How to Tell your Parents you want to see a Counselor

I want to start off by saying that you know your parents and I don’t. I don’t have a “one size fits all” response that will magically get them to allow you to go to therapy.That being said, if you’re reading this, you are wondering how to tell your parents you want to see counselor and are nervous about how your parent(s) will respond. Here are some common reasons teens go to therapy. If I were sitting with you (in person) I would ask you a few questions that are worth knowing the answer to before talking with your parent(s).

1. Why are you nervous about asking them if you can start counseling? Many teens are afraid that if they tell their parent, their parent will want to know everything they have going on so that the parent can ‘solve’ the problem. If this is the case for you, I encourage you to tell your parent that you are trying to solve some of your current challenges independently.

2. Other teens know that their parents believe therapy is for “sick” or “crazy” people. If your parent has a belief similar to this, it makes sense to let them know that you are sorting through some personal/social issues that need an objective adult’s viewpoint. This has nothing to do with some scary diagnosis.

Okay. If you have answered the above questions, you might be ready to talk with your parent(s). At this point, you should have a basic idea about whether it will be best for you or a trusted adult to have this conversation with them.

1. Set a time with your parent to have the conversation. Find a time that allows for few distractions and a lot of privacy.

2. Be sure no one is using chemicals at the time of the conversation.

3. Let your parent know you wish to talk with an adult about some things you have going on, and that you want this person to be completely objective to your situation (in other words, the adult/counselor doesn’t love you like your parent(s) do, so they will be able to guide you with basic, non-influenced decision-making in a way that family members generally cannot).

4. Assuming you are not in danger, reassure your parent(s) that you are not in danger and that you just need some support from another person in your life.

5. If possible, choose a therapist/counselor ahead of time (you can find many of us online). Read my blog about how to find a good therapist for yourself. If your parent has questions they want to ask the therapist, most of us are happy to sit down and answer questions that teens and parents might have before therapy starts. Most of the time, this question and answer session is free of charge.

6. If your parent does not respond well, it makes sense to end the discussion for the night. A fight is not necessary. Some statements might help you: “I need additional support from another adult,” “You did nothing wrong as my parent. I just need to learn how to get through this on my own,” “I need a space that allows me to discuss private things.”

How to tell your parents you want to see a counselor

This is just  a starting place. If the conversation doesn’t go well (more than once), you may want to talk with your school counselor, a trusted teacher, pastor (etc.) to see if they are willing to talk with your parent(s) about your need for therapy. The counselor can help your parents understand your need for therapy (without spilling the beans about what you have going on). They can recommend that you see a therapist and give your parents a “referral.” (Click here to read my blog: How to Find a Good Therapist). If you choose to talk with an adult who is not a school or church official, inform that adult (before they talk with your parent) that you want privacy maintained when they talk with your parents. In other words, tell the adult that you don’t want them telling your parents everything. Most adults will honor this request as long as you are not in danger of hurting yourself or someone else.

Were these steps helpful for you in talking with your parents about getting counseling?

My parents hate me.

The longer I am a therapist for teens, the more emails I get from desperate teenagers. The emails are most often about a painful incident that makes a teen believe their parent(s) hate them.

Other reasons I get emails from teens:
1. Looking for help: How can I get my parents to say yes?
2. Looking for help: How can I make my parents like me more?
3. Looking for help: Why won’t my parents trust me?
4. Looking for help: Why won’t my parents let me be myself?

I generally respond to the email by letting the teen know that I need to know more about their situation and that I would love to meet with them and their parents. I might give a tiny bit of “advice” if something seems really obvious to me. Generally, though, I don’t hear back from the teens and then don’t end up in my office. So… I think about these teens…

My Parents Hate Me

If you feel like your parents hate you, we need to figure out what the disconnect is.

When parents: Try to get you to value the same things they value (church, school, volunteering, etc.)
They are: Doing their best to raise you into their version of a good and successful person. You do not have to value their church or way of dressing long-term. Before long, you will get to live your life as you choose. If this is a really big issue, it might help to sit down with a therapist to come to some compromises. Read here to find a therapist in your area.

When parents: Take away your cell phone/ipod/computer for the weekend…
They are: Generally trying to say that you broke the rules, and now you must pay. They don’t hate you if they do this to you, even though this brings you *PAIN.

When parents: Call you names…
They are: Either unsure that the name hurts you (could they be using sarcasm?) or they are not handling their anger the way adults should handle their anger. The name-calling usually does not mean they hate you, but that they don’t know what do to. Again, if name calling is happening a lot, I suggest therapy. If that is not an option, do your best to talk with trusted people about your situation. Know that the names they are calling you are not true and that their hurtful words actually show you that your parent is struggling. This is not your fault. I will write a blog at some point about how you can counter the name-calling in your mind with affirmations.

When parents: Hit you…
They are: Not managing their anger appropriately. Talk with a trusted adult. Hitting is not okay and therapy (at very least) is needed.

When parents: Ground you.
They are: Telling you that they don’t like something you did or said. This usually does not mean that they hate you. Grounding can feel really bad, though, and if it is being used constantly, you might need to negotiate some other consequences (not during an argument, though. That won’t work). Also, if you’re being grounded constantly, something needs to change. Work on somehow meeting your parents in the middle with whatever rule of theirs you keep breaking.

One last thing. Life is not always fair and sometimes you are dealt a bad situation. The one thing I can tell you is this: THIS IS TEMPORARY! YOU HAVE A LONG LIFE AHEAD OF YOU.

