but rather to find some solutions. Partner with your teen around wanting to see them find solutions on any issues that they are struggling with. Your partnership will be helpful to them, but do not try to solve their problems for them. Therapy allows teens a private space to begin making their own decisions. Remind your teen of this, as it is developmentally appropriate for your teen to want to find solutions on their own. Teens want the control and the freedom to make decisions. Therapy is a place where they will have this control. Does my son need therapy? Does my son need counseling?

3. Have as much background information about the therapist for your teen as possible (Where is the therapist located? What kind of building is the therapist in? Does the therapist see other teenagers? How long are sessions? How often are sessions? When does the therapist work?, etc.).

4. Get information from the therapist about what the first session will be like. For me, this is easy. My first sessions (I call them Meet & Greets) only last 30 minutes and are basically quick sessions that give teens and parents a chance to see if they connect with me, if they feel like they can trust me, if they like my office space, and if they feel like they can spend an hour per week with me. I also explain my privacy policy to teens and parents during the Meet & Greet. This is almost always a concern for teens (“If I tell you stuff, are you going to call my parents?”). If your chosen therapist does not provide a Meet & Greet, their first session is likely the beginning of their assessment. Assessment is just a fancy word that we mental health folks use for getting to know you better.

5. Talk with your teen about what it is they want to get out of therapy. This is something that the therapist will ask at some point, and it is important for your teen to understand that therapy time is the teen’s private time to work on whatever they want to work on. Setting goals at the beginning of therapy will help the therapist make plans to help your teen better. If your teen does not know what they want to get out of therapy, their first few sessions will likely be spent talking about what changes they want to see in their life. Even if your teen cannot answer you 100% during this conversation, ask your teen to think about it so they are able to answer when the therapist asks.

6. Inform your teen what therapy IS and what therapy IS NOT. Therapists are not magicians. Therapists cannot read minds. Therapists are there to guide your teen and help them figure out areas that are causing them pain. Therapists can help your teen figure out issues they might have in relationships, school, with friends. Therapists will not “cure” your teen; your teen has to do the work in therapy in order to see changes in the world. This is an important item, because I believe that therapy is confusing for people who have never been to therapy. Therapists do not have a prescription to make things better.

7. Assuming your teen doesn’t HATE the therapist (after meeting them for the first time), inform your teen that they need to try a few (3 to 5) sessions with the therapist. Teens can be impulsive and sometimes want to fire therapists immediately. Give the therapist a few sessions to see if the relationship can develop.

Let me know how the conversation with your teen goes! Is there anything that came up in your conversation that I missed here? Please share your thoughts about this post as this is an important conversation that parents often need to have with teens.

How To Find a Good Therapist

This requires some time and patience.

There is one very obvious reason that a good therapist can be hard to find: There are A LOT of us! If you do a Google/Bing/Yahoo search for a therapist in your area, you will find page after page after page listing all of us. You will also find many of us listed on certain paid sites (such as Psychology Today). These sites are great, but you will be bombarded with blurbs that we have written. Eventually the blurbs kind of sound the same and you do not feel that you know who to call.

Steps to take to decrease your number of choices:

1. Do a Google search for the kind of therapist you are looking for. Some examples: “Family Therapy [enter your zip code or city name],” “Teen Therapist [zip code or city],” “Couples Counseling [zip code or city].” Find the sites of a few therapists who stick out to you and read what they have to say. If you find any therapists who you seem to like (as much as you can after reading their blurb, anyway) write down their name or bookmark their site.

Find a therapist

2. Keep looking. Check some of the sites that rank high when searching (such as Psychology Today). Within the Psychology Today website, you will search for a therapist by zip code. This kind of search is a good starting place, but you will (again!) find that there are A LOT of us listed! (I just did a search for my zip code and got 66 results! Wow!). After getting your results by zip code, you can make your search more specific by selecting categories (Child or Adolescent, Addiction, Anxiety, ADHD, etc.). Using these specifiers will help you find a therapist who works with whatever it is you want to work on in therapy.

3. Read some blurbs. Make note of therapists who stick out to you.

4. Google these therapists names. See what else these therapists are involved in to get a better feel for who they are.

5. Do a YouTube search of the therapists names. Some therapists have YouTube channels and you may have the opportunity to listen to them speak, see how they interact, etc.

6. Ask around (if you feel comfortable). Ask your physician if they recommend a particular therapist. Ask a clergy member or friend. Ask the parents of other teens or the school counselor (if you’re looking for a teen therapist). Check your teen’s school website as they might have a section for counseling recommendations.

7. If you intend to directly use your insurance for therapy, you can look up (usually online or by phone) who is in-network with your insurance company. They will probably have a very long list of people in your area. Those of us who do not directly contract with insurance companies will not be listed here.

Okay. Now do you have a couple therapists selected?

1. Once you have a therapist (or two, or three, or four!) picked out, call or email the therapist. See if the therapist will meet with you (I call these sessions meet-and-greets) for a short time. This kind of a session is usually free. If the therapist does offer something like this, I would encourage you to schedule this kind of session. This will allow you to see how you feel when you sit down with your chosen therapist as well as ask any questions you might have.The connection you feel with your therapist is going to be very important as the relationship between the two of you is one of the main pieces that will help you make change in your life.

