What is Theraplay?

What is Theraplay?

You’ve heard of therapy, and maybe even play therapy, but what about Theraplay?

Sentier’s child therapists, Bridgett Brye and Lily Ferreira, answered a few questions about what Theraplay is and how it works.

What is theraplay?

Bridgett Brye: Theraplay is a type of child and family therapy that focuses on the parent/guardian and child attachment and interactions. Theraplay aims to help enhance attachment and build the relationship through fun, structured activities that increase a child’s felt sense of safety, connection, sense of worthiness, and need to be cared for.

What is it used for?

Lily Ferreira: Theraplay is helpful for any families who want to build trust, felt safety, and connection. Traditionally, Theraplay has been used with families where there has been a rupture in the attachment relationship- whether due to foster care, adoption, separation, or parental challenges that have impacted their ability to connect with their child.

Who is a good fit for Theraplay?

LF: Theraplay is beneficial for any parent/child relationship. It may be most beneficial for adoptive families, foster families, kids who are having difficulty responding to their parents, or parents who are having difficulty relating to their kids. In my experience, all families can benefit from Theraplay!

BB: Theraplay is a good fit for anyone and everyone! We all need to feel safe, connected, worthy and cared for. Theraplay is often utilized in adoption and foster families where a disruption has occurred within the attachment. However, it has and can be used with teens, elderly populations and others to help model healthy relationships and interactions.

What do you like about it?

LF: Theraplay is interactive, playful, and easy. There is no pressure to say or do the right thing. You just need to be present. I love watching kids and their parents experience shared moments of delight.

BB: It is fun! It takes us back to our innate need for play and the happiness and giggles we get through playing with others. I get to see parents and children learn the power of being with one another, as this can be hard in the stressful day to day lives of families. I also love how it provides families with simple ways of carrying on their work within the home and for years to come.

For more information or to inquire about starting Theraplay services at Sentier, please email our Client Care Coordinator at ellie@sentiertherapy.com

Is This Anxiety?

Is This Anxiety?

First, let’s talk about what anxiety is.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a common human experience most often understood as nervousness, apprehension, and worry. Anxiety is a complex state rooted in fear that presents as a wide range of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms with varying degrees of severity, therefore, understanding anxiety is helpful in appropriately responding to it.

When Your Brain Perceives a Threat

Anxiety is the result of a person’s brain going through a series of changes after it perceives a threat. Whether or not the threat is real, the brain may respond. That is why a genuine threat to safety and simpler things like giving a classroom presentation or getting into an argument can all feel very similar.

It all starts with the amygdala, a tiny but powerful part of the brain that is responsible for triggering the body’s stress response. When the amygdala detects a possible threat, it cues the hypothalamus to activate a network of nerves called the sympathetic nervous system. Then, the endocrine system releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that trigger the body to respond to the perceived threat. That entire process is called the fight or flight response in which the person is highly activated and could potentially fight or flee from the threat. However, when the brain perceives a threat that isn’t really there – or isn’t nearly as severe as the stress response would indicate – it can lead to excess anxiety about commonplace activities.

The Overthinking Part of Anxiety

While the body is preparing to respond to the perceived threat through fight or flight, the prefrontal cortex is also engaged. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for slowing down to take time for rational thought and decision-making. However, when a person experiences too much anxiety too frequently, the prefrontal cortex may become overactive, leading to rumination and automatic negative thoughts. Those thinking patterns can create a cycle of anxiety in which the person becomes stuck in a loop of excess worry. They may feel unable to control their anxious thoughts even if they rationally understand there isn’t a threat.

What Does Age Have to Do With It?

The prefrontal cortex fully develops around age 25, so younger individuals may struggle more to regulate thoughts: “Reduced functional connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex indicates a potential pathological factor for anxiety disorders in adolescents” (Xie, et al). In other words,  adolescents and young adults may experience more anxiety because the prefrontal cortex in their brains is not yet able to stop and think rationally.

why are some people affected by anxiety

Why Are Some People More Sensitive to Anxiety?

Along with the amygdala, the rest of the brain’s limbic system also plays a role in the stress response of anxiety. The limbic region of the brain – responsible for memory and processing physical sensations – can become overactive and stuck in a heightened state, particularly for those with a trauma history. Individuals who have experienced time(s) in which their physical or emotional safety was truly at risk also often have memories and associations of being at risk. These individuals may have a heightened perception of threat as well as an increased sensitivity to stress, even if they are not truly at risk in the present moment.

What are Common Symptoms of Anxiety?

Anxiety has mental and emotional effects. The follow psychological symptoms are commonly reported with anxiety:

  • Worry something bad will happen
  • Feeling on edge
  • Racing thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling of dread
  • Panic

The hormones released by the brain following the activation of the sympathetic nervous system also lead to changes in a person’s physical body. The most commonly reported physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Hyperactivity
  • Physical agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Blood sugar spikes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Churning stomach, nausea, or increased bowel movements
  • Grinding teeth
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sensitivity to touch

Your Body As An Alert System

Think of your body as a smoke detector. What does a smoke detector do? Although a common response is that it detects fire, it actually just detects smoke. It is important to know the difference between fire and smoke in order to appropriately respond. Fires are threats to bodily safety. Smoke is perceived as a threat that may feel very stressful but does not threaten bodily safety.

Examples of “Fire”Examples of “Smoke”
–         Natural disasters–         Taking tests
–         Sexual assault–         Public speaking
–         Abuse of any kind–         Trying new things, going new places
–         Witnessing violence–         Speaking to new people
–         Accidents–         Arguments

Just as a smoke detector in your home will beep incessantly when you burn the popcorn, your brain and body may respond to perceived threats in the same way. Your alarm (fight or flight response) may go off and signal a problem to you when no actual “fire” exists. Getting to know your early psychological and physical symptoms is helpful so that you can use calming strategies to turn off the alarm before anxiety takes over.

The Good Parts of Anxiety

When there truly is a threat, the fight or flight response of anxiety is like having a superpower. The process taking place in the brain and body can keep us safe and alive in situations of acute danger. However, we are not usually at risk most times we feel anxiety start to creep in. So how can we recognize that and use anxiety to help us in day to day life instead of being hijacked by it?

In the right dose, the stressors that lead to anxiety can actually improve our performance. The Yerkes-Dodson Law is the theory that “performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point.  When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases.” This theory  is commonly represented by a curve with a steep, mountain-like peak. The shape of the curve demonstrates that, to a point, stress and performance are positively correlated because without any stress, the person does not care to perform well. On the other side of the curve, we see that when stress becomes too great and anxiety takes over, performance suffers. Learning how to manage your anxiety response so that performance reaches and stays around the optimal level makes anxiety work for you.

anxiety effects

image from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-monroecc-hed110/chapter/yerkes-dodson-law/

You Are Not Alone

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting approximately 40 million adults aged 18 or older.” Anxiety is a common experience that becomes a problem when it causes significant distress and interferes with daily activities, relationships, and quality of life. Clinically significant anxiety may be categorized according to symptoms and diagnosed as a variety of mood disorders. Anxiety is also very treatable and, in some cases, can even be beneficial. Understanding the process of anxiety and mental, emotional, and physical symptoms can help you respond appropriately, seek help when needed, and prevent anxiety from interfering with your life.