Teens: Please email me or comment below and I will write more about general topics to help you figure out what is going on when your parent does a certain thing. What do your parents do that makes you feel as if they hate you?

**Please note: I will respond to some comments/questions below. Because I am not your therapist (and, therefore, do not have all the information about your situation) please do not mistake my comments as professional advice. I cannot always respond to the questions quickly and if you are in need of professional help, do not rely on this blog for that type of support. Please call your therapist or 911 if you are in need of immediate hep.**

“You always/You never…”

Teens: Generally speaking, it is not helpful to accuse your parent of being a crappy parent in order to get what you want. Let me clarify with an example.

Teen: I’m going to Sam’s tonight.

Parent: Excuse me? Were you asking me if you could go somewhere tonight?

Teen: Yes, I’m asking to go to Sam’s house tonight.

Parent: You need to ask me for permission. Not TELL me what you are doing.

Teen: I AM asking! I’m asking to go to Sam’s house! What don’t you understand?

Parent: I understand this just fine. I understand that you’re telling me where you’re going tonight!

Teen: You always do this! You never let me go anywhere! You’re always on such a power trip! You’re a control freak!

Parent: You’re not going anywhere because you’re being so disrespectful right now. This conversation is OVER.

Teenager fight with mom Boom… endofstory. You’re now stuck at home tonight. A word to the wise: Parents like to be asked for permission. Additionally, telling them what a horrible parent they are (while asking them for permission to go somewhere) is not going to get you what you want. Nor is it going to help your relationship with your parent.

Teens, try to avoid starting your sentences with, “You always,” and “You never.” You’ll get further in your conversation.

Has avoiding these words helped you in conversation with your parents?

Think Positive Thoughts

How To Think Positive Thoughts

Has anyone ever told you to “just think positive?” This statement is a lot easier said than done, which can be very frustrating when it’s your parent, teacher, coach, or friend telling you to do so. They aren’t thinking about how your brain works (or they don’t know!) and they don’t know what it’s like to be you. However, the person saying this might actually be onto something. Research shows that thinking positively about ourselves and others, leads to increased self-esteem, increased self worth, and increased happiness.

It’s very common among teens to engage in a lot of what we therapists like to call “negative self-talk.” Statements like, “I’m not smart enough,” “I wish I was prettier,” or “why am I always screwing up?” are all examples of negative self-talk. Due to the strong influence of societal messages and social comparisons, negative self-talk among teens is more present today than ever before. Because of this (and other factors, of course), we are seeing an increase in depression, anxiety, and a variety of other mental health concerns. This is why it’s important that we work to change the way we “talk” to ourselves. Would you tell your good friend that they are not smart enough, pretty enough, or always screwing up? My guess is probably not. So why should what you tell yourself to be any different?

Here are some ways to practice thinking positive thoughts:

  • Notice your negative self-talk. Start paying attention to your thoughts.
  • When you notice yourself thinking negative thoughts such as “I’m not smart enough” don’t judge yourself.
  • Try to find some evidence against your negative statement. For example, if you are thinking “I’m not smart enough” try to think of a time where you were smart enough, like when you got an A on a test or when you made a really whitty joke (intelligence is not just related to academics!). Then tell yourself “I am smart” or if you can’t connect with that statement because it doesn’t feel true, try something like “I am working hard in school.”
  • Work on giving yourself compliments or thinking positive thoughts at random times throughout the day. For example, when you wake up in the morning, give yourself a compliment. When you go to bed at night, give yourself a compliment.
  • Lastly, don’t get discouraged if this doesn’t come naturally at first. For some of us it doesn’t because we are so used to our negative self-talk and it has become such a habit. The more you practice positive self-talk and thinking positive thoughts, the more natural it will feel and the more automatic it will become.

Has thinking positive thoughts helped you to take a different perspective in any situation in your life?

Blog written by a therapist at Sentier Psychotherapy.

LGBTQ Support Groups

There has been an increase in LGBTQ+ visibility in television, music, schools, and social media. This increased visibility has helped young people find acceptance in their gender and sexuality. Increased acceptance does not mean that young people do not face discrimination and bullying every day in schools and their community, however. LGBTQ+ suicide continues to happen at an alarming rate. Students face discrimination at home, in their schools, and in the community.

There are places of refuge for young LGBTQ+ people, and many of them find community on social media and the internet as well as their school. While this is great for many young people, this can also be a place of isolation and loneliness especially for LGBTQ+ youth who do not have access to community spaces or struggle with anxiety/depression and are unable to interact with people “in real life.”

For LGBTQ+ young adults, the places of refuge and community tend to be bars and clubs where there is exposure to alcohol and drugs. There are not many safe and sober places for young adults to make supportive friends. This is especially difficult for young adults who are not yet 21, or for those who struggle with chemical use.

At Sentier Psychotherapy, we provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth and young adults to create community and find support as they come out and become more confident in themselves. Sentier currently offers two groups that run weekly. We have a support group for LGBTQ+ teens (ages 14-17) and a young adult LGBTQ+ support group for ages 18-24. Groups provide a safe and supportive space for young people who are in any stage of the coming out journey. Our groups provide resources and information as well as support and mentoring for young people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Please check our website for dates and times of groups:

If you would like more information about the LGBTQ+ groups at Sentier Psychotherapy please contact Ashley at 

Link to current Young Adult LGBTQ+ group:

Link to current Teen LGBTQ+ Support Group:

What Does PRIDE Mean to You?

