“Ask a Therapist”: You Ask, We Answer

Friends,

Foundation Counseling is excited to share that beginning this month of May, we are starting our “Ask a Therapist” Open Online Forum.

What does this mean?  It means that you have an opportunity to ask our team of therapists here at Foundation Counseling any question you may have about therapy, the therapy process, or about any topic commonly addressed in counseling.  Perhaps, for instance, you have a question about parenting, social media for your teens, depression, anxiety, or issues related to friendships, dating, and marriage.  We would love the opportunity to hear from the community and provide our insight into such important issues.

How can I ask? There are three ways in which you can ask a question:

  1. Here on the Foundation Counseling Blog, by leaving a comment below in the “Leave a Reply” section of this blog post.
  2. On our Foundation Counseling Facebook page, by leaving a comment on our page, below the “Ask a Therapist” post or by messaging our team on the FC Facebook page.
  3.  Anonymously via emailing Director Phil Zaffos at foundationcounseling@gmail.com – you can email your question with the subject line “Ask a Therapist”. If you choose to ask anonymously, we will keep your identity private.

How do you answer? If we feel able to answer your question, a therapist from Foundation Counseling will respond here on the Blog, which will be shared on our FC Facebook page as well. So be on the look out!

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best,

The Foundation Counseling Team

Habits and Four Lessons in Changing Them

by Cameron Butler Wooten, LMFT, LPC

“Our Character, basically, is a composite of our Habits”

-Stephen Covey

I have been thinking a lot about habits lately, specifically my own habits in various areas of my life: physically, spiritually, vocationally. My husband and I recently participated in a “21-day Sugar Detox” Program to create better eating habits, and I have also been reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.

The dictionary defines a habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. According to Stephen Covey, habits are powerful factors in our lives because they daily express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Through personal work on improving my own habits, I would like to share what Ive been learning about building new healthy habits.

  1. Changing Habits is a Hard Process! Habits are often unconscious patterns. According to The American Journal of Psychology, habits are hard to change because behavioral patterns that humans create become imprinted in neural pathways. It was originally thought that creating a new habit takes 21 days of repeatedly completing the new behavior. However, research now shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days. Repeated Behavior is the key to changing habits.
  2. Start Small: People can get very discouraged because they set out to change too much too soon. Then, once discouraged, they give up on new habits. Starting out small allows people to have some quick success, which breeds the confidence to keep up the good work. For example, don’t commit to yoga everyday for an hour when you’ve never done yoga in your life. Start out committing to 10 minutes of light stretching every day or every other day, and build on this.
  3. Replace/Exchange unhealthy habits for healthier ones.  I had an unhealthy habit of drinking too much soda and caffeine. What helped me in beating this habit was to replace that serving of soda with flavored Sparkling Water. In doing this, we can trick ourselves into not feeling deprived.
  4. Enlist Support. Telling others about the bad habits you are trying to break provides accountability in one’s quest for healthier habits. If you are trying to decrease or eliminate soda from your diet and your loved one sees you drinking a large soda, they can gently say something (or in my husband’s case, something sarcastic) to you to keep you on tract with your quest for creating healthy habits.

Though it is difficult to break bad habits, it is also very possible to do so! These simple steps are a good start for setting yourself up for success. The reward of overcoming unhealthy habits is worth the work it takes to do so.

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Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor & Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Three Keys to Listening Well

by Lydia Minear, LPC

Listening is loving. It is food for the soul and nourishment for relationships. Being heard and understood deeply has a powerful effect, enabling us to feel safe, cared for, loved, and empowered. However, listening well can be difficult.  This is becoming even more of a challenge in today’s society where a million distractions lay at our fingertips. Below are three keys to listening well and improving the way we connect with others.

  1. Presence

“When people have been with me in the moment of my pain, I have little remembered what they have said. It is their presence I recall. The gift of presence is not that it takes away the pain, but that it enables one to bear it.” – Stephen Howard, The Heart and Soul of the Therapist

To be present with another human means to offer my full attention. By setting aside other distractions, I can offer you the gift of thoughtful focus on you, your words and your emotions.  There is a remarkable difference between true presence and distracted listening. For instance, most of us have been guilty of trying to squeeze in a text while listening to a friend. Perhaps you’ve been on the opposite end of this as well and have felt the sting of rejection when you realize your words are falling on deaf ears.  Being human means we make mistakes.  A part of improving how we listen means to take note of what often distracts us and to set aside specific time to intentionally be present with loved ones.