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Sarah Souder Johnson, M.Ed., LPCC







My Kid Doesn’t Listen To Me

Why Kids Don’t Listen

One of the first children I worked with was a six year old who struggled to listen. He fought and ignored any direction the adults in his life tried to give. Leaving for school was a battle. Going home from school was a battle. Doing activities he didn’t enjoy led to screaming, hiding, and tears. His parents were exhausted and his teachers were stumped. The adults in his world wanted him to listen but listening was the last thing on his mind.

His behavior made me wonder what life was like through his eyes. Knowing that talking and discipline wasn’t changing his behavior, I tried something different: Legos.

Imagine being six years old, having little to no control over your life, and feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of adults. It might make sense that you start to tune the world out and turn to tears when you don’t know how to respond. What this six year old did know was Legos. And through creating, building, and disassembling legos, he showed me that he was a wonderful listener. He just hadn’t learned to listen in the ways adults expected.

After getting to know this child through his language of play, I learned three important things that he was trying to tell us:

  1. He was highly sensitive to sounds, which explained why yelling and nagging was causing him more frustration
  2. He didn’t understand time, which explained why he seemed to ignore the tasks he was assigned and made getting through challenging tasks unbearable
  3. He was tired, which helped explain why going to school (waking up) and going home from school (being exhausted after a day of learning) were so difficult

After figuring out what he needed, the adults in his world were able to communicate on his level.

  • We stopped yelling and lowered our voice
  • We used visual timers and visual schedules to help him understand the pace of his day
  • His parents and pediatrician came up with a plan to improve his sleep

We soon found that he had been hearing us all along, he just didn’t know how to respond. Once we adjusted our approach, he understood us and we understood him.

I share this story to illustrate how our efforts to communicate with kids can be lost in translation. While there will be times our kids intentionally ignore what we’re saying, more often than not, there’s a good reason for their lack of listening.

how to get a child to listen

Here are some common reasons that kids don’t listen:

  • They don’t understand what is being asked
  • They are overwhelmed by our directions
  • They have lost trust in what we say
  • They want to feel connected, not controlled
  • They want US to listen

Understanding Your Child

If our boss keeps asking us to do something and we’re struggling to get it done, we will use our resources to solve the problem. We may Google a solution, ask a colleague, or avoid the task altogether. If a child is asked to do something challenging or unappealing, they will likely respond nonverbally.

Children may cry, yell, or complain as means of communicating. They may also tantrum, hide, fight back, or run away. Nonverbal reactions are a signal that your child is trying to connect with you. When you see these behaviors, don’t be alarmed. Your child is telling you they are listening and they need your help. Now is a good time to proceed with curiosity.

  • Get down on their level
  • Lower your voice
  • Keep your words brief

Here’s an example scenario and response:

Your five year old is refusing to eat anything other than dinosaur chicken nuggets for dinner. You remind her that dad made a special dinner and she needs to eat what everyone else is eating. When the issue is pressed, she starts crying and yelling. You want to control the situation and threaten her behavior with a loss of iPad time. Instead, you…

  • Approach her with curiosity
  • Lower your voice and get down on her level.
  • Help her organize her emotional response before using reason or logic to solve the problem. You could try saying something like, “You must be frustrated. You really wanted something else for dinner.” She may respond by correcting you, “No, I’m not frustrated, I’m mad!!”. Or, she may respond by confirming your observation.

Regardless of how your child responds, acknowledging their experience is the first step. Your acknowledgment leads them towards an awareness of their feelings and communicates that you are listening.

Communicating With Your Child Through Connection

Dr. Daniel Siegel, a renowned educator and child psychiatrist, calls the practice described in the example above: “Name it to Tame it”. By naming how we feel, we can integrate language with emotion and move from a place of disorder to balance (Firestone, 2022).

When kids ignore us or don’t follow our direction, it’s tempting to respond with lectures and consequences. If you’ve ever tried to lecture an already upset child, you know how frustrating and disconnecting it feels. Keep these connection-focused things in mind next time you approach a disconnected child:

  • Connect with your child before teaching or redirecting them. This can look as simple as helping them name their feelings or acknowledging that they’re upset
  • When we respond to a child’s upset with our own frustration, no one wins
  • While lecturing and laying out consequences may seem most logical, emotionally heated moments are typically not rooted in logic
  • When we use threats or punishment to manage behavior, we are prioritizing control over connection
  • Once you’ve connected with your child, you can offer an alternative or work on a compromise. You may say something like: “We are eating dad’s special dinner now. If you’re still hungry when we’re done, you can help me make dinosaur chicken nuggets.”

By remaining calm and concise, you communicate that your expectations are firm but fair. This practice also teaches your child that you are predictable and true to your word. When people trust what we say, they are more likely to listen.

overcoming parent child power stuggles

No More Power Struggles

When you think of a power struggle, you might imagine an old Western movie with two feuding cowboys. Neither is willing to back down or admit defeat. They engage in a show down where one person wins or both lose. In matters of life and death, power struggles are justified. In our day to day interactions, power struggles are exhausting and detract from trusting, cooperative relationships.

While we may know better, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves in a power struggle with kids. Their tendency to use the word “no” may be part of the challenge. Eager to protect and teach, we might respond to their lack of listening by doubling down and getting louder. In those moments, the best thing we can do is surrender.

Surrender doesn’t mean allowing your child to run the show. Surrender means that you offer support, state your expectation, and walk away. There is no arguing, bargaining, or yelling.

Another way to avoid power struggles is to “pick your battles” (Morin, 2021). If your child absolutely does not listen when you ask them to do something, you can:

  • Decide if this is a challenge you have the time and energy to face
  • Remember that the battle isn’t you against your child. It’s you and your child against the problem.
  • Consider an alternative approach that meets your needs and your child’s abilities
  • Focus on teaching your child to listen during neutral moments when emotions aren’t clouding your problem solving skills

For the battles that have less consequence, save yourself the stress and walk away before a power struggle can even begin.

Building Your Child’s Listening Muscles

As adults, we can go through most of our day on autopilot. In a matter of seconds, we decide if 15 minutes is enough time to get coffee before work. Without saying anything, we consider: “Is there a line at Caribou? What’s traffic like? How important is this 8 AM meeting?”

For children who are still learning the link between cause and effect, our ability to plan ahead can make life look easy. Of course we know that’s not the case. And our kids can learn that too.

One way to teach children to listen is to “think aloud”. This exercise also builds empathy, cooperation, and problem solving skills. At first, it may seem silly. But the effects are easy to observe.

Next time you have to do something that takes thinking, start talking to yourself. Here’s an example:

You need to go to bed but you really want to watch your favorite show. Instead of quietly summoning the willpower to turn off the TV, start talking. “I wish I could keep watching this show. I really need to go to bed. I know! I’ll watch it tomorrow after I get home. That will give me something to be excited for when I get home.” Say this to yourself but within earshot of your kids. At first they may look at you with confusion. But soon you may notice that they are thinking aloud too.

I encourage caregivers to “think aloud” big emotions while offering ideas for managing them. This teaches children that feeling confused, uncertain, or upset are normal experiences and can be dealt with.

You may also find that your child tries to connect with you when you voice your thoughts. When they start offering solutions, you’ll know they are exercising their listening skills and strengthening their ability to problem solve.

Filling Your Parenting Patience Tank

Let’s face it, trying to teach a child to listen is a skill that takes a lifetime to develop. They can and will learn to listen, but it won’t be because we lectured or disciplined them. Children learn best through continued interactions with understanding peers and adults.