This year, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. For those of you who do not know about the Stonewall riots, here is a brief description of the event:

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement <> in the United States and around the world.

As we celebrate pride this year, it is it important to look back at the history of the LGBTQIA+ population, and to honor those who came before us.  They sacrificed SO much, and their sacrifice has resulted in the rights we have today. To celebrate PRIDE this year, let us take a minute to talk about what PRIDE means to the people around us. 

What does Pride mean?

I asked several people what PRIDE means to them and here are their answers. Please feel free to include what it means to you in the comments section below.

  • “Pride, to me, is remembering our history, and honoring everyone fighting for our community to just exist. Remembering Pride and who fought before us… The cafeteria riots and the Stonewall riots were just the beginning as we continue to fight. To learn, and continue to grow as our community evolves, also to love and accept the changes and evolution of our community.”
  • “Pride means accepting and loving myself for who I am.  It means coming out to my family, friends, and others to show my true, authentic self.  It means honoring the people who came before me to bring more acceptance and love to our community.  It means being in community with my people and celebrating who we are and the progress we have made in society.”
  • “It means I am the only one who defines who I am.self-acceptance”
  • “Pride is joy and celebration of my full self and the beautiful rainbow of people in out LGBTQIA+ community! It’s shared experience and safety and love in a crowd of strangers and friends.”
  • “Pride = life. The ability to live out loud with courage, vulnerability, and self acceptance.”
  • “Pride means being yourself against all odds.”
  • “Pride is not only a celebration of community, but it is also a reminder of our struggles, how far we have come and where we still need to go.”
  • “Pride means I get to be my full self. And to have conversations with friends about the full spectrum of what it means to be queer.  I just had a conversation with a bi friend about privilege and being in relationship with cis het men, and how we can still express our queer love as a part of that. Pride means loving all my people, and celebrating who we are in community.”
  • “Pride… It’s a feeling that you are who you are and that there are others like you. Chosen family and safety in community.”

What does Pride mean to you? 

Blog written by therapist Ashley Groshek, LMFT. To read more or schedule with Ashley, please read her therapist bio.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Light Therapy

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Light Therapy

Let’s talk about winter. Hot chocolate, sledding, and crackling fires can make us feel all warm and cozy, but having fewer and fewer daylight hours takes its toll. As Daylight Saving Time ends in early November, and our days become even shorter and darker, it is important to have tools in place to combat the downside of the season.

One such tool is called Light Therapy. Light therapy consists of indirect exposure to bright UV-free light. It is primarily used for the treatment of the winter blues and sleep problems. Clinically speaking, there is a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (also called S.A.D. or Seasonal Depression; learn more here). The dramatic reduction in sunlight during Minnesota winter months causes our hormones, brain chemicals, and daily rhythms to get out of whack. All of those changes can lead to sleepiness, fatigue, and sad moods, which are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.Light therapy, cozy by the fire

Spending time with a specially-designed light box can help reverse these symptoms by tricking our brains and bodies into thinking we are getting the sunlight we need. Research consistently shows that regular use improves energy and mood.

Light therapy boxes with 10,000 LUX, the optimal amount of cool blue light that looks and feels like the blue sky on a summer’s day, can trigger biochemical changes in your brain. The right amount of full-spectrum light helps regulate melatonin and boost serotonin, giving you a better chance at restful sleep and a happy (or happier!) mood all winter long.

Light therapy is most effective when used for 30 minute periods several days or every day of the week. When using the light box, sit 20-30 inches away from it, and go about your business–read, study, work at your computer, or eat dinner. The light is meant to enter your eyes indirectly. Just like the Sun, never look directly at the light!

Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for your specific light. Although side effects are rare, they can occur, so make sure to pay attention to how you feel when using your light.

Has light therapy been helpful for you? If not, what has helped during these long winter months?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Sarah Souder Johnson.

Preventing Social Isolation to Protect our Mental Health

We are living in an uncertain time. Today’s children will tell their grandchildren about the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and how everything stood still for a period of time: schools and libraries closed, store shelves emptied, and almost everyone stayed home. The purpose of this “social distancing” was to protect one another and stop the spread of disease. 

That’s where we are today, and putting space between us will work to flatten the curve if we all do it. With that said, there are some real downsides of staying apart even for relatively healthy people with safe homes, Internet access, and plenty of food.* Interpersonal connection is a key component to human wellbeing, and social isolation is a risk to mental health. At a time when it is absolutely necessary to socially distance, many more people than usual will experience the rippling effects of loneliness.

Depressed Teen Impacts School Performance

The good news is that there are ways to decrease the effects of social isolation. Here are some strategies for staying well while figuring out this (temporary) new normal. 

  1. Ramp up your virtual communication with friends, family members, and co-workers. This is especially effective if you can see one another, so try using apps like Skype, Facetime, and Zoom for video calls and conferencing whenever possible. We are also seeing an increase in individual and group therapy sessions taking place online so that people can start or maintain mental health care. Here is a listing of virtual recovery meetings, for example: Online AA Meetings During COVID-19
  2. Get outside. Interacting with others even from quite a distance is beneficial to our wellbeing. Waving to people across the street or when biking past them gives our brains the feeling that we are interacting and boosts mood. Try some Spring yard cleanup, pulling the bikes out of storage, or even some apartment building sing-a-longs like we have seen from our friends in Italy.
  3. Create a schedule and shared objectives. It may go without saying that people do better with routines, but did you know that working toward common goals with others is also a protective factor for health? Work on a puzzle with your roommate. Play board games or trivia in teams via Google Hangouts. Create a solo workout plan that a friend will also follow and then check in on your mutual progress each day. Plan, start, and finish a project around the house. (Give an air high-five when you check it off your list!)

