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Slowing Down: Connecting Emotionally with Myself

Slowing Down:  Connecting Emotionally with Myself

by: Sam Egertson, PLPCScreen Shot 2018-11-15 at 2.18.34 PM

Slowing down to connect emotionally with myself is something I am learning to prioritize.  I have been told countless times in my life to, “slow down,” yet I find myself constantly speeding up. Now, part of the reason that I have been told to slow down is a result of my speech, which tends to have a speed limit of its own. However, slowing down takes more effort than I would like to admit. In order to truly slow down, I have to pay attention to myself, and that is not something I enjoy doing.

To pay attention to myself, means to face the uncomfortable emotions that I have felt stirring inside me.

Living in a culture where speed is highly valuable, specifically in getting tasks completed, we tend to put our emotions on the back burner. For example, the other day I left the office and while on my commute home, I found myself getting extremely upset at other drivers on the road. In the moment, I was upset with their incompetent driving skills/lack of awareness, so I reacted in anger.

After a few outbursts of yelling in my car, I thought to myself, “why am I reacting this way?” The reason was not so much about the drivers that surrounded me, but the uncomfortable emotion stirring within – hurt/sorrow. I left the office with hurt feelings, but I did not share it with anyone nor did I give myself the time to process. On the contrary, I took it out on people that I did not know simply by reacting and not slowing down. Once I gave myself the space to slow down, I found myself with more peace, as I was able to face that emotion and give it some room to breathe.

We are worthy of giving ourselves time and space to feel whole, and not another task to be completed. We are not just another cog in the machine. No, we are humans that deserve dignity and love, so let’s practice it for ourselves.

Taking a step further, the more we practice slowing down, the more equipped we become in creating healthy relationships with others.

10 Brave Questions to Ask Your Kids

10 Brave Questions to Ask Your Kids

By Courtney Hollingsworth, LPCbrave parenting

There are a lot of lists of fun questions to ask your kids floating around the web. Lighthearted and funny, they’re great! But here is a list of REALLY brave questions to ask your kids. They may sound straightforward and simple, but asking them, and being truly open to the answers (i.e. being vulnerable) takes real courage. The answers may really surprise you. Listen to them. Should you choose to ask your kids these questions, and I think you ought to, prepare yourself to accept their answers. Period.

-DON’T try to persuade them out of their answer.

-DON’T argue with their point of view.

-DON’T try to justify choices you or your partner have made.

-DON’T downplay the significance of what they’re sharing.

-DON’T laugh when they are serious.

These questions are learning opportunities FOR YOU.

They are not meant to be correcting opportunities. If you feel the urge to push back on their answers, notice where that desire is coming from and your own discomfort. Even if you don’t agree with your child’s perception of something, rather than attempting to change it, wonder why their perception or experience is different than yours. Perhaps even ask them.

Unfortunately, if you’ve already regularly interacted with your child in ways that have communicated (perhaps subtly) any of the following, then you can’t expect an authentic answer from them:

-Rejected their interpretation/perception/experience

-Refused to hear their thoughts or feelings

-Insisted they agree with you

-Assumed that because they are kids their input is inherently inaccurate or inconsequential.

-Invalidated their feelings

Ask yourself, or your co-parent, if these feel true of you. If so, go do your own work with a counselor to improve your own vulnerability in relationships, including with your kid(s).

10 Brave Questions to Ask Your Kids

  • If you could change one thing about your life, what would you change?
  • What is something you wish I would change?
  • What is something you wish your other parent(or caregiver) would change?
  • Do you feel like you can share most things with me? How about your other parent(or caregiver)? If not, is there something I can change?
  • What is something you dislike about our family or would change if you could?
  • Is there anything you’ve wanted to ask an adult about, but haven’t?
  • When you think about the biggest hurt you’ve experienced, what comes to mind?
  • Who are the people you trust the most and distrust the most, and why?
  • Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable?
  • Has anyone ever touched you in a way that felt uncomfortable or wrong?

