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Video Games as Mental Health

Some parents may roll their eyes at the title but I’m here to tell you that Video Games can be good for you. Somewhere in the psyche of productivity hungry “America” we have demonized the hobby of online gaming. Whether that be playing through PCs, Consoles (Play Station, Xbox, Switch, etc.) or through your phone.

In terms of self-care video games can offer a lot. At minimum they can provide a much needed escape and confidence boost (if you’re good), and at best they provide social interaction. Many online games provide their players with the ability to connect with other gamers around the world and chat, or even get a group of your own friends together and join the same game and socialize that way.

In the time of Covid where we are all starved for social interactions, this is a wonderful (and safe) way to maintain our much needed relationships and social needs.

In terms of families, I ALWAYS encourage my parents of kids who game to ask their kids to show them the ropes. Sit with them and try to be interested. If you can’t be interested, then pretend. Use your child’s interests and hobbies as a way to connect with them, and if they invite you to join in – FOR HEAVENS SAKE PLEASE DO. These kind of moments are rare and if you seek connectivity with your child instead of disinterest in their hobbies, you will reap the rewards in connection.

In terms of couples, gaming can also be a bonding past-time. It’s a stereotype that girlfriends/wives “nag” their husbands about playing too many video games and demand they peel themselves away or face their displeasure. This is an unfair view of women and most of my female friends play more games than some of the men I know! Now more than ever more and more couples are gaming together and finding that it not only adds a deeper level of fun and connectivity to their relationships – but friendship too.

The beautiful thing is that this ease and connectivity is not won through hard work and fighting for better communication – it’s just by being open minded, playing, and having fun!

Coping skills: what does that even mean?

Coping skills. We hear the term all the time but what does it even mean? It’s usually followed up by a list that always includes yoga and drinking tea and even I roll my eyes at myself when I make these suggestions to my clients.

But the fault is not in the strategies themselves, but in the lack of conceptualization of why it’s important.

So let’s build some understanding…

When life happens to us we do something called “coping”. Sounds pretty weird. Let’s walk it back a bit and try to explain it using something we are all familiar with.

A conversation.

When someone is standing in front of you and they talk to you, your response is called “replying”. You do this because you take in what this person said, you process what those words mean by thinking about them, and then in return you say something back. This interaction happens constantly throughout our day and we don’t give it a second thought.

Now, coping is no different.

When life is happening all around you, and throws a situation at you, your response is called “coping”. You do this because you take in what has just happened/is happening to you, you process what that is, and in return, your thought/feeling and/or action is called “coping”.

We do this automatically because our minds are in a constant mode of self-protection and self-preservation. And since this is an automatic response we will often times go towards those quick and cheap ways to cope because they are easy – but they can also be harmful.

Some of these shortcuts to coping when a stressful life event happens include: anger outbursts, arguing, shutting down, avoiding, indulging a thought spiral, overthinking, over analyzing, co-dependence, blaming, alcohol, food, shopping etc.

So when we (therapists) shout about and try and push coping skills on you, it’s because we want to provide alternatives to the above list. What we are suggesting is healthy coping skills to replace the negative ones you may be going to in the moment.

So what can we do:

-Yoga! (I had to.)

-Reframing the thought in your mind into a visual form (this takes creativity)

-Drawing what you are feeling

-Expressing the situation as you interpret it into a journal, letter, a text, or an email to yourself

-Tell your problem to your pet (sounds silly, still try it)

-Go outside for gentle physical activity and imagine leaving the problem at home, and say you’ll return to it when you get back.

-Finding something in your home to organize or clean

-Ask a partner or a friend if they are in a good mental state to be a listening ear for you (this respects their inner life, as well as your own)

This is just a short list. Think on your life. What else can you add to it?

Family Relationship Issues

Families come in all shapes and sizes and so do their problems. Maybe it’s a problem with a teen, maybe it’s a problem with a spouse, maybe it’s a problem with in-laws, and maybe if you’re really unlucky it’s all of the above!

Not to make light of anyones suffering but these things happen. We are complex individuals and when we develop into family units those complexities are put on full display.

When I was younger I used to play the piano (very briefly and very badly), and I remember that when you played you could step on a certain pedal that would drag out the tones of the keys you were playing. Just a simple pedal press could turn a crisp tune into a muddled cacophony that assaulted your ears.

I think of this when I think of how family dysfunction runs into each other. We all have our unique tones but when boundaries are abused, and emotions run high those pedals get pressed and we’re all begging for peace and quiet.