Most importantly, remember that this situation is new, and we are all just figuring it out as we go. Taking daily actions to stay connected will protect our individual and collective mental health. And then, perhaps, the ways we pulled together – from a distance – to prevent social isolation will also be part of the pandemic story for future generations. 

What are you going to do to take care of yourself during this hard time? 

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

*For local readers in the Twin Cities, here are some helpful links to food and safety resources:

Free meals for kids at local restaurants

Child care services division of Department of Human Services; hotline: 651-297-1304

Expanded hotspot capabilities for internet access

Mindfulness During COVID-19 Pandemic

How to Stay Grounded During this Stressful Time

In the United States, we are in the midst of a nationwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though necessary, being apart from others comes with a significant risk to mental health. Many people are also experiencing increased health anxiety in general. Others have new or continuing financial insecurity or even loss of jobs. Not leaving the house removes the ability to escape from problems at home when home isn’t a safe place. And the necessary “social distancing” we all have to do promotes withdrawal and the loneliness that can follow. (Read our other blog post about social connection.)

It is normal to feel out of sync with yourself at this time. Thankfully, there are some relatively simple ways to connect with yourself and start to feel better. One way to do so is through a practice called mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is the state of being aware. A leader in the field named Jon Kabat-Zinn says that mindfulness is awareness of the present moment without judgment. It is when we purposely pay attention to what is happening in the here and now without a determination that anything is right or wrong. It helps us respond wisely to things that are happening to us instead of just reacting blindly. Since a lot of things are currently happening to us that are not within our control, we can all benefit from starting – or increasing – our mindfulness practice. 

We wanted to share a few resources we often use in therapy and suggest for our clients at home: 

Here is a basic video describing mindfulness:

Why Mindfulness is a Superpower

Here is a brief video about mindfulness and meditation:

Headspace Meditation Tips

Your breath is one of the most important tools for achieving a calm state. Try this simple Breathing Box technique:

  • Inhale for 4 counts
  • Hold for 4 counts
  • Exhale for 4 counts
  • Hold for 4 counts
  • Repeat

Yoga is a spiritual practice that promotes mindfulness and connection between the brain and body. Here are a few video sites we use:

Cosmic Kids Yoga

Yoga with Adrienne

Yoga Ed.

Dr. Dan Siegel is a leader in the field of neuroscience and the brain-body connection. His website is full of wonderful resources including Everyday Mindsight guided meditations.

Apps we like:

Mindfulness Daily
Welzen – How Are You?
Insight Timer

Some books we like:

The Gift of Awareness: Mindfulness Guide for Women (it applies to everyone!)
By Caroline Welch

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation
By Dan Siegel

I Am Peace
By Susan Verde

This one is great for children! Here it is read aloud by the author:

We hope you will build some mindfulness into each day as we face uncertain times ahead. A person’s body and mind are interconnected; you actually strengthen your immune systems when you use mindfulness, so it’s a win-win! What will you do to help yourself today?

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

Home (from college) for the Holidays

Home (from College) for the Holidays

Winter break is around the corner. You imagine having time to unwind, sleep in, and decompress after final exams. You want to reconnect with high school friends and maybe just hang out with the family pet. Maybe you’ll work at your old job a bit to make some extra spending money for next semester or stop by your old high school to say hello. It all sounds pretty dreamy, but being back at home can be more challenging than many anticipate, especially for first-year college students.

Although many students welcome the thought of spending some quality time with their family, parents can have a much different idea of how much time together constitutes a sufficient amount to be “quality.” The long and short of it is that they might expect things to go back to how they used to be before you moved out. This can be very frustrating for a college student who is in the throes of becoming an independent adult (and seems to be doing a pretty good job at it thankyouverymuch!)

Here are some common scenarios that you might encounter going back and tips for how to handle each one:

  • You are exhausted after a difficult semester, and all you want is to catch up on your sleep. Parents may see this as laziness and wonder if all you do while at school is sleep. Obviously not—you work hard for school because you like it and it is important. Ask them not to come in and open the blinds at 8AM please—this is a VACATION after all—but you appreciate their hospitality and will of course help with some chores later.
  • If you have siblings at home, the family structure might have to reconfigure. For example, the middle sibling is now used to being the eldest, and for them it may be more of a drag than a delight to have big brother or sister home again. Let them know not to worry, because you’ll be out of the house soon enough. A friendly game of Monopoly or a trip to the mall together might break the ice and make it fun to be around one another again.
  • Be prepared to discuss money issues openly. Becoming financially independent is a process—a journey, really—with a lot of opportunities to learn and make mistakes. Maybe you bought 87 pizzas this semester when you only had enough money to buy 64. Budgeting is important—ask your parents to help you out or give you some pointers…not just more money.
  • Again, time may be an issue. You may be grabbing your coat to leave as your flabbergasted parents were about to get in bed. As author Karen Coburn state in Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, “It’s tough on parents because even though they have grown used to not knowing what time their child comes back to her room when she’s away at college, parents can’t turn off their ‘worry button’ when it’s 2AM and the car isn’t back in the driveway. Parents don’t stop being parents. They worry about their child’s safety. It helps to come to an agreement that recognizes their child’s growing independence, as well as their own need not to worry.”
  • Talk to your parents about your experiences in college. Parents err on the side of educational and professional progress (i.e. asking about grades, teachers, and goals), so tell them about your favorite subjects, books, performances, or pieces of music that changed your life. Tell them the highlights of your semester and how you’ve changed; it can be rewarding for both of you to acknowledge your accomplishments. 
  • Try to make plans in advance. Family gatherings might interfere with social gatherings, so try to talk about things ahead of time so conflict is kept to a minimum.