2. If the therapist does not offer a free meet-and-greet, see if they are willing to have a brief phone conversation with you. You can ask them questions such as:
A. What is your educational background?
B. Are you licensed?
C. Are you an interactive therapist or are you more of a quiet therapist?
D. Do you have experience working with __________?
E. What kind of session times do you currently have available?

3. If the therapist does not offer a free consultation/meet-and-greet, you have to decide if you want to schedule the first session with your chosen therapist. The first session is generally more expensive than other sessions. You will usually need to complete paper work for this first session.

This is a brief summary about some of the ways to find your therapist. Has this been helpful? Good luck finding someone who is a good fit for you!

What is Fear? and How To Overcome It

What is Fear? and How To Overcome It

Fear is defined as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined.” If we look around at our world right now, there is a lot going on that might cause fear inside of us: The spread of COVID-19, fear of losing our jobs or not being able to share important moments with loved ones, fear of screwing up this homeschooling thing. Fear of isolation. On and on, we can all name our own list of fears. And if you aren’t feeling it now, there has likely been a time in your life when you have felt fearful of something.

What do we do with this fear? Here are a few things that can help when the fear feels crippling or overwhelming:

1. Name it.

Fear is a tricky emotion. If you let it stay hidden, it will grow. Speak out loud what you are fearful of. Write it down. Share it with a friend or someone you trust. But don’t let it remain a secret.

2. Challenge it.

After naming your fears, challenge them with truth. For example, if you are fearful about the future and the unknown, name something true about the present that makes you feel safe or comfortable right now. Perhaps you are afraid if you try that free yoga class, you might look silly. What if you try it and you don’t look silly? What if you are actually an awesome, yogi warrior waiting to be unleashed? Or what if every other person in that class is also fearful of looking silly, and they aren’t giving you a second glance? Either way, the truth is you took a class to improve your overall health and wellness. Challenge your fears with truth. Sometimes when we are caught in our own fear, this step might require a little help from that trusted person mentioned before.

3. Keep moving.

Fear can stop us in our tracks. It paralyzes us from moving forward: from trying the new thing, meeting the new person. Set small goals to continue working towards the next step. This progression acts as a natural way to challenge our fears, because we make it to the next step, look around, and find that we are actually okay.

4. Look for opportunities to thrive versus survive.

Fear is an emotion that can be traced back to our survival selves. Fear teaches us to “fight, flight, or freeze” when threatened by something dangerous (real or perceived). Instead of living in this constant place of being on edge, look for the times when you feel most alive. Are you outside walking your dog? Are you listening to your favorite tunes? Attempting a new recipe? Find those moments when you feel a little fuller and perhaps a little calmer, and seek to create those throughout your day.

Here is a list of some new activities you might try to live more in that “thriving rather than surviving” zone

https://cornercanyoncounseling.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pleasurable-Activities.pdf

https://www.kiddiematters.com/80-self-care-activities-teens/

Fear is a real thing. It’s hard and scary. This post is not meant to minimize that in any way. Recognizing the fear and bringing light to it while we continue to move forward, can help keep us from getting caught in those fear traps that threaten our overall well-being, our relationships, and the lens through which we view the world.

In a time when many of us are experiencing fear about a lot of different things, remember you are not alone. Sometimes just knowing someone else is sitting in that same fear with us, is enough.

What ways can you begin challenging your own fears today?

Blog written by Tana Welter, MSW, LGSW.

How to Get your Parent(s) to Say YES!

You really want to go out with friends on Friday night and you know that mom/moms/dad/dads/mom and dad aren’t going to budge. Here’s how to get them to (at least) consider:

1. Let them know (with advance warning) that you’d like to arrange a time to sit down and talk with them about something.

2. Be flexible about when you can meet. For example, don’t try to meet at 10 at night when you know he/she/they have to wake up early for work. Set a time after dinner (that you ate WITH THEM at HOME!) or when the family is just hanging out.

3. Don’t pull siblings or friends into the conversation (unless they’re going to the event with you).

4. Sit down with your parent(s) and explain the upcoming event that you’re asking permission to attend. Important details: Who will be there, who is supervising, what will you be doing, what date/time will you need to be there and how will you get to the event, will you need money, and why you’re so excited about the event.

5. Here’s where problems are likely to take place:

  • Your parents may not approve of the other people who will be at the event. Good luck with that one! If your parents have reason to not approve of certain people, then this is gonna’ be a tough sell. Parents generally don’t like people who they feel puts their teen at risk.
  • Your parent(s) may not believe there will be supervision. Offer to have your parents talk to the person supervising. Provide them with the (CORRECT) phone number.
  • If you need extra money for the event, come to the meeting with your parent(s) with an idea of how you plan to earn the extra money at home (pick up a few more chores, mow the yard, etc.). Follow through with these chores OR IT WILL HURT YOU NEXT TIME!

6. If the discussion is not going anywhere, ask your parent(s) the main reason they’re saying no. Do not yell at them; this will only make them more firm in saying no. Reschedule the discussion for a later time when everyone is calm. Revisit step #1 and try again.

Remember, your parent(s) want honesty and they want to see you handling yourself responsibly. Come to the meeting prepared to answer questions. Have answers to the tough questions and also come prepared for your parent(s) to say no. Good luck!

How did using these steps work out for you!?