What happens when our understanding is stretched thin and our patience tank is empty?

  • Remember that you don’t have to be a perfect parent
  • As the psychologist and scholar Bruno Bettleheim asserted, “Good enough parents do not strive to be perfect parents and do not expect perfection from their children (Gray, 2015)”.
  • If we can accept that our children have challenges, we can acknowledge and have compassion for our own difficulties

If your patience tank has been empty and isn’t refilling despite your best efforts, it is worth asking for help from a trusted friend, family member, or mental health provider. Everyone deserves to be heard; that includes you!

Blog written by Sentier Child Therapist, Lily Ferreira, MSW, LICSW



Firestone, L. (2022, February 1). Name It to Tame It: The Emotions Underlying Your Triggers. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 24, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/202202/name-it-tame-it-the-emotions-underlying-your-triggers

Gray, P. (2015, December 22). The Good Enough Parent Is the Best Parent. Psychology Today. Retrieved January 24, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201512/the-good-enough-parent-is-the-best-parent

Morin, A. (2021, January 16). How to Avoid Power Struggles with Children. Verywell Family. Retrieved January 24, 2023, from https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-to-avoid-power-struggles-with-children-1094751


What are My Child’s Needs?

When we think about figuring out our child’s needs, we think about their hunger, thirst, sleep, diaper changes, safety and other basic care. These aforementioned needs are the critical building blocks for developing a loving and connected relationship with our children. The next step beyond simply providing these building blocks, however, is learning to “attune” to your child.

What is Attunement?

Attunement is knowing how and when to deliver care to our children in order for them to feel safe, understood and prioritized. Attunement is expressed in “behaviors that reflect ‘the quality of feeling of a shared affect state without imitating the exact behavioral expression’”. This just means that your baby learns about their feelings by “observing themselves in the mirror of their mother’s [or father’s face]” (Booth, P.B., & Jernberg, A.M. 2010).

child therapy in saint paul mn

What Does Attunement Look Like?

Being attuned with your child means that you are responding to your child’s needs and learning each other’s rhythms. Our rhythms are how we interact and respond with people and objects around us. For instance, you establish a rhythm or pattern with your child based on how you respond to their cries or their yelling your name from two rooms away. Your child is able to predict how you will respond and know that you will be there to give a comforting hug or express concern when you hear their shout.

In fact, this set way of responding is developed the moment your child is born. Your baby cannot speak or understand the words you are using but they understand your non-verbal cues and ways of communicating. They are becoming aware of your gentle, crinkly eyes, your smile and laughter when they do something cute, and the tone of your voice while playing peek-a-boo.

  • If you are still curious (or for those of us that are visual learners) what attunement looks like, watch the Still Face Experiment by Dr Edward Tronick. This video gives us a great visual representation of just how much our verbal and non-verbal communication expresses our interest or “attunement” in others.

Imagine that you go to a friend to share some exciting news. Perhaps you got a new job, a new house, or had a new partner to share about. If your friend responded with no outward expression, a straight face, how would you feel? You might leave feeling like your friend expressed no genuine interest in your excitement, that your friend was mis-attuned to your excitement, and perhaps you would walk away feeling not seen or heard. Children are looking for similar (though MORE!!) attunement from their attachment figures/parent(s) every time they are scared, hungry, happy, and more.

“Good Enough Parenting”

No matter how hard we may try, there is no way to be attuned to our child(ren) all the time. Dr Donald Winnicot, a British Psychoanalyst and Pediatrician, coined the term, “Good Enough Parenting”. Winnicot determined that parents need to be meeting their child’s needs “30% of the time to create happy, well attached children” (Johnson, P. 2021). It is also important to note that how much attunement or responsiveness we give our child decreases over time. We respond and react more frequently when our children are infants versus when they are teenagers due to your child’s need for independence.

How Can I Increase Attunement with my Child(ren)?

Here is a list of simple activities you can do with your child to enhance your relationship and attune to their needs:

  • Read a book or tell a story: Pay attention to how your child responds verbally and non-verbally. Comment on how they reacted to better reflect your understanding.
  • Reflect to your child if they had a hard day at school (do you need a minute of quiet? would you like a hug? etc).
  • Draw or paint a picture together. Get creative and maybe a little bit messy!
  • Play a simple game of Simon Says, Follow the Leader OR create your own game.

These moments of feeling seen and heard can happen while eating dinner, cleaning the dishes together, during bath time, bedtime, and more. You know your child best, so try to find a time where you can fill their “attunement meter”.



Booth, P. B, Jernberg, A.M. (2010). Theraplay: Helping parents and children build better relationships through attachment-based play. Jossey-Bass.

Johnson, P. (2021, August 6) Good Enough Parenting. Forest Psychology.

Manela, M. (2014, February 10). Four Easy Activities to Enhance Attunement. Thrive Group.

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Bridgett Brye, MSW, LICSW

How Can I be Nicer to Myself?

In the quest to live a meaningful life amongst the many stressors of our everyday lives, it is easy to be hard on ourselves. Self-talk is how we talk to ourselves in our minds/thoughts, and negative self-talk can lead to anxiety, depression, shame, low motivation, feelings of sadness, and more. It may be tempting to think that being hard on ourselves will motivate us to achieve greater things, but that is not generally the case.

Kristin Neff, who has done extensive research on the topic, explores how self-compassion can be a helpful way to support your well-being and increase life satisfaction.

What is self-compassion?

Neff states that self-compassion is similar to the understanding and kindness that people have for other people, but turned inward toward yourself. It is being gentle and supportive with yourself when you make a mistake or difficult events happen. Self compassion is understanding that you are human and appreciating our common humanity in order to treat yourself as you would a friend.

learning to be kinder to yourself

What are the three principles of self-compassion?


  • Mindful-self compassion looks like being in the present moment without judgment and recognizing that every moment will pass. In order to have compassion for your thoughts and feelings, you have to be aware of them, and practicing mindfulness can help us be more in tune with ourselves and our emotions.


  • Self compassion involves being gentle to yourself when you’re faced with challenges or perceived failure.

Common humanity

  • When people face hardships, they often isolate themselves and tell themselves that no one gets what they are going through. In reality, pain is part of the human experience. When you are going through something hard or feeling negative emotions, remembering that other people may have gone through or something similar can help us cope and gain perspective about our own struggles.

Learn more about the three principals of kindness at: https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

What are the benefits of self-compassion?

There are many benefits of self compassion. Self compassion is associated with:

  1. Lower levels of depression and anxiety and increased psychological well being
  2. Increased happiness, life satisfaction, and resilience
  3. Increased ability to tolerate difficult emotions and experiences without suppressing them
  4. Increased feelings of social connectedness.
  5. Increased spiritual well-being
  6. Being more likely to take risks
  7. Increased motivation

If you are used to being hard on yourself, it may take some getting used to to incorporate the principles of self compassion into your life. If it is hard for you to be kind to yourself, you are not alone. A therapist or mental health professional can help you learn how to be kind to yourself if that extra support is needed.

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Andrea Schroeder, MS, LPCC

What is EMDR?

EMDR means “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” That’s a mouthful, huh? You may have heard of EMDR before or maybe you’re here because someone recommended this type of therapy to you. But what is EMDR really, who does it help, and how does it work?

what is emdr therapy?

What is EMDR? How does it work?