Basically, the key is communication. Don’t be afraid to express how you like to do more things on your own now and to kindly request respect for your need to develop independence. That being said, try to also respect your parents’ necessity to be parents and to look out for your safety, success, and well-being. Do you feel equipped to head home for the holidays?! Good luck!

Blog was written by therapist Sarah Souder Johnson, MEd., LPCC 

DBT Therapy – What is it?

DBT Therapy – What is it?

Everyone’s talking about DBT, but what is it, exactly?  

You tell your friend about the recent behavioral issues your teen has been having, and they tell you that their child was in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) and that it really worked!  They tell you that you should consider putting your child in DBT.  Your doctor refers your teen to DBT after he discover she has been cutting herself.  Your cousin, who is a therapist, suggests you look into DBT for your daughter after your daughter has an emotional outburst at the family reunion.  

Young teenager girl typing and messaging on her smartphone

You Google “DBT” online and find the same information over and over: It’s a cognitive behavioral treatment that was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder and people who were chronically suicidal.  It’s now been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and substance use disorders.  It teaches mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.  While all of the above is accurate and informative, chances are you still don’t have a clear understanding of what it is your teen will actually be getting out of DBT or how it will help your teen.  Let me try to help.   

DBT is a treatment approach meant to help those who might be more emotionally sensitive and reactive than the average person.  What do I mean by emotionally sensitive?  People who are emotionally sensitive tend to experience emotions more frequently and more intensely than others.  For example, when the average person gets cut off in traffic, they will likely feel frustrated or mad for a short time and then go back to thinking about what they were thinking about before they got cut off.   A person with high emotional sensitivity, however, may react by cursing, flicking the person off, and speeding up to pass and cut them off.  They may think about the event for hours after it happened. Another example is a person who plays the wrong key at their piano recital.  The average person would be embarrassed or disappointed in themselves, think about it for the evening, but sleep on it and move forward within the next couple of days. A person with high emotional sensitivity may become depressed, suicidal, and internalize this mistake by telling themselves that they are a screw up, a failure, and don’t deserve to be alive.  These intense feelings and thoughts may lead a person to engage in behaviors such as isolation, self-harm, substance use, or other unhealthy behaviors.  

The examples above show how being emotionally sensitive can negatively impact a person’s life. However, being emotionally sensitive can also be a very positive quality.  Feelings such as love, happiness and joy are felt more often and more intensely.  People who have high emotional sensitivity often exhibit characteristics such as kindness, creativity and empathy.  The goal of DBT is not to get rid of a person’s emotional sensitivity, it is to help a person learn how to manage these extreme emotions.  

A full DBT-intensive outpatient program includes weekly individual therapy, phone coaching calls between client and therapist and a weekly skills training group.  Typically these programs are anywhere from 6 months to 14 months in length.  Some programs, however, adapt DBT to fit the population in which they are serving.  For example, there are DBT groups that have been developed specifically for people struggling with substance abuse.  Many eating disorders treatment programs have been incorporating DBT into their programming to address problems specific to eating disorders.  We have adapted DBT to be more teen-friendly and meet the needs of adolescents who don’t need an intensive DBT program. What this means is that we don’t do coaching calls, we only meet once per week, and the teen is not required to be in individual therapy to be in the group. Our model is less intensive, more user friendly for today’s busy teens, and focuses on learning skills. Click here for more information about our next Teen DBT group in St. Paul.

This blog was written by a therapist at Sentier Psychotherapy

What can my Teenager do this Summer?

Summer is a time that almost all teens look forward to and almost all parents… well… look forward to, too. Teens often end up with a lot of “down time” which can lead to changed sleeping patterns and a change in diet, which then changes mood, etc. Though we want our teens rested, too much sleep is not always good, either.

I am writing this blog post to announce a group that I am very excited to be doing this summer. I am facilitating a group in St. Paul, MN that is called “Getting What You Want: A Group for Teens to Explore Happiness.” This group is for teens who want to better understand how to be happy. We will watch the documentary, “Happy” during the first group session and will then focus our next five groups on the main themes that the Group of teenagers meditating.documentary covers: Community, Movement, Defining Success, Service, Gratitude, and Self-Awareness. We will spend one session learning Laughter Yoga… and YES, I will be participating! Group members have the option of participating in the Color Run on July 14th (they can walk it, run it, or volunteer to dump colored powder on runners!). This group is going to be a lot of fun.

Please contact me with questions or to see if a teen you know will be a good fit for my group.

See you this summer!

Megan 🙂

My Teenager is Cutting Herself (Himself) – What Do I Do?

Self-harm (I am going to call it Nonsuicidal Self-Injury, NSSI) is a foreign concept to many parents and it can be very scary to discover. Historically NSSI was never as transparent as it is today. If you look, you will find young people (and now not so young) who have scars up and down their arms and legs. Please be aware that cutting is not the only type of NSSI. There are many other ways that people harm themselves, but cutting seems to be the second most common (in my practice). First, of course, is chemical use. I will blog about that later.

So why does Nonsuicidal Self-Injury happen and what does it mean?