2. Empathy

 “If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

To listen well involves empathy, or the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings of another.  Practicing empathy via listening means that rather than offer solutions or try and “fix”, silence and patience is instead offered.  In the precious space of silence, my friend is allowed to give name to her pain, confusion, or sadness. She has a chance to be heard and to tell her story. Now, rather than burden of hidden shame or pain, she feels joined and a bit less alone in her experience.

3. Boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” -Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Boundaries are critical towards listening well because they enable individuals to offer presence & empathy. Practicing presence and empathy demands emotional energy.  Being human means we have limits to our capacity to give these resources.  Setting boundaries means we are in tune with how much we have to give and say yes when we feel capable and no when we do not.  The same people who often thrive in the areas of listening and compassion struggle to set boundaries because they want to give too much.  As Brené Brown mentions above, it is important that we care for and love ourselves enough by resisting the urge to merely please others and instead give when we feel truly able.

Presence, Empathy, and Boundaries set the tone for meaningful interactions.  By practicing these tenants, our relationships are given depth and life.

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Lydia is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

The Vulnerability of Joy

by Adair Swayze, LPC

To let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us not to be too happy lest we invite disaster—that’s an intense form of vulnerability.” –Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Joy is one of the so-called positive emotions. At the emotional salad bar, most of us would choose joy and happiness over dread, heartbreak, or confusion. It feels good to feel joy. Our hearts leap. Smiles break out on our faces. We feel butterflies and giddiness. We want to share our joy with others. We want to celebrate.

However, any of us who are living whole-heartedly have learned that joy is not always simple or safe. Feeling joy fully and sharing it with others especially when the source of the joy is uncertain comes with major risk. Getting excited about a new job possibility may mean later feeling silly and emotionally exposed when they hire someone else. Allowing the joy of a new possibility to rise and swell means that later we may feel small, deflated, and foolish. And for many of us that pain has been severe enough that we have learned to shut down joy the moment it starts to appear. We try to live without risk of pain.

Risking disappointment is scary and heavy and it is especially heavy to do so alone. I have learned that inviting safe whole-hearted people into my joy and disappointment feels risky but good. It means that when disappointment comes, I will not be alone to hold whatever feelings rise. My people will be there too and can help me hold disappointment well. If I feel small and foolish, I will need to be reminded as I was recently by a friend, “You have been so brave on this adventure and that is not foolishness.”

When disappointment threatens to take us out, we need reminders of kindness. When joy feels good and fleeting, we need celebrating witnesses. Vulnerability means inviting others into the uncertain rhythm of joy and loss, excitement and disappointment. And it is not safe, but it is good to be joined wherever our hearts most need connection and community.

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Adair is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals,children, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection: Unexpected Ways to Help Heal Anxiety & Depression

by Cameron Butler Wooten, LPC, LMFT

Most people have heard that the best treatment for mental health disorders includes counseling/psychiatric treatment and medication. While this is true, there are other aids to help in healing those who suffer from mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. As humans, we are not only made up of our mind, but also our body and spirit. It is important to consider the whole person when treating the mind.

According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness in te U.S., affecting 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population every year. Nearly one half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

The good news is, we know these mood disorders are highly treatable. Along with counseling/medication/psychiatric treatment, people can aid in healing their minds by taking care of their bodies. There is most certainly a Mind-Body Connection.

One helpful & less known way to heal depression/anxiety is food intake. There is a strong connection between the brain and “gut”. Research shows that approximately 95% of serotonin is produced within the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating mood and behavior. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that relay messages between nerves, and the neurotransmitters in your gut are almost identical to those in your brain (Dana Korn, “Living Gluten Free for Dummies”). Due to this gut-brain connection, it makes sense that the type food we eat will help nourish our gastrointestinal tract…thus impacting our brain. Adopting a healthy diet promotes the health of the gastrointestinal tract, and according to Jessica Black, author of “The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book,”a better-functioning gastrointestinal tract improves serotonin secretion, which improves sleep and mood.