EMDR is a type of therapy that involves rapid eye movements to help a person heal from past traumatic experiences or distressing events. Think about your dream cycle of sleep, REM, or rapid eye movement. This is the period of sleep where human brains try to process and make sense of events from the day. EMDR eye movements simulate this action while awake to help people process and update disturbing memories. With repeated sets of these eye movements, the intensity of these traumatic memories decreases and becomes more neutral. This allows our brain to resume its natural healing process and work through present and future stressors more effectively. EMDR also reduces the physical sensations that often go along with these intense memories.

What will an EMDR session be like?

EMDR is a great therapeutic option because the overall treatment time is often shorter in length than traditional talk therapy. Additionally, the client does not have to talk extensively about the traumatic event they wish to process, which can be very helpful for some individuals who may be hesitant to begin.

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. While each client’s individual journey will look a little different, EMDR will always follow these 8 phases:

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

The first few sessions will be spent with the therapist gathering relevant background and historical information. This is when the client defines what problem or event they wish to focus on in EMDR therapy.

Next, the client and therapist will work to develop resourcing and grounding techniques. This step is important in progressing with EMDR as these techniques help calm our mind and body. Bringing up unpleasant memories or distressing emotions in EMDR sessions can be challenging at times. It is important that the client feels equipped with tools to manage these painful memories and negative emotions both in therapy sessions and out in their daily life.

During the assessment phase of EMDR, the client will define more in depth the problem or event they wish to reprocess. The EMDR therapist will help them identify how that stress is felt in their body and how related negative beliefs might have developed about as a result of that experience.

Next, the desensitization portion of EMDR begins and the client will engage in bilateral stimulation to help desensitize a specific memory or fear they have. These movements engage the right and left sides of the brain and body, which is key in effectively processing distressing events. Bilateral stimulation can be done in multiple ways, including using eye movements, auditory tones, gentle tapping, or tactile tappers. The client will work with the therapist to find the method that works best for them.

Once the desensitization is complete, an EMDR therapist will install and strengthen an adaptive resolution and positive belief that the client wishes to associate with the previously disturbing event. Then, clients are asked to scan their body for any lingering tension connected to the traumatic event. If the client identifies remaining distress in the body, this indicates more processing is needed and the therapist will engage the client in more bilateral movements.

EMDR sessions always end with the closure phase to ensure that the client can return to a state of calm and can assess the need for continuing reprocessing of an event.

What conditions and problems does EMDR treat?

EMDR is an effective treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the processing of specific traumatic and disturbing events experienced by the client. For anyone experiencing ongoing trauma-related symptoms, EMDR is likely a good fit.

EMDR is also shown to be an effective form of treatment for many other disorders and complaints that bring people into therapy. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, and substance abuse are challenges that EMDR can help treat. https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/

EMDR can be used in sessions with individuals across the life span, including children, adolescents, and adults.

Why is this treatment used?

EMDR is often used to supplement traditional talk-therapy because it is effective, quick, and yields significant progress in the client’s journey towards healing. EMDR can be used to supplement or in the place of traditional talk therapy when a client is feeling “stuck”. Studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute EMDR sessions. (emdr.com) Additionally, one study found that 77% of multiple trauma victims were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. (emdr.com)

What now?

You can find more information from the EMDR Institute here.

A very practical way to experience bilateral stimulation in your everyday life is to take a walk when you feel upset about something. You might notice the right and left, back and forth movements of your legs provide a sense of calm and stability you may not have previously had. You can also use slow, soothing touches such as “The Butterfly Hug” to help calm your body in any situation. Check out this video for how to practice butterfly hugs on your own as a positive grounding technique.

The Butterfly Hug

If you are interested in learning more and curious if EMDR might be a good treatment option for you, you can schedule a meet and greet session with one of Sentier’s EMDR trained therapists.

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Tana Welter, MSW LICSW

From High School Student to College Student: How to Best Support Your Teen (Part One)

The transition from high school to college can be thrilling, scary, and overwhelming for both parents and their young adult children. This transition often begins during the junior year of high school as intensity of coursework increases and families begin college visits. For some students, this transition can be an exciting time of exploration and self discovery. For others, the transition can be overwhelming, unsettling and anxiety producing.

As parents of teens, there is often an urge to step in and prevent our children from experiencing uncomfortable emotions and situations and fix their problems. It is important to remember that the transition from high school to college is a developmental task, just like learning to walk, read or navigate friendships.

Your teen’s ability to navigate applying, choosing, planning and progressing through their undergrad career is one step into life as an adult. Understanding this and letting go of the urge to offer more support than your young adult may need is challenging and will likely trigger worry related to how your teen’s success may reflect on your parenting ability.

As a parent, allow yourself the time and space to acknowledge that this is a time of transition for both you and your child. Expect to have some anxiety regarding watching your child navigate this part of life. When these anxious feelings or worries arise, take a moment to label these emotions, aka “name it to tame it” by using the following steps:

  1. When you first notice the worry thoughts, take a moment to tell yourself: “My body is telling me I’m anxious, scared, etc. (deep, slow breath in).
  2. Give yourself space to notice the thoughts that were triggering the anxiety: “I’m having the thought that: insert thought (deep, slow breath in).

helping your child transition to college

What Can I Do to Help?

Being intentional about your role in your teen’s transition to college can help them develop a deeper sense of self confidence and critical thinking skills as they navigate this time. Open communication is critical and will look different than communication that may have occurred in the past. Here are some tangible steps for you to take to facilitate a smooth transition:

  1. During their junior and senior years, begin to schedule occasional check in times with your teen and be curious about how your teen is feeling as they enter this new phase of life.
  2. During these check-ins, allow yourself to step back from the driver’s seat to become a passenger as your teen takes over, even though it may feel new and uncomfortable.
  3. Share with your teen that you will always be available to help them and that you are working hard at trusting their decisions as well as their ability to be successful in navigating mistakes and learning opportunities as they occur.

At times, you may want to offer advice or take over a problem that your teen is experiencing. Even though this desire to help makes sense, your teen may experience these moments as you doubting their ability. So, when you have the urge to help, pause and give your teen space to make a choice:

  1. Trust that your teen will come to you if they need support. Remind yourself that you have built a secure base throughout your teen’s life in which they could go to you for help and support.
  2. Trust that they know that a support net is there.
  3. Validate their desire to navigate this transition on their own and share with them that you believe that they can do this.
  4. Be your child’s cheerleader during these moments!

Be open about your own experience as a college freshman if this is applicable. Share that at times, there may be feelings of loneliness and isolation during those first few months as they navigate development of new friendships. Remind them that feeling homesick can be a normal part of the college experience and just like other emotions, it often dissipates with time. Brainstorm with your teen ways that they can become involved in the campus community and steps that they can take to manage these emotions when they occur. Remind them that they are not alone in this journey and have support both at home and on campus.

Stay curious about how they are experiencing this transition. Helpful questions to ask your teen:

  1. What are you most looking forward to once you get to college?
  2. What excites you the most about being on your own?
  3. How are you feeling about leaving home?
  4. What are you most concerned about?

Ensure that you as a parent are getting the support you need during this time as well. Not only is your child’s identity shifting and changing, your identity as a parent is also changing and shifting! Allow yourself time to feel and express the emotions that may surface for you, whether this is sadness, grief, fear, or excitement. Connect with other parents who are also going through similar changes as parents to deepen a sense of community. Just like your teen, you also may need a cheerleader at times.