I have seen three main reasons for NSSI/cutting:

1. Teens want to feel more. They feel numb and want to feel something. Anything.

Cutting self-harm

2. Teens want to feel less emotional pain. They engage in NSSI in order to feel physical pain, which they use to temporarily replace emotional pain. Physical pain is easier to tolerate than emotional pain for this teenager.

3. Teens are afraid to speak up about their needs, and use NSSI as a way to communicate anger/sadness (as well as pain/lonliness/loss, etc.) to specific people. Please do not interpret this as: Teens are cutting for attention. This is not what I am saying. I am saying that if your teen is cutting for this reason, please understand that they are using NSSI as a way to communicate.

There are other reasons that teens/people cut themselves, but these are the most common reasons I have seen in my practice. Please note: NSSI is *almost always* NOT a suicide attempt. Generally people who are injuring themselves do not have any intention to die. That being said, people DO die by self-harm. It is usually an accident; a cut that went too deep/in the wrong place. NSSI must be taken seriously, but the best response is generally not to call an ambulance and have your teen taken to the hospital (unless they are badly injured, of course).

What should you (as a parent/guardian) do?

1. Try to talk with your teen. See if they will talk with you about why they are hurting themselves. Express to them that you love them and that you are very scared and worried about what is going on.

2. Ask them what they need. They may not know, but they might surprise you. Be careful with this one. (Begin my rant): If your teen is self-harming because they did not get what they asked you for (i.e.: a new pair of jeans) and then you ask them what they need and they say, “That pair of jeans,” this is a different situation altogether. Do not get the jeans in this instance. I urge you to meet with a counselor in order to work with your teen on limit setting and coping skills for your teen. (End my rant). If your teen expresses that they need to talk with someone, that they hate themselves, that they don’t feel anything, that they feel too much, I urge you to find a counselor for your teen. If they need something that is impossible, “I need you and dad to be back together again,” they are hurting themselves because they do not know how to manage their intense emotional pain.

3. Do not punish your teen for NSSI. NSSI (though it often results in temporary relief for your teen) is a form of self-punishment. Additional consequences tend to make things worse.

4. Find a therapist for your teen. Your teen needs professional help and they need some skills they don’t have. They need a place to go where they can be honest and open about how they feel about themselves and who they are in the world. For starters, you can read my blog about how to find a good therapist for your teen.

5. I don’t want to sound too negative in this blog, but your teen needs help. Do not laugh off this behavior or get angry and tell your teen that they are cutting for attention. Teens die every day by accidently slicing an artery. Teens feel alone when they cut, and they are trying to tell you that they need something more. A good therapist will be able to figure out what that is.

What else do you want to know about how to help your teen decrease and stop NSSI?
——————————————————————————————————————–Read about Megan Sigmon-Olsen, M.S.W., LICSW, who is a therapist for teens and families in St. Paul, MN.

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My Teen is LAZY!

It happens with at least 50% of the families I see.

“Megan, I hate to admit this, but my teen is LAZY. I can’t get him/her to do ANYTHING at home.”

First of all, you’re not alone! Second of all, parents need to challenge themselves to look at this issue differently.

Often times, teens do not prioritize a clean house. I will admit that I can’t site any research about this topic this morning, but I’ve worked with enough teens to know that cleanliness is often not a priority to them. So, I ask parents how they frame “chores” to their teen at home. 

If you (as a parent) want their room picked up, their towel off the floor, their dishes in the dishwasher, this must be communicated as a requirement, not an option. When something is a requirement, there are consequences when the requirement does not get met.

If it is a requirement for your teen to empty the dishwasher twice per week, I encourage you to reward their efforts at home with something they care about. I’m not suggesting that you pay them $20 for unloading the dishwasher, but be reasonable. If your teen has a decent list of chores at home, they will be much more likely to complete their requirements if there is incentive. The kicker? You need to follow through with the rewards. On time. As you promised.

Also, you need to follow through with the consequences. If the consequence is that your teen does not earn the weekly “allowance,” then don’t give them the money. For this to be effective, you can’t hand them $5 here and there during the week. Their allowance money should be their spending money. If they don’t earn their money for the week, they don’t spend money that week. Simple. If the only consequence to not completing chores is that they don’t earn an allowance, don’t add more consequences. Also, you may have to deal with the fact that their room stinks because they didn’t clean it up this week.

That’s fine. They’ll learn from this eventually. Shut the door and move on with your life. They are hurting because they didn’t earn their money (or they lost their cell phone for the week, or whatever the consequence is) and you’re hurting because their room stinks. Do your best to let that go.

Last quick pointer: If your teen earned their weekly allowance (for cleaning) and their behavior stinks in another area, do not take their cleaning reward away. Consequence them in another way. If you take away something they legitimately earned, they will probably stop cleaning.

It’s important for you to follow through. Have a pay day. Be prepared to pay them and don’t engage in “all or nothing” thinking. If they did half their chores, give them half their money. You want them to succeed in order to build more confidence.

What are some of the creative ways you have gotten your teen to do their part in keeping the house clean?

He/She Always Slams the Door!!

Ah… door slamming. Talk about the ultimate conversation stopper and trigger for parental anger.

Teens do not generally slam doors just to irritate you. In general, they are slamming the door to tell you that they need a TIME OUT. Don’t take the bait and follow them into their room. This is the ultimate fight escalator. Your teen needs space and generally speaking, you need to allow them to deescalate in their room.