The reasons abound for why this may be the case: childhood traumas, addictions, family secrets, abandonment, judgement and disapproval of spouses. No matter the cause, a solution is needed. Solution in these terms come in the form of boundaries, expectations, communication, and connection.

This is no small task and not everyone is up for it. Many people may look at their families and say “It’s not worth it. It will always be this way. I just need to accept it.” I hope this isn’t you.

If you feel like there are things in your family that you wish were different, and you are ready to believe that they can change, then I hope you’ll reach out and we can figure out what that looks like together.

Couples Counseling: relationships take work

If you’re in a relationship you know that they aren’t always sunshine and roses. As individuals we have our quirks and our habits, but when merging a life with someone else those individual characteristics that were fine for just you may cause sparks with your partner (and vice versa). When two people come together there’s a different dynamic at play. We are no longer the lonely island that goes with whatever the wind may bring. We are now two sailboats tethered together and when the waves of discord come coordination is needed to keep afloat.

Any couple no matter their background is going to have challenges when forming their life together. They may be minor and not result in any deep cuts or lasting hurts, but there is always an adjustment period – and that is healthy! When coupling we are changing and evolving to a richer and fuller life with a trusted partner.

While there’s no ‘perfect’ way to adjust, there are ways to calm the waves. For many years the main goal for couples in counseling was to work on communication issues. Poor communication was long touted as the villian in the story of relationship discord, however that’s not the whole picture. Many couples who are excellent at articulating their thoughts can still have deep emotional pains and unmet needs from their partners. So what’s missing?

While communication is important, the emotional connection is key. One of the more effective and time honored ways that couples find healing is through something called Emotionally Focused Therapy, developed by Dr. Sue Johnson. This therapy focuses on the attachment needs of each person in the couple and truly gets to the root of relationship discord.

It’s so clear to me, with the couples that I’ve seen, that there is love and a desire for deep connection. The pain of the moments, and the memories of hurtful words shared or disappointments festering are masks for the need for the other to be there for them.

If you’re struggling in your relationship please don’t give up. And even if you’ve not giving up on the relationship but you’re starting to give up on the idea of a happy relationship then know too that this doesn’t have to be.

We’re the most advanced species on the planet, we can get people on the moon. In fact, people have been on the International Space Station constantly for 15 years. Since 2005 all humans have not even been on the same planet. If we can figure out how to do THAT, then we can figure out how to improve the relationship with the love of your life.

Grief.

Words find their limits when it comes to the topic of grief. Grief is an emotion that is so purely felt that any attempt to precisely describe it is like catching a cloud in a jar. It’s also different for everyone which makes words so useless. It’s also different for the same person depending on the day or the hour.

The one thing that is true is that we are all capable of holding immense grief within us and there is nothing that makes us more human than bearing that pain. In our westernized culture we are especially susceptible to immense pain in grief because death in our culture is largely ignored until we’re face to face with it. Many, if not most, other cultures embrace death as a part of living and the reality of death is not shunned. In America we avoid, and fight death or any signs of it’s approaching (aging) with everything we’ve got. The truest exercise in futility.

Instead of accepting death and loss, we run from it and so when it does come, as it will for us all, we meet it as an enemy instead of as an old friend. The price for this avoidant mentality is anguish and anxiety in living, and profound confusion and shock in loss.

It’s also important to note that grief and loss are not relegated to only death and dying. Grief can be felt in the loss of a relationship, the loss of a part of yourself, the loss of a job – or city. Grieving can also be complicated, other emotions join the party like regret, guilt, anger, and even joy that may seem out of place and ‘not normal’.

But the standard of normal doesn’t apply to grief because how can you possibly standardized something so intensely personal to whoever is feeling it. We create it, we hold it, and we bear it. Grief is also for the living. A bit of a cruel joke, really.

Sometimes that grief becomes so overwhelming that we forget how to live in our loss. The well meaning but hurtful words of close friends wound us further. The path to go back to how things ‘were’ seems impossible. In part, because it is. Life after loss does not ‘go back’. It’s a moving forward, a managing, a carving out a new life with the loss still present, but finding its own spot in a growing heart that learns what it looks like to continue living.

Going to therapy as an adult because your parents never did: adult children of dysfunctional parents.

In another post I mentioned that we inherit much from our parents. From our anxieties to our hair color – we get a lot. This also includes, at times, their baggage. A bit of cliche in therapy, but it’s said that those who find their way to therapy are there because of all the people in their life who never went but should have. It rings true though, doesn’t it.

As children we are helpless to listen to our parents, trust our parents and do as our parents say. They are, after all, the ones who brought us into the world and up until 18 they are responsible for keeping us alive and well adjusted. They’re also not perfect and things can go wrong along the way.