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Becky Lawyer, MA, LPCC, LPC (she/her)

Autigender – What does it mean?

Autigender – What does it mean?

I was in my 20s when I consciously started to think about my gender. Why was I so uncomfortable being called a woman? I eventually realized that I lacked the ability to follow the rules that society laid out for me as someone who was assigned female at birth. I could force myself to show some traditionally feminine traits, and I do naturally have some feminine traits. But I could not force myself to follow all of the “rules” of being a woman. I do not have the skills to do my hair and makeup in a traditionally feminine way and I am unable to safely carry a pregnancy, for example.

Today, I identify as autigender and nonbinary because I cannot meet the expectations of being a woman or a man and I no longer want to. If I am going to be my genuine self, then neither woman or man fits for me.

What does autigender mean?

There are many words that can describe a person’s gender, but there are a few broader terms that are important to understand in relation to gender:

  • Binary genders such as man and woman are genders that fit within these two traditional categories.
  • Nonbinary is an umbrella term for people who identify with both genders, neither, or anywhere in between.
  • Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity matches with their assigned sex at birth.
  • Transgender refers to a person whose gender identity does not match with their assigned sex at birth.

Autigender commonly falls under the nonbinary and transgender umbrellas; however, each person has a unique relationship with their gender and it is important not to assume which category a person identifies with.

Autigender is a gender identity that describes the relationship that an autistic person has with their gender. In other words, it is for autistics who see their gender as being intimately connected with their autism. It is not autism as a gender. All people who identify as autigender also identify as autistic or neurodivergent; however, not all autistic people identify as autigender.

Since autigender refers to a person’s relationship with their gender, people who idenitfy this way often include other words to describe their gender identity. An example is an autigender person identifying as nonbinary as well. The term nonbinary would be the word that describes their gender identity while autigender refers to how being autistic relates to and informs that gender identity.

Many people who identify as autigender use they/them or neopronouns. Neopronouns are any pronouns that are not the standard ones, such as xe/xem/xyr and ze/hir/hirs. It is important to remember that a person identifies with pronouns specific to them, not necessarily ones that usually go with a specific gender identity.

I use they/she pronouns.They/them feels most fitting, but I understand that I present as someone who was assigned female at birth and I’m not offended by people who unconsciously follow the societal constructs that they were taught throughout their entire lives.

Some people who use they/them or neopronouns can get gender dysphoria from being referred to by the wrong pronouns. Being misgendered can cause someone discomfort and pain which is why it is so important to learn and use a person’s correct pronouns.

There is some controversy around the term autigender. Some individuals feel that this term invalidates others who identify as nonbinary or otherwise gender diverse. However, autigender refers to an individual’s relationship to their own gender. It does not mean that other people cannot identify with the gender that fits for them. Part of this controversy may be because autistics can be blunt or more direct than others tend to be. The controversy around the term seems to be fueled by the ableism that is saturated throughout our society.

How could a gender be related to someone’s neurodiversity?

Autistics do not interpret societal expectations in the same way as an allistic (non-autistic) person. We (autistics) may not realize there is a societal expectation for a given situation or we may not understand why there would be a societal expectation in the first place.

This can relate to any topic that people may expect another person to act that would be socially acceptable. Examples of societal expectations are etiquette, how to treat others, how to express emotional reactions, when to let others talk in a conversation, and when to jump into a conversation. A specific example is not knowing when a person is expected to apologize.

Gender identity and expression also have specific societal expectations. In the United States, women are treated differently overall if they look or act masculine. The same is true for men who look or act feminine. The definitions of masculinity and femininity change with time and across cultures, which makes gender a social construct.

Autistics are more likely than allistics to experience their gender outside of traditional societal expectations. In a study of 641,860 participants conducted by Warrier et. al in 2020, those who identified themselves as transgender or gender-diverse on average scored higher than the cisgender participants on self-report measures of autistic traits and sensory sensitivity.

Social constructs have societal expectations. Therefore, gender is sometimes a concept that either doesn’t make sense to us or is something that we don’t feel in the same way as allistics.

Why is there a link between gender diversity and autism?

It is important to note that people can identify as a gender, not follow all of the rules, and never question their gender. Women can have short hair and choose not to be mothers. Men can wear makeup and be stay-at-home dads. Unfortunately, this doesn’t easily change the actual rules and expectations. I am still reminded daily of the rules I should be following as a “woman.” This can be in subtle ways that many people don’t notice — like when the car dealer didn’t look at me throughout the entire conversation with my partner and me, despite my name being the sole name on the title. It can be in more painful ways as well, like when I’m asked about when I’m going to get pregnant.

Autistics can have the tendency to logically deduce the rules of a societal expectation. We do this through consuming media (books, shows, movies, etc.), observing how others are acting, and even through being punished or shamed for not knowing the rules in the first place. It can feel like there is a book of rules for how to act around people that everyone else has read, but we haven’t had access to it.

Autistics can have a tendency to follow the rules that they know immaculately. Sometimes, we can’t make ourselves forget the details. Mental health uses terms like rigidity to describe these tendencies. When I have tried to identify as a woman, my brain can get stuck on the times that I clearly didn’t match expectations for the rest of the day. I identify as autigender and nonbinary, because I cannot meet the expectations of being a woman or a man and I no longer want to. If I am going to be my genuine self, then neither woman or man fit for me.

This is the reason why many people identify as autigender- they are allowing themselves to be their true selves. This can give our brains permission to move forward with our days without being constrained by expectations that fall under our assigned sex at birth.

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

Warrier, V., Greenberg, D.M., Weir, E. et al. Elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnoses, and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals. Nat Commun 11, 3959 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17794-1

New Year’s Resolutions: How to make realistic change

The new year is a time full of celebrating milestones from the previous year and looking ahead with hope for what’s to come in the next year. Many people make New Year’s resolutions in hopes of achieving a personal goal, making big changes, or finally kicking that bad habit. But often, people end up feeling anxious and stressed by the pressure to meet these goals and live up to unrealistic expectations. Even more, studies show that about 80% of Americans will not keep their New Year’s resolutions, which can lead to even more frustration, disappointment, and stress.

So how do we work towards real change in our lives? Lasting and meaningful change happens most effectively when we accept where we are, without judgment, and take a balanced approach towards our goals. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can help us in making realistic New Year’s resolutions that stick. The foundation of DBT is the idea that two opposite things (such as acceptance and change) can exist together in harmony and help us achieve better outcomes when it comes to changing behavior. Using radical acceptance and a non-judgmental approach to assess where we are and where we want to be, is crucial to the change process.

What Is Radical Acceptance?

Radical Acceptance is a DBT skill used when life is not going the way we want or hope it would. Radical means “all the way, complete and total” (Linehan, 2015). It’s an acceptance that happens in the mind, body, and spirit. Radical acceptance means accepting reality, the way it really is and choosing to embrace rather than fight against what is happening. We cannot change our reality without first accepting it. Why bother accepting reality?

  1. Rejecting reality does not change anything about our current circumstances.
  2. Refusing to accept reality can keep us stuck in bitterness, anger, unhappiness, and other painful emotions.
  3. True acceptance may lead to sadness at first but is usually followed by a deep calmness.
  4. Changing reality requires first accepting reality.

(Linehan, 2015)

How do I practice acceptance in my life?