First things first. Teens are impulsive as their brains are not yet fully developed. They may slam their door and think to themselves, “Why did I do that?”. They are still using the more primal part of their brain (prefrontal cortex) during this phase of development, which means that doors are going to get slammed sometimes. This part of their brain also often misreads attention from others as negative, which is why your random questioning of your teen often triggers somewhat of a blow-up. Again, just a normal part of development (though not the most pleasant for parents).

Teen slams door - Angry teenager

Two more pieces to door slamming:

1. Plan a time to sit down with your teen and talk about the expectation that your teen not slam the door. Do not have this conversation during any kind of argument. Everyone needs to be calm to have this discussion. Talk with your teen about what the consequence of slamming the door will be for the future. Allow your teen to have a say in what an appropriate consequence is. If you notice that your teen really works hard to shift this behavior, compliment them on their efforts to not slam the door!They need to be noticed for positive changes in behavior, not just negative. ALWAYS follow through with the consequence that you and your teen agree on. If you do not follow through, your teen will push the limits and the rule will go out the door. You’ll be back at square one.

2.  Always revisit the issue that resulted in your teen slamming the door. Your teen may only need 20 minutes to calm down, and I’ve seen teens who can’t calm down for hours. Regardless of how much time your teen needs, have the conversation (when you’re talking about #1 above) about how the expectation is that the issue which resulted in door slamming must be revisited within X number of minutes/hours. You must work on problem-solving with your teen, or the door will simply get slammed the next time this issue gets brought up. It is critical to complete this step once the emotion of the moment has passed.

Good luck!! Remember this takes time and consistency. This behavior will not change as soon as you sit down and talk about it. It requires parental follow-through and time.

How do you handle door slamming at your house?

Help for my High Achieving Teen

How to Help My High Achieving Teen

Swim team captain. First chair violinist. Quiz bowl champion. Straight A student. Perfectionist. Anxious. Sad. Withdrawn.

Teens who are high academic achievers are often also heavily involved in extracurricular activities and leadership roles. Add a job or volunteer work, lessons, or a college search to that and you may end up with a teen who is overwhelmed. This is often when they end up in therapy. Sometimes clients come into therapy because they are having trouble sleeping or they have started experiencing panic. Others have started using drugs or withdrawn to the point of isolation. Once-happy children have become overachieving teenagers, and the idea of success that once drove them has led them to feel highly anxious.

Parents and other adults can help teens in a few simple ways:

  1. Support balance in their lives, and make sure to include their social life. Spending time with friends and having a sense of community outside of their home is an important and appropriate part of healthy development for teens.
  2. Teach them how to manage a heavy load. Help your teen to learn about time management, time away from social media, and prioritizing tasks.
  3. Dispel the myth of perfectionism. Describing the concept of “good enough” can help them address obsessive thoughts that may lead them to never feeling good enough.
  4. Give them permission to say no. High achievers are also often over achievers who have never been told that it’s okay to turn down opportunities.
  5. Model all of those things for your child. There is a strong chance that a child with perfectionism learned by watching. How can you model balance in your own life? Talk to your teen about your own struggles with these steps.  

With support and guidance, teens can recognize their inherent value regardless of achievements, grades, and trophies. They will start to see the beauty of mistakes and the value in downtime. Most importantly, they will develop healthy insight and a stronger sense of self-worth.

How have you been successful at helping your teen achieve balance? Contact one of our school specialists to help your teen: Katie Fleuriet, M.S.W., LICSW

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

Communicating with your Teenager – Do’s and Don’ts

“I don’t know how to talk with her anymore.”

“He’s so moody.”

“She doesn’t want to share anything about her life with me like she used to.”

“I can’t get him to say more than ‘My day was fine.’”

Parents frequently call me and report struggles similar to those listed above. They wish they had the ability to transform their relationship back to the way things were before their adolescent began puberty, and they ask me for help.

The reality is that teenagers are supposed to go through this change. They are supposed to start distancing themselves from parents a bit – it is developmentally appropriate. They are undergoing many changes: physically, emotionally, and mentally. During this wonderful time of change, teens:

  • Will want more privacy.
  • Will want more time with friends.
  • Will often change the way they dress, etc.
  • Will experience many physical changes in their bodies.

I have seen many parents attempt to exert higher control during their kids’ teenager years. This is the opposite of what parents want to do. Remember, your home is your teen’s training ground for the world. The interactions you have with your teen are a large contributor to how your teen learns to treat other people. Having a general acceptance that you may talk less with your teen during this time in their life will save you some aches and pains. This isn’t personal. They don’t love you less. Their priorities are shifting as they are learning to be adults.

The best way to stay connected with your teen (The Do’s):

  • Respect their privacy. They may go to war with you if you don’t.
  • Listen when your teen talks. Consider their opinion a valuable one.
  • Be a good listener. Reserve judgement and keep some of your opinions to yourself if you want them to talk with you again.
  • Accept your teen’s feelings. Don’t try to change their experiences; just offer support.
  • Apologize when you’re wrong.
The Don’ts of communicating with teens:
  • Nag, preach, lecture. They don’t listen for long and it just hurts their feelings and frustrates you further. My Teen Hates Me
  • Use guilt and/or shame as a parenting strategy. It doesn’t work.
  • Use a lot of “shoulds.” This is one way of using guilt/shame. This can be very damaging.
  • Share with others personal things your teen has shared with you (unless, of course, your teen is in danger, etc.).
  • Hound them with questions when your teen has broken a home rule, etc. Know when you can talk with your teen and respect this boundary.
  • Again, I don’t have a canned strategy for talking with teens. Some teens and parents will go to family therapy to work on applying these strategies, which is often a good idea. Other times these tips are enough. Good luck!