So what does a healthy diet look like? There are all kinds of popular diets these days, so it can be confusing to know which diet is best. The answer is that everyone is different, but some of the rules apply to everyone. Eating a balanced diet of meat, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats is a great start. Limiting foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine, can help alleviate stress on the body.

Another way to aid in the treatment of anxiety and depression is getting enough sleep and exercise. Sleep is the body’s way of rejuvenating itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended sleep for adults 26-64 years of age is 7-9 hours. Our bodies require long periods of sleep to restore and repair tissues, process memories, synthesize hormones, etc (www.sleepfoundation.org). Poor sleep is directly related to anxiety and depression. Sleep aid techniques can include shutting off technology 1 hour before bed, sleeping in a completely dark room, meditation, & deep breathing. Daily exercise is also a great way to aid in sleep and take care of one’s body. Exercise relieves stress, improves memory & mood, and reduces symptoms of mood disorders.

With the high levels of anxiety and depression in our culture, it is encouraging to hear that there are some natural approaches to aid in healing (along with counseling and potentially medication), as simple as eating, sleeping, and exercising. After all, the mind, body, and spirit are all connected. Remember the mind-body connection and take care of yours.

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Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Making Space for Grief

by Lydia Minear, LPC

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

Everyone will know seasons of loss and grief. Some of these endings we can see approaching months or years ahead of time. A person we love receives a frightening diagnosis. A beloved family member or friend ages into their late years. With time we try to brace ourselves for such a death, riding the roller coaster of emotions as we attempt to gradually accept. Yet, nothing can completely prepare us for the hole this person will leave.

Other times, death is a shock. Unexpected and devastating, we could never imagine having to say goodbye so soon to someone we hold dear. Desperately, we try to keep our heads above the waters as confusion, anger, and sadness take hold.

Grieving the loss of someone we love is a process with no clear map. Just as each relationship is unique, each loss is unique. Our hearts, minds, and bodies need space to grieve. Often, individuals fear getting close to these deep places in oneself. Many people come from families where tears were uncommon and emotions were rarely shared. Death is not a topic openly discussed in our current culture either. For instance, most work places offer a mere three bereavement days for employees. This is quite different from previous times in history when mourning traditions involved weeks of grieving as a community together in and around the deceased’s family’s home. In reality, grieving continues long past the time when the calls, texts, casseroles, and cards stop coming. It is therefore common to feel alone in your experience.

Honoring the multitude of feelings we may experience often means resisting the message to “pull myself together”. Making space for tears means listening to our hearts and bodies carefully and giving ourselves what we need.   Needing coffee and a hug with a friend, tears in the shower, walks with your dog, time in nature, journaling, music, time alone, time with others, a funny movie, and even diving into work or something creative are all examples of needs you may have. You may also need to reach out for support from a grief group or therapist to process the pain. The needs change from day to day and moment to moment. Rather than compare your grief experience to that of others, it is important to be compassionate to yourself and hold respect for your own journey. It will not look exactly like anyone else’s.

As Irving says in the quote above, tears are sacred. Your grief is sacred as well. It is a reflection of the deep meaning this person had in your life and you in theirs. If you believe that counseling is a route you would like to consider in your own process, please feel free to contact any of the therapists here at Foundation Counseling.  We wish those in the midst of such a loss, strength and courage along the way.

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Lydia is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area.  Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Wrestling with Honor

by Phil Zaffos, LPC

I love words. Hidden in the words we choose, we find clues that lead us to the depths of the heart and soul, from great desire to heavy grief. Words are the offering of a story, bringing to life one’s experience, building a bridge for connection with the world within and around us.

One word has come to stand out recently for me in the stories I have heard: Honor.

I’m wrestling with honor. No one is perfect. No one had a perfect childhood and we have all been harmed on some level. Many people in the journey of counseling struggle to acknowledge this harm in the name upholding honor.

The sentiments are familiar ones: Honor your mother and father, live honorably, A person’s word is their honor.