At first, we may not even realize that we aren’t practicing acceptance in our lives. I encourage you to pause, take inventory of your emotions and thoughts about what you’re hoping to change or make a resolution for. Notice if any tension arises in your body or any feelings of disgust or disapproval. You may need to practice some acceptance. Here are practical steps for doing so:

  1. Notice your resistance as mentioned above. Many times, the ways we resist are unconscious and habitual.
  2. Gently remind yourself that reality is just as it is and there are always causes for the reality of this very moment.
  3. Practice acceptance with your whole self; mind, body, and spirit. This looks different for everyone but get creative with how you practice self-acceptance. You might journal, use a guided meditation on acceptance or self-compassion, prayer, imagery, or relaxation techniques.
  4. Use a non-judgmental approach. Accept the facts and try not to judge yourself harshly or critically. Typically, when we are hard on ourselves it keeps us stuck rather than pushing us towards change. (Here is a great exercise to practice this.)
  5. List specific behaviors you would do if you did accept reality, then act in accordance.
  6. Imagine yourself coping in healthy ways with the area that you are struggling to accept. Rehearse in your mind what you would do if you accepted what seems unacceptable.
  7. Allow for the painful emotions to arise within you (grief, sadness, disappointment). This will help you move through your experience towards acceptance.
  8. Practice. Remember, acceptance is a skill, and takes time to learn.

new years resolutions

How do I set realistic new year’s intentions and work towards change?

Now that we understand how acceptance impacts change, we   can more effectively set New Year’s resolutions. First, I recommend rethinking using the word resolution and trying to set intentions for yourself and the new year. Resolutions are firm, determined goals that are either achieved or broken. Intentions are broader, a willful direction, that help guide your actions and your life. Setting an intention for yourself considers the reality of where you are starting and the reality of the ups and downs of life. It is more about the process and the holistic change, rather than a very specific outcome. Other steps to take in setting realistic intentions for the new year:

  1. Be realistic. Setting an intention that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine will make it more likely for you to continue.
  2. Be mindful and stay present. When we practice mindfulness in our daily lives, we feel more fulfilled and purposeful, which will help us both enjoy and achieve our goals.
  3. Talk about your intentions with a trusted person in your life. This will provide support and accountability, which only helps improve the likelihood of sticking to our plans for change.

If you are still feeling stuck and struggling with where to begin, you might try starting with just one word. Pick a word that represents your intention for the upcoming year. A word that inspires, challenges, or encourages you. You might ask yourself the following questions to help you decide upon your intention for the New Year:

  1. What do I want to keep working on?
  2. What is important to me?
  3. What are things I still want to achieve?
  4. What word or phrase lifts me up and gives me hope?
  5. What feeling or ideal do I want more of in my life?

May you be filled with acceptance and compassion for yourself, right where you are in this moment. Happy New Year!

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Tana Welter, MSW, LICSW

Meet the Therapist – Becky Lawyer

We are thrilled to welcome Becky Lawyer, LPCC to our team! Becky has 17 years of therapy experience primarily in college settings. We asked Becky a few questions so that our community can get to know her:

Sentier: How did you decide to become a therapist?

Becky: My earliest memory of wanting to be a therapist was during high school after taking a class in psychology. Something about the information I was learning just connected with who I was and am as a person. Since that time, I’ve had no doubts that this would be my career path.

S: Who do you love working with, and what excites you about working with your chosen populations?

B: I love working with teens and college aged clients! As a previous college counselor, I really enjoy working with these clients as they are on a path of discovery of who they are and what they truly want out of life.

S: How would you spend a free day?

B: I enjoy spending time outside and being active. So when I have a free day to myself, you will often find me hiking and sometimes geocaching on the local trails in MN and WI.

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

B: This is a hard one with so many great local restaurants to choose from! My first choice would be the roast eggplant pizza from Broders’ Cucina Italiana in Minneapolis. After that option, it would be Thai food, specifically anything with peanut sauce, from one of the great restaurants in Saint Paul!

S: What is your favorite method of self care?

B: I love doing different arts and crafts as part of my self care. As a stained glass artist, you will often find me cutting and breaking glass, or soldering glass together as part of my nightly self care.

S: What are your professional goals for the next year?

B: After leaving a long career working as a therapist in a college counseling center, one of my professional goals for the coming year is getting to know myself as a therapist in private practice. I view myself as a lifelong learner, so I will also be deepening my knowledge of trauma based therapies such as ART.

Read more about Becky here!

Becky currently has openings for individual therapy, EMDR therapy, and workshops for teens and adults. Email ellie@sentiertherapy.com to learn more.

What is play therapy?

Plus a tour of Sentier’s playroom!

Stepping into Sentier Psychotherapy’s playroom is like stepping into a treasure trove of fun. A rack of costumes sits next to a floating shelf filled with dolls which hangs across from a play kitchen set. There’s a bookshelf in the corner with a beanbag chair beside it, shelves holding baskets of legos, building blocks, and yes, a fart sound machine. There’s a tent to crawl in and a velcro dartboard. There are shelves stocked with colored pencils, paintbrushes, coloring books, and board games.

While it has some of the same elements as what you may find in a playroom at school or someone’s home, Sentier’s playroom is set up a little differently. So, what is play therapy? And what are the secrets of the playroom that make it such a fantastic space for children to safely explore their feelings?

What is Play Therapy?

Play therapy is similar to adolescent or adult therapy in that it is an opportunity to process, express, and release thoughts, feelings, or emotions. Kids, though, don’t have as extensive of a vocabulary to express themselves. In play therapy, they can express themselves in a language that they understand–through play! According to the Association for Play Therapy (APT), “play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them.”

Why might a child go to Play Therapy?

There are many reasons a child might try child therapy. One of the most common things that brings children to play therapy is difficulties with emotion regulation that keeps them from functioning at school or other environments. Other reasons may include trauma, transition due to divorce or uncoupling, affirmative gender exploration, sibling issues and more.

Bridgett Brye, Sentier’s child therapist, has noticed a trend in her caseload–kids who are adjusting to in-person learning. “I’ve seen a lot of issues with managing big emotions or behaviors in a classroom setting after being at home and missing out on so much of that social development time” she notes.

How does Play Therapy work? The Four Stages of Play Therapy

The first stage of play therapy is to build connection and trust with the child. At the beginning of her clients’ time in play therapy, Brye’s role is almost entirely passive. She lets them explore the playroom without any suggestions or instructions. In allowing the child to guide the play, trust is built and the client can begin to feel comfortable and safe in the space.

Once that trust is built, Bridgett moves on to the second stage, which is to assess the child’s functioning. By observing their play, Brye can begin to understand where the gaps are in a child’s functioning and pick up on themes of play that she may want to address more directly in the therapy. These themes can include power/aggression, control/safety, and family relationships/nurturance.

Once she has a better sense of what the child is needing from therapy, Brye moves on to stage three, which is the introduction of directed play in order to help the child develop coping mechanisms. In most cases she comes to sessions with unique and stimulating activities that engage the client and help them learn about what they’re feeling.

The final stage is termination. From an adult perspective, a child reaching a point where they are stable enough not to be in therapy may seem like a great thing. For the child, though, leaving a setting where they feel safe and comfortable once they start feeling generally more well might feel hurtful. Patience with a child as they transition out of services is key and “with everyone’s efforts, the end of therapy can truly be a celebration of your child’s gains and a genuinely happy and playful event” (APT).

What does Play Therapy look like?

Brye uses both directive and non-directive methods to help children feel, express, and process their emotions.