Teen Expectations

One of the things I work on with parents of teens is expectations. I often find that parents assume teens “just know” what is expected of them at home, at school, and in the community. It turns out that teenagers often do not know what is expected of them short of, “Be a good person,” “Do well in school,” and “Don’t do drugs.”

Rules for teens teenagers

It is important that teens know what you expect of them. It is also important that they know what will happen if they fall short of your expectation. If your teen breaks a rule of yours, the consequence should be known ahead of time. As a parent, this will also help you not be “too emotional” when a rule is broken. Here’s an example:

Your teen arrives home two hours past curfew. The first assumption I am making is that you had an agreed-upon curfew. My second assumption is that you discussed consequences of broken curfew before your teen left for the evening. Assuming you discussed consequences ahead of time, you know exactly what to do when they come home:

  1. Wait to discuss consequences until the next day.
  2. Remind your teen of your already-agreed-upon consequence the following morning. The reason this is easier on parents is that you are not expected to come up with a consequence when you are angry. If you come up with a consequence when you are waiting for your teen (at 1:00 in the morning) you will likely come up with a consequence that is too severe. After all, you’re upset! A few days in to enforcing the consequence, you will realize the consequence was too extreme, and stop enforcing it. This will teach your teen that your consequences will not be followed through and that if they beg to get off consequence you will probably give in (because after all, extreme consequences also consequence parents!).
  3. Your message as a parent is: I love you, I was worried about you, I do not support the decision you made to stay out past curfew, and you have chosen to be on ___________ consequence for __________ amount of time.

These interactions don’t have to be ugly! You want to maintain connection with your teen during these teaching moments.

How do you stay connected when your teen has broken a rule or pushed a boundary?

Why Does My Child Misbehave?

When children are given the opportunity to succeed, they generally will. According to author Rudolf Dreikurs, “A misbehaving child is a discouraged child”. Children tend to want to do well, and they want to be successful. As parents, caregivers, or other significant adults in a child’s life, it is our job to do our best to see to it that that happens. Dreikurs talks about the Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior: Attention, Power, Revenge, and Inadequacy. These are the things children do to get and unmet need met:
1.  Attention: To be noticed
2.  Power: To be the boss
3.  Revenge: So you can feel as badly as I feel
4.  Inadequacy: To be left alone or feeling discouraged

Below are some charts to explain the Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior. These charts describe what your child may be actually needing from you, and ways to respond to your child to help them get their needs met in healthy, adaptive ways.

Please note that children are generally not AWARE that they are doing these four things when they are doing them. It is not intentional until younger children are older. These behaviors are almost a reflex to not having their needs met. It is also assumed that children are well-rested, fed, etc. when considering the Four Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior. 

Children do best when they are encouraged and when they feel that they are being successful. Dreikurs states, “ A child needs encouragement like a plant needs water”. Finding everyday ways to help encourage your child to succeed is essential when helping little humans grow into young adults. 

What are some barriers you face when trying to help your child be successful?

So You Just Had a Baby…?

So You Just Had a Baby… !?

This baby feels like… a lot

Discovering that you are going to become a parent is filled with endless emotions. Yes, there is joy and excitement – A baby! They’re so cute..and squishy..and their squeals…gah! But there are also questions of uncertainty and often trepidation – How will I/we pay for this? Will I go back to work? Will my partner go back to work? Will I breastfeed? What if they cry all the time? Are we going to be bonded right away? I’m going to miss my friends. And, wait, do I need to set up a nursery?? 

Immediately following the arrival of a baby is also a time of increased emotion…You may feel like they’re the cutest human on the planet (they are!) or that they smell amazing (they do!) and that they are the sweetest (for sure!). But, you may also feel overwhelmed by the drastic changes  in your life. You’ve swapped out evenings with friends on restaurant patios with bouncing a baby on an exercise ball while simultaneously Googling the best burp cloths, diaper creams and swaddles. Or, you may feel like you’re just not bonding with your baby like you should (those Instagram moms made it seem different…). 

These shifting environmental and social stressors coupled with the hormonal changes that occur both during and after pregnancy are difficult to manage! You are not alone. This adjustment is hard…for everyone. Say it with me, “I am not alone. This adjustment is hard…for everyone.”

It’s important to take care of yourself as you go through this adjustment. Here are my top 5 tips: 

  • Accept help. There is truth to the “it takes a village” saying. Accept those offers for keeping you company, bringing over dinner, folding laundry, etc. 
  • Go on walks. Getting outside can be so helpful! If you have a newborn in the winter and it’s not too cold, bundle up! Trust me on this… we live in Minnesota!
  • Join a mom’s group. Whether it’s your 1st child or your 5th child, every baby is different and can present new challenges. 
  • Communicate with your partner and family about what you need. As much as we wish mind-readers existed (especially in this phase of life), they don’t; so speak up and let people know what you need from them. 

Remember to be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can and this will get better. 

Sometimes, it is also really helpful to connect with outside support. It may be that a postpartum doula would be helpful. Or, it may be that talking to a therapist would be helpful. Research shows that 1 in 5 women develop a Postpartum Mood and Adjustment Disorder (PMAD), so it’s more common than we think!  If you think this would be helpful, please give me a call: Katie Fleuriet, MSW, LICSW. Additionally, be sure to check out Postpartum Support International for more resources.