Sometimes, as early as when we are children, we see the cracks in the facade of the “perfect parent”. Children and adolescents of dysfunctional parents would be a post (or a book) all it’s own but for now let’s focus on when these kids become adults.

The past doesn’t change when we become adults, but we do. We become independent, maybe we’ve had some of our own experiences that enlighten us about the truly messed up nature of those childhood experiences. Those moments from the past still haunt and it can take years to process and unlearn patterns of thinking, behaving and reasoning that dysfunctional parents instilled. If not processed, the old adage goes, things will go repeated. In movies we always hear the line of all lines in the classic marital fight of “You sound just like your mother/father.” It wouldn’t be so famously used if it wasn’t so unanimous for adults. We repeat what we don’t heal. We become what our environments teach us. Sometimes those lessons are painful, sometimes the books need to be revised.

If those parents are still in your life, boundaries boundaries BOUNDARIES need to be established. This is especially challenging for children of parents who failed to respect boundaries when a child was growing up. If you were never taught, how can you learn now? Boundaries look different for different people and need to be tailored to certain relationship dynamics. That doesn’t diminish the need for boundaries in every adults life.

Grown children of dysfunctional parents have their parents burdens to bear. It’s not fair, but it is a reality for many people. Healing can happen and patterns can be redrawn. No matter what you decide to do to start your healing journey, there is one principal to remember: you are a child no more.

Maximizing the life you have: personal development

To be frank: I kind of hate the self-help industry. Which I understand is wildly hypocritical because I am in the most self-help of all careers…but let me be specific about what I dislike.

I dislike the larger than life personalities who make promises and claims that if you only do THESE THREE THINGS or change THESE TEN HABITS you can UNLOCK YOUR POTENTIAL! The books that tell you that the reason you’re unhappy is because you aren’t thinking positively enough or that you just need to try harder.

In the last several years we’ve seen the next reincarnation of the self-help guru of the 80’s in the instagram influencer of the 2020’s. Everybody and their brother wants to sell you their oils, their self-esteem tips or their nutritional secrets to get you the “life you want now!”. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help people improve their lives. There’s everything wrong with claiming to strangers who you’ve never met that you know exactly what they need and it just happens to be one-size-fits all and guess what – you’re selling it! These approaches pedal in personal failure and claim that you are just not doing enough or you haven’t found the ‘secret’.

I know the secret. Do you want to hear it? There is no secret. There is no oil or supplement that will magically give you the life you want.

Especially when it comes to mental health, anxiety, depression or mental illness. That needs professional help and it’s unethical to claim that anything but research backed professional intervention can ‘cure’ mental ailments.

For areas such as career development or personal life fulfillment there is, rightfully so, a large market for improvement. Everyone, especially in our culture, worships at the altar of productivity and success. We compare and contrast and look to our neighbor and ask ourselves – am I measuring up?

Whether you are or aren’t only matters in the context of what you’re comfortable with. But if you are looking for improvements it can be tempting to look for the quick fix, find that oil, or gain those new habits and just hope it ‘works’ and quick. It probably will not. Like I said – there is no secret and no easy fix.

But there is work that can be done. There are strategies and ways to point you in a direction you want to go. There are patterns of thinking to examine and rewrite. There are family histories and core beliefs that shape what may be holding you back. You can set goals and set plans for yourself and customize what personal achievement looks like for you. But it takes WORK. Whatever your plans for a fulfilling life, know that you can do it, but please save yourself the disappointment and the time and resist falling for the modern day snake oil salesmen knocking at your instagram door.

*Trigger Warning*: Suicide and Self-harm.

One of the fastest rising mental health crises in our generation is the number of teens and adults dying by suicide. Because this topic is so sensitive in nature and has the possibility of triggering a response in individuals who struggle with thoughts of self-harm, the purpose of this post is to provide resources for anyone who may be in crisis right now.

If you are in crisis right now, I urge you to seek help. If you are not currently receiving professional mental health help then when this moment passes, I encourage you to research a mental health therapist or psychiatrist near you to get the help that can save your life.

Everyone’s struggle is different. Your life is worth it, and even though I don’t know you, I’m glad you’re here reading this. Please stay – for you.

Crisis hotlines

When people are having thoughts of harming themselves, suicide prevention hotlines can make all the difference. Crisis hotlines help millions of people every year and offer the option to speak with trained volunteers and counselors, either via phone or text message.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of more than 150 local crisis centers. It offers free and confidential emotional support around the clock to those experiencing a suicidal crisis.