The original word in Greek (timao) literally translates as price (n) or to price (v) and more loosely, to consider the cost of. And yet I witness people daily hide behind honor (often unintentionally) as a way to avoid or minimize the cost of life events or relationships. For instance, someone refusing to “say anything bad” about their loved one because they did the best they could. To honor is to hold the tension of acknowledging good intentions and the harm done in spite of these intentions.

Honor moves us toward freedom by inviting us to more truly consider the cost of living. Let us begin to hold with honor the cost of having the parents we have. Let us begin to use our words to acknowledge the weight of the world around us. Let us venture boldly into the harm we have met and begin to feel the immensity of its burden.

To consider the cost does not mean an invitation to gossip or talk in demeaning fashion about another in contempt. Contempt is more about degrading another and less about considering the harm done to your heart. Honor leads to a place of compassion toward yourself and those who have harmed, you bringing healing to your heart and freedom in your life.

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Phil is a Licensed Professional Counselor and founding director at Foundation Counseling. He enjoys working with groups, individuals and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about him and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Parental Effects on Relationship Patterns: Finding Security in Connection

by Elizabeth Uhles, LAPC

“Hold on. Hold on to me. ‘Cause I’m a little unsteady. A little unsteady. Mama, come here. Approach, appear. Daddy, I’m alone. Cause this house don’t feel like home. If you love me, don’t let go…” Song Lyrics. Unsteady by X Ambassadors

Several weeks ago, I was on my morning jog when this song shuffled through my playlist. I pictured a toddler between his parents, hands stretched above his head, waddling side-to-side learning to walk. The toddler found his steadiness from his parents. It gave him the security and confidence to propel his body forward on under-developed muscles.

The hands of our parents give us the safety to develop not only physically, but also emotionally and socially. Steady and secure parental relationships in our childhood development, put us on the path towards social and emotional resilience.

So many of our parents did their best, but the safety we experienced as a child may have been intermittent (or for some of us, not at all). One moment our world was steady, the next we were faced with our parents’ distance, defensiveness, or loss of control. To survive the roller coaster, we develop defenses. We may have become anxious, demanding, or built a ten foot wall around our heart. As children, these defenses worked, but then we grew up, started adult relationships and found that our defenses were actually backfiring.
As adults, we may find ourselves confused, picking fights or walking away, even when our heart is really singing, “If you love me, don’t let go.” Even when this happens, it might feel safest to continue to use our same old, tried-and-true defense mechanisms. It takes courage to show vulnerability and communicate our needs. It takes courage to trust someone and learn a new way of relating.

Therapy can help you learn your past story and understand why you relate the way you do. You don’t have to repeat your backfiring childhood patterns; instead it is possible to reshape your relationships to be what you want them to be. A healthy relationship, can give you the confidence to propel forward to a life of care, trust, and resilience.

 

Elizabeth is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor at Foundation Counseling. She enjoys working with individuals and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Four (More) Things I’ve Learned in Marriage

by Cameron Butler, LPC, LMFT

My husband and I will celebrate our One Year Anniversary this weekend.  This year has gone by so quickly, yet he & I joke about how it feels like we’ve always been married.  As mentioned in a previous post,  just because I am a professional counselor does not mean I am a pro at being married.  It has truly been through trial and error, not book knowledge,  that I have learned the most. To follow up on my Post, 4 Things I’ve Learned in 4 Months of Marriage, I’d like to add four more lessons I’ve learned throughout my first year of marriage.