The point of these questions is to have an open dialogue and invite your kid to share with you in ways they may not otherwise consider. Some of these questions may need to be tweaked based on the age of your kid, but I strongly believe every single one of these can be asked in some way at any age or stage. For a younger kid, one or two questions per conversation, more for middle-aged kids, and teens might be able to have one whole conversation, though maybe not depending on their personality.  And don’t ask these only once. Ask them every so often! And if your kid shares something that falls into the category of abuse, bullying, self-harm, etc. DO SOMETHING. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask your child’s school counselor, pediatrician, or make an appointment with a counselor.

Redeeming the Look: Retraining the Eyes of Porn Users

Redeeming the Look: Retraining the Eyes of PornPorn Users Users

by: Jonathan Hart, LPC

In the previous blog of this series, “Training In Use: The Pernicious Effect of Sexualization and Pornography”,I explored the reality of objectification and the way that a person’s eyes and mind are trained (particularly by porn) to use another person’s body parts.  This blog will look at ways of breaking that habitual pattern.

When a person recognizes the need to stop using porn and to stop using others in his or her mind, many find themselves stuck.  They don’t want to do this anymore but feel that they can’t stop looking.  It is certainly true that we cannot stop seeing.  As I mentioned in that previous blog, sexualization is everywhere.  The likelihood that an image specifically designed to activate our gaze and desire will enter our field of view is 100%, whether that image is an ad on a billboard or a person wearing an attractive outfit.

Please note:  I am not saying that a person wearing an attractive outfit is “asking” to be used in a sexual way.  The reason anyone wears an attractive outfit is to attract attention, that is, to activate gaze and desire on some level.  We simply want to look good to others.  There is nothing wrong with this in a healthy context.  It is the training of porn and commercial objectification that turns healthy attraction into unhealthy sexualized desire and use.

The one who realizes that they need to stop using others sexually has to learn how to stop using people with their eyes and mind.  One popular solution that is prevalent at the moment is the idea of averting your gaze. The idea is that when you find yourself looking, you yank your eyes away from the triggering image or body.  This is aimed at working against the reflexive look by removing your gaze before you shift into using or objectifying the body.

This is a needful step, much like the alcoholic staying away from bars.  However, this cannot be the only step, because there is no way to stop seeing.  Ultimately, the work for the ones who use people with their eyes is not to change what is seen, but how it is seen.  The work is to learn how not to use.

I call this “Redeeming the Look”.

People who use must learn how to see attractive people without using them in their heart and mind, to see with respect and regard for dignity.  Ultimately, the goal is to be able to see a whole person with a story, a life, with dreams and desires, rather than to focus on and use only their body parts.

We have to confront the reality of sexualized use in porn specifically.  We have to see it for what it is.  The truth is that a significant percentage of people in pornographic images do not want to be there.  This is contrary to the illusion presented by pornography.  Many have been kidnapped, involuntarily addicted to drugs, and forced to perform for the cameras.  If you think about a person in this situation, it changes how one looks at the image.  It activates compassion and sorrow rather than lust and use.  It changes our willingness to engage in the use.

…Image here…

Many people in porn are there voluntarily.  Some are there just to make money.  What about them?  I ask you to consider what it takes to get a person to set themselves up for public display and use in this fashion?  Who told them that their value or power was only in their body, that their parts are the only thing about them that matter?  I suggest that this never comes from a healthy, balanced life or self-image.

Again, confronting this reality changes how we see the person.  When we consider the whole person, their whole story and life, our willingness to use is reduced and our compassion is activated.  (For more on this, I recommend visiting https://fightthenewdrug.org/for a wealth of solid information and awareness about the pervasive effects of porn.)