Contact information:

Crisis Text Line

The Crisis Text Line is a free text messaging resource offering 24/7 support to anyone in crisis. Since August 2013, more than 79 million text messages have been exchanged.

Contact information:

The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project offers crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth through its hotline, chat feature, text feature, and online support center.

Contact information:

  • 866-488-7386 (24/7)
  • Text START to 678678. (Mon-Fri 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST/12 p.m. to 7 p.m. PST)
  • TrevorCHAT (instant messaging, available seven days a week 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST/12 p.m. to 7 p.m. PST)
  • https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

The Veterans Crisis Line

The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource staffed by qualified responders from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Anyone can call, chat, or text — even those not registered or enrolled with the VA.

Contact information:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline (Substance Abuse)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline offers confidential treatment referrals in both English and Spanish to people struggling with mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or both. In the first quarter of 2018, the helpline received more than 68,000 calls every month.

Contact information:

Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/suicide-resource-guide#4

Out of control kids: behavior issues in children and teens

New parents know the joy of bringing a tiny one into the world. They are fresh and new and they can do no wrong.

Then they grow up. They begin testing boundaries, they start…talking back?! Where did your innocent sweet baby go. What could have possibly happened?

In short: life. When babies become toddlers and toddlers become kids and kids become teens, parents will tell you it happens all too fast. Growing pains are normal and some defiance is an important part of the adolescent experience. Most families will adjust to this phase, put appropriate boundaries in place and the behaviors will be tamed while independence is nurtured. A well adjusted adult is the result. Congrats parents, you did it.

But sometimes those extremes are too extreme and the defiance is bordering on violence at its worst and unhealthy risky behaviors at its best. The temperature in the family home is constantly at boiling point and you can’t seem to find your way back to peace.

We can examine the “why’s” of how this happens but it’s unique for every family. This deeply personal experience is the reason why so books that offer a one-size-fits-all approach to helping families deal with their children may speak to some areas but ultimately misses the big picture.

I’ve counseled dozens of families in my time as a therapist and no two families have ever been exactly alike. No two families need the same kind of intervention. But in all the families that I have seen the common thread that runs through them is the intense need for parents to connect with their children – but not knowing how anymore. When they were babies and toddlers it was easy…you as mom or dad were the only ones in the world to them, the ones they reached out to when they had a scraped knee or something scared them. The connection was strong and a given.

As kids age, parents (to no fault of their own) begin to lose that connection because they forget that their children are changing. Parents want so badly to hang out to their children’s “kid-ness” that they resist and become rigid in the face of the obvious evidence that their babies are growing up. As a result, opportunities to connect on this new level are missed. Children feel that their parents don’t care about anything but punishing them, and parents feel that their children don’t love or need them anymore. Distance grows and behaviors get out of control. Parents feel hopeless, kids feel lost.

No wonder so many families are hurting. If you find that you’re in a similar situation, I encourage you to examine those pains. Examine the struggles in your family that you may not be addressing, but instead avoiding. And if you’re ready, reach out to someone who can help.

Parenting: no guidebooks

If you are a new parent, or a first time parent – congratulations! You are in charge of a whole human life. No pressure.

Many of the new parents that I see come from different walks of life. Maybe they are new parents for the first time and are young and inexperienced. Maybe they are new parents later in life because of an adoption of a child in need that they weren’t entirely expecting but nonetheless they are now “parent”. Maybe they are parents “again”, they’ve already raised their kids but it was decades ago; now due to unforeseen matters they are now having to raise young ones in their own sunset years.

Parenting is a challenge for everyone on this planet and even with the best tempered kids and the easiest going of partners there will be times that you sit back and think “Can I do this?”

Well, you can. You are! You are doing it.

There is no perfect parent and no perfect way to raise a child but there are ways to maximize this adventure of a lifetime.

The most common way to ease the concerns of new parenting is to normalize things. One of the most common questions I get asked with my clients who are new parents is: Is this normal?! And often times – it’s a yes. Just that reassurance and the knowledge that they haven’t screwed something up is enough to give parents the confidence to move forward in their parenting.

Other times I’m able to provide simple solutions to frustratingly sticky problems that parents feel they’ve tried everything to fix. This is also very common. In these situations I’m able to give parents the objective perspectives that are time proven to address an issue, and I’m able to describe to them what needs to be tweaked to make it work. Often times parents are doing the right thing – just in the wrong way. But as parents who are in the thick of it, it is so SO hard to see these minute details that make a world of difference.

Parenting isn’t easy. No two ways about it. But maybe, it doesn’t have to be so hard.