Non-directive Play Therapy

Non-directive play could look like letting the child know that they are welcome to do what they would like with their time in the playroom. If they venture to the dollhouse, Brye lets the child choose which dolls they want to play with and which doll they want to “be”. This non-directive approach helps children play out things that may have happened or be happening in their worlds. Children tend to reveal their inner turmoil through their play, and child therapists are trained to understand their play.

While she does not instruct the child to do anything, Brye may make clarifying observations about the play to give language to what the child is feeling. Brye remembers a client who was fascinated by the lava lamp and would watch it frequently. Brye verbally observed that it seemed like the client seemed relaxed. The client was pleased to have a new word to label how they were feeling and continued to use the word in different contexts throughout the session. “He knew [the lava lamp] made him feel good but he didn’t know other words that he could use to describe that,” Brye explains. “Reflecting back to them makes them feel understood and expands their emotional awareness, and playing it out helps them feel seen.”

By allowing space for the child to make their own decisions, they can create worlds that both reflect their own and help them imagine what is possible. Maybe the child’s doll family has two moms, or they can explore what feels good to them by dressing up in clothing that may not be typically associated with their sex assigned at birth. Non-directive play helps children build worlds that can clue a child therapist into their strengths, struggles, and areas of growth.

 Directive Play
A non-directive approach doesn’t work for all clients and that is when directive play is more beneficial. Directive activities are introduced by Brye to the child and they work on the activities together during session. For example, incorporating activities that are difficult for the child and working together to complete them can engage and challenge their frustration tolerance. If a child has trouble taking turns, Brye might organize the sessions into 15 minute chunks and alternate between an activity that she chooses and one that the child chooses in order to model patience. For a child who has trouble staying calm, Brye might use part of the session to introduce a method of play that requires slowing down, like building a maze with play doh and using a straw and cotton ball to guide the cotton ball through the maze. How fun, right!?

Brye takes time between sessions to come up with directive activities tailored to each individual client’s developmental level and emotional needs.

 So what’s in the playroom, and why?

“The playroom is filled with intention,” Brye emphasizes. Rather than buying toys of all kinds to stock it with, there are certain staples of child therapy playrooms and they all have specific reasons for being there.

Child Therapy playrooms include both realistic toys (dollhouse, cash register, dolls) and abstract toys (legos, fidgets, play doh). Realistic toys like dolls allow the direct expression of emotions as kids can play out scenes. Toy cars, trucks, and cash registers are also staples of a playroom as they can encourage anxious or cautious children to play “in noncommittal ways without revealing any feelings” (Landreth, 2012, p.161). Moving cars back and forth or organizing play money allow the child to play and move without any pressure to complete a task or play out a specific scenario.

While there are a variety of toys to explore, the playroom isn’t so overwhelmingly crowded that it becomes stressful for clients. A few toy cars to choose from is just as effective if not more than a whole box of them to rummage through. Children who are timid might not have the confidence to dig through a box of stuffed animals or move things around and they should feel like there are less overwhelming options for them to explore as well.

Toys that may appeal more to younger kids are placed lower on the shelves and toys that are more developmentally appropriate for older children are at their eye level. Things like puzzles don’t do as well in playrooms–when one piece goes missing, which is inevitable when it comes to puzzles, it may cause unnecessary frustration (Landreth, 2012, p.170).

One crucial characteristic of the playroom is that it looks exactly the same every time a client comes in for a session. Brye “resets” the playroom after each client, returning toys and materials to their designated spot. The resetting of the playroom provides consistency to kids in a way that they might not experience in other settings. When they enter the playroom, the dollhouses are empty and the dolls are on their shelves, the costumes are hung up, and all toys are back on the shelf. They enter the room as a blank slate that children can build onto.

Another way that a Child Therapy playroom may operate differently than other playrooms is that kiddos don’t need to clean up from their play therapy session. They can if they want to, says Brye, but “this is a different space than home or school and we don’t need to clean up or put away our feelings.”

Brye regularly sends requests for materials to Sentier’s team that may not seem like they belong at a therapy clinic but in fact are valuable tools in a playroom. “Does anyone have extra egg cartons?” for example, is a recent text message she sent our team. Egg cartons are great for ripping apart (and many other things!) and bubble wrap, which colleagues save and bring into the office, is a sensory treat for a lot of kids.

When in the playroom, kids are encouraged to be themselves rather than be careful (Landreth, 2012, p.151). The playroom is meant to feel well worn rather than sterile and new.

 Why is play therapy important?

Children play all the time, so what makes play therapy different? Children can’t begin to learn how to function unless they have trust, and a play therapist can be a stable attachment figure that helps facilitate a child’s emotional, social, and mental growth. It allows them to express themselves creatively in a way that makes sense to them. At the end of the day, it helps a child feel seen.

Play therapy may look like just playing, and sometimes it is! But in engaging with a child in their play, a therapist can help foster safety for the child to be themselves. Brye remembers a session where she and the client played hide and seek the whole time. “That is so powerful,” Brye says, “because you are constantly showing that kid that no matter what, you are always showing back up.”

What does Brye like about play therapy? “It’s amazing when you truly let the kid decide what they will do with their hour. The things they absorb in their day to day life that come out in their play and what they say and the questions they ask…it is so powerful and makes me pause,” Brye reflects. “And it’s fun!”

Blog written by Sentier Client Care Coordinator, Ellie Struewing.

What is Sober Curious All About?

Therapists love to ask clients to be open and “curious” about themselves and situations in their lives. It is convenient, then, that there’s a new buzzword in the wellness world: Sober Curious.

What is “Sober Curious”?

Being sober curious means examining one’s alcohol use in order to answer an important question: What is my relationship with alcohol? Sober curiosity is not the same as abstaining from alcohol use in other contexts – during pregnancy or for religious reasons, for example. It is also different than being in active recovery from an alcohol use disorder or addiction. Sober curious folks are eager to challenge their current use patterns and discover how their life feels when they drink less.

Reasons to be Sober Curious

Whether it’s drinking less after a wake up call following an embarrassing moment, or a month-long challenge like Dry January, or cutting back for health reasons, many people are trying drinking less alcohol on for size.


The reasons people try it are varied, but the result is unanimous: sober curious people seem to be enjoying life more. As Jen Gilhoi, co-founder of the Zero Proof Collective, points out with her hashtag #sobernotsomber, sober does not equal boring. Another sober curious writer backs up this point by saying that drinking less “isn’t about sacrifice – the lucidity I’m able to bring to my important moments now intensifies their brightness and hue.” Having fun without the hangover? That’s enough to pique many people’s interests. What can follow in terms of health benefits makes a lot of people stick with it.

sober not somber

Cutting Back for Health and A Clearer Mind

Alcohol is a chemical that directly affects the brain. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), “Alcohol makes it harder for the areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment.” Alcohol also makes the brain process information more slowly, and so brain fog is a major component of a hangover. Emotions can feel closer to the surface and mood swings are also common as people withdraw from alcohol. Cutting back can lead to a clearer mind and better emotional control while drinking and in the day(s) after.

Drinking alcohol is also directly linked to higher incidents of physical health risks including all types of cancer. The National Cancer Institute states that alcohol is a known carcinogen, which can lead to cancer. “Even those who have no more than one drink per day and binge drinkers (those who consume 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting) have a modestly increased risk of some cancers.”