  1. Marriage as An Emotional Bank Account: There will be times in marriage when one person feels like they are putting in all of the work, or making all the deposits, and the other partner is making all the withdrawals. This can feel unfair. While I don’t agree with one partner always carrying all the weight of the responsibilities, there will be times when the workload may be uneven.  For example, if one spouse is injured, sick, or slammed with work.  This is where you need to think of your marriage like an emotional bank account. The more deposits one partner puts into his/her Marital Bank Account (i.e. the more you give & serve your partner), the more there will be to withdrawal when you need your partner to step up and carry more of the load.  While we try to maintain a balanced load of responsibility, there are times when life throws curve balls and we need to adjust. This does not mean having one partner carrying most of the household responsibilities all of the time, because this will cause other problems….but it is helpful to see your marriage like a bank account. When you are continually depositing into it….there will be more for you to withdraw from later.
  2. Use Your Manners: As simple as this sounds, it can be difficult to always follow through with. We can become comfortable with our spouse, knowing that they are committed to us forever, and it can be easy to take advantage of this in how we speak to them. Its amazing how far “please” and “thank you” can go in marriage.  While it is nice to be able to be completely yourself with your partner, this does not mean it is okay to be rude.  It is not okay to take out your stress on your partner.  It is not your spouse’s fault you had a tough day at work or your back hurts.  Use your manners, take a hot shower or fix a cup of tea to relax, but don’t be rude to your spouse. Being rude will only create a problem that was never there.  And if you do mess up, “I’m sorry can also go along way. Use your manners!
  3. Listen to One Another: My husband is a problem solver. He is very good at coming up with solutions to a wide variety of problems. Sometimes I am so focused on my point of view that I’m not hearing what he has to say about a situation. I typically later realize that he had a really good point/idea all along! We need to really listen to one another in the moment. So many of the couples I work with don’t ever “hear” one another – when in discussion they are only thinking of how they will defend their ideas/feelings rather than truly listening to their spouse. Feeling heard can and does equate with feeling loved.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff: There is a lot that happens in life that is difficult, but leaving the dishes out on rare occasion is not one of them. My husband and I have both been reminded of the fragility of life this past year through various circumstances. We have learned that we have a choice on whether or not to make something a big deal….and perspective is important. Living with another person will inevitably cause disagreements at times, but there are too many “big” things in life to let something small becoming big. If your spouse leaves his or her (let’s be honest – his) clothes in the floor, don’t let it ruin your day!

I look forward to continuing on this journey of marriage, learning a lot along the way. There are so many more ways to learn and grow, but for now we plan to sit back in thankfulness & celebration over the past year of joy.

Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist  at Foundation Counseling.  She enjoys working with teens, adults, and families in the Marietta and Kennesaw area. Find out more about her and other therapists here.

Choosing Kindness

by Adair Swayze, LAPC, LAMFT

“This morning at six when I awoke, loneliness was sitting on my chest like a dental x-ray apron, even though I was covered in hairy dog love. I prayed, ‘Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.’ So I did a kindness to myself, as I would have if a troubled friend had confided her loneliness to me: I heated up the milk for my coffee and took the dogs for a short hike in the hills.”

Choosing Kindness

I love this scene from Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She wakes up one morning, as we all do sometimes, anxious and lonely. She fears what the next few hours will hold. She cannot deny the heaviness of her loneliness nor the restless and deep longing that comes with it. And then she wrestles with what to do about it.

Anne chooses to engage with what she refers to as “radical self-care.” She imagines she is caring gently for a friend. She offers herself something cozy and comforting to drink. She seeks goodness for herself: beauty and adventure and play. Nothing she chooses is extravagant or expensive or complicated, but there is a simple kind of goodness and nurture.

And before any of these simple things are possible, she does something very important. She allows herself to feel the pain her heart holds. She allows herself to name how heavy and scary the loneliness feels and she engages her heart with such precious words. “Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.”

Most of our unkindness comes from refusing to engage this place in our own hearts. We shove the feelings away and avoid letting them speak because we are deeply afraid of what comes next. Instead of kindness and gentleness, we choose to be uncaring and even cruel. We numb and silence our needs. We try to satiate our appetite with mindless eating, Instagram, Netflix. We get busy. And when we do engage the pain, we speak harshly to our tenderly aching hearts. We say:

“You shouldn’t be lonely. You’re so needy.”
Shame.

“No wonder you don’t have any friends. You’re such a loser.”
Self-contempt.

“Nobody will think to call you today. Everyone has forgotten about you.”
Despair.

Letting your heart speak, even if only for a moment, is the kindest space you can offer. And once you have listened, you can decide from a place of kindness what to offer yourself. Do you need a walk? Time with a friend? A good meal? Little by little you will teach your heart that it is safe in your gentle care.

 

Adair is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor and Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist  at Foundation Counseling.  She enjoys working with children, teens, and adults in the Marietta and Kennesaw area. Find out more about her and other therapists here.