The health benefits of sober curiosity do not require being totally dry. People who even just cut back on how much they drink experience improved sleep, energy, skin clarity, and confidence.

Social Norms are Changing While Sober Bars are Popping Up

In the United States, the trend is toward drinking less in all age groups. Forty percent of legal drinkers report drinking less frequently and in lower quantities than they did a year ago. So do college students.

This may be a response to the major increase in sober options popping up. There are more non-alcoholic options available to us than ever, and the “U.S. Sales of non-alcoholic beverages rose 33.2% in the past year, with $331 million in total sales.” Locally, you may notice an increase in alcohol-free options at liquor stores and in specialty NA bottle shops like Marigold. Additionally, we are seeing non-alcoholic or sober bars popping up all over, including Sans Bar, Awake, and Sober Sally’s.

Get Curious

Ready to take a closer look at your own drinking? Great! It can help to keep a journal of your sober curious journey. Try tracking your mood, sleep, and energy levels while you change your drinking behaviors. If you’re already working with a therapist, they can help you explore how it feels to make a change. Again, this is all about exploring your relationship with alcohol and why you choose to drink – or not.

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

My Toddler Tantrums over Everything: What to Do

Nooooo, I don’t wanna!” screams your child at 7:00 am, or in the middle of the grocery store, or while getting ready for bed.

This sort of outburst is a common situation most parents of toddlers must manage a handful of times in a day. In fact, according to Dr. Michael Potegal, Ph.D., a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota who researches tantrums, roughly 85 percent of 2- and 3-year-olds have tantrums (nytimes.com).

As toddlers develop language skills and learn to communicate their experiences to caregivers, they are also learning how sharing emotions can be a way of getting their needs met. Parents of toddlers who have frequent tantrums may at times feel like screaming from the rooftop: “Help, what do I do?; “Is this normal?”; “Do others think my child is terrible?”; “Am I doing something wrong?”.

There is hope! Paris Goodyear Brown, the creator of TraumaPlay, developed what is referred to as the SOOTHE Skill to help parents approach their child during these difficult times (Goodyear-Brown, 2021).

What is the SOOTHE Skill?

S – Soft tone of voice

Approaching your child with a soft tone of voice and a relaxed face might not be easy when they are in the midst of a temper tantrum, but staying calm and grounded will help them do the same. This allows you to “borrow” your calm body to your child. Breathe and then approach!

O – Organize the child’s experience

As a parent, it may feel like you are living in constant chaos no matter how hard you try. But helping your child organize their internal and external environments can be fun!–no promises here, of course.

Organizing could look like creating a board game for your child to visualize and help them work their way through their morning routine. It could also look like dedicating time with your child to prepare for a new experience so they can feel more organized leading into it. If your child is starting a new sport and appears unsure, have them try on their outfit and wear it around the house or look up fun videos to help explain the rules of the game.

The list of possibilities goes on and on. There is power in predicting and planning with children.

O – Offer choices

Offer choices simply means that you are helping your child feel less overwhelmed by limiting the options. Try using the statement, “You can choose to _____, or I can help you to do it,” or “You can choose to ____, or ____”. Utilize the first statement when trying to build trust with your child and the second statement when trying to encourage your child to choose their own positive outcomes.

T – Touch or togetherness

Physical contact or touch again allows you to “borrow” your regulated body to your child. Just like how adults may sometimes want a hug when they hear sad news, children may also need a comforting touch when they are dysregulated. This might look like placing your hand on your child’s back or asking if they want a hug.

Your child might also display a need for some physical space. You can still provide that sense of support by sitting near your child and letting them know you will be there when they are ready.

H – Hear what the underlying concern is

Hearing the underlying concern or anxiety means trying to look beneath the surface of the “NO!”

Is your child saying no because he is nervous for the task placed before him? Is your child unsure of how to begin? Does your child need choices? Try to understand where your child is at and name that feeling with them.

E – End and Let Go

Finally, end and let go! Once you and your child have weathered the storm, sit with your child and continue to comfort. Read a book together, listen to a soothing song. This is not the time to enforce consequences as your child is likely to become dysregulated again after feeling such intense emotions. Rather, let your child continue to return to their calm state at their own pace.

Don’t forget to breathe along the way, as parental regulation is a critical part of the SOOTHE skill.

toddler temper tantrum

What not to do during a tantrum

Engage, don’t enrage is a catchy phrase to remember in high-stress situations.

Sometimes when we are at our max capacity for dealing with our toddler’s emotions, we fall into the trap that is command and demand (Siegel & Payne Bryson, 2011). We might respond with “I said no!” and expect the child to listen. However, we have just activated our child’s “downstairs brain” which houses his strong emotions and fight or flight responses thereby causing him to experience big emotions again. Instead of a command or demand:

  • Help your child expand their emotional vocabulary by sportscasting using feeling words: “You are mad!” If your child says they are not mad, accept this boundary as they are learning about themselves.
  • Ask your child questions to figure out what made them upset.
  • Work together to brainstorm a solution that appeases you both.
  • Utilize the SOOTHE skills.

It is important to remember that your child’s brain is experiencing a time of major construction. Our “upstairs brain”, which is not fully developed until we are in our mid-20’s, is where our decision-making, empathy, and ability to control our emotions and body are housed.

Working together with your toddler during difficult times helps them develop and form their upstairs brain. Our brain is a muscle and just like any other muscle, the more we exercise or lift those dreadful weights the stronger our muscles become (Siegel & Payne Bryson, 2011).

It is worth noting that if a child is experiencing excessive tantrums  (five to ten tantrums a day that last longer than 10 minutes resulting in elevated aggression and destruction), parents should consider reaching out for professional help (nytimes.com). Seeking professional help does not mean that you have failed as a parent or admitted defeat!

The SOOTHE skills coupled with the principle engage, don’t enrage may help you as a parent feel like you are heading into a day with your child with flowers as a peace offering rather than geared up from head to toe in clunky and uncomfortable body armor. Remember that your child is learning how to feel feelings and ask for help when they have overwhelming emotions and need parental support with that process to help facilitate the development of emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills.

Did you try the SOOTHE Skill? How did it go for you?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Bridgett Brye, MSW.


  • Goodyear-Brown, P. (2021). Parents as Partners. The Guilford Press.
  • Siegel, D; Payne Bryson, T. (2011). Whole Brain Child.

How to Give a Compliment that is NOT Related to Appearance

The Problem with Appearance-Based Compliments

It is common to compliment someone’s appearance. Think of how often you are at a social gathering and hear something like, “Oooo you lost weight!”

Even if they are meant to be kind, appearance related comments can be quite harmful. You may be inadvertently complimenting a symptom of a mental health diagnosis (such as an eating disorder) or medical issue, or the impact of grief.

Research shows that people who consistently receive appearance-based compliments begin to see themselves as an object and attach their self worth to their appearance.

A person’s physical appearance is the least interesting thing about them. It is much more meaningful and personal to compliment other aspects of a person.

Examples of compliments that aren’t about appearance:

  1. You light up the room!
  2. I am proud of you for ______
  3. You are easy to talk to.
  4. I admire your ______
  5. Thanks for being there for me.
  6. You are so funny!
  7. You are talented at ______
  8. I feel like I can be myself around you!
  9. I enjoy spending time with you!
  10. You are so creative!

What are your favorite compliments (to give OR receive) that are not related to appearance?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Andrea Schroeder, MS, LPCC

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.