There is more to challenging and changing the mental and emotional components and behaviors of those trained by porn and commercial sexualization, certainly more than a blog can contain.  This is a look at the basic principles that can begin the process.  If you are looking for to change, don’t try to do this yourself.  It doesn’t work that way.   Reach out to a professional who is experienced in treating sexual addiction. Get the help of your family and friends. Community is essential.  Change is possible.–JEH

Training In Use: The Pernicious Effect of Sexualization and Pornography

Training In Use: The Pernicious Effect of Sexualization and Pornography

by Jonathan E. Hart, LPCAvenues Counseling

Sex is everywhere in our culture.  It’s almost impossible to watch TV, read a book, or even drive down the street without seeing sexualized images of both men and women.  Simply put, sex sells.  Sexy bodies attract the eyes and trigger desire.  When paired with a product, the desire for sexiness is conflated with the desire for the product.  We will buy the product to obtain the sexiness.

What eventually happens is that the sexy body in the ad or in the TV show or movie becomes just that: a body.  Not a person. This is known as “objectification”: a person becomes an object or a thing to be used.  The person does not matter.  Their story does not matter.  Their dreams and desires do not matter.  Only their body matters.

Nowhere is this more plain and painful than in pornography.  Pornography trains the one who views it to use the parts of the person in the image for their own gratification.  If this picture doesn’t “do it for me”, swipe to the next until I find one that does. In our imagination, the viewer envisions using and being used just as the pictures suggest or demonstrate. Again, the person does not matter, only what I can do to them, or what they would do to me.

One does not need to be a porn user to use people sexually.  When we look at an attractive person and focus on their parts, we are using them visually and mentally.  It becomes habitual and even reflexive.

Men, in particular, are visually triggered (women are, too, but generally less so).  Even respectful, honorable men who have never used porn often find themselves looking before they realize it.  People who have used porn for any length of time are simply more susceptible to this due to the training in use that porn provides.

In my next blog, I’ll explore what it takes to challenge objectification and the habit of using people with the eyes and mind. –JH

Why Group Therapy Works, Part 4

by Sam Bearer, PLPC

We’ve already looked at how group therapy is a great way to help individuals make changes in their lives by choose to be radically vulnerable with the other group member, fostering in himself or herself an outlook of unconditional positive regard, and allowing the very personal, negative feelings about himself/herself or others to be shared and eventually challenged by the other group members.

This final piece focuses more on how the group can invest and intervene in the individual member’s life. Following the individual work of being open, the group now has the opportunity to disrupt radically the emotional foundations underlying each member’s coping behaviors that got him or her into therapy.

As the group gently and slowly does this work of disrupting the members’ coping behaviors, the internal dynamics of personal guilt and shame frequently rise to a conscious level.  At this point, every man I have seen who comes through our groups retreats back into his comfortable style of relating. It is nearly impossible in the early stages of work for the man himself to see this happening and do anything to stop it.  Often, he can no longer differentiate his personality, style of relating, and identity without an outside perspective or help.  It is no longer a conscious choice.  He may not have even noticed it happening.  But, I am willing to bet 99 times out of 100 that some other member in the group noticed.

The group is meant to be that outside reference point.

Once again, vulnerability comes into play here, because the group member who noticed should be willing to appropriately, with unconditional positive regard, call out his group mate.  This reintroduces all the dynamics of the personal work from part one: vulnerability, maintaining unconditional positive regard, and personal investment.  It also adds to it the gut check of interpersonal conflict. The group members are doing exactly as they should when they can reflect back both the positive and negative they experience in relating to each member.  This work engages members both internally and externally at once.  This may seem obvious, but it is so important, not to mention difficult.  We do this kind of thing in our lives all the time.  However, we are rarely fully engaging our awareness of both pieces simultaneously.  It takes hard work to build up this new skill.  Like learning a new language, we have to take many fumbling attempts to communicate this new way, and we usually struggle at it for a while.  The safety created in the group should promote and celebrate these attempts as well as normalize the experience as something everyone in the group is fighting to do better.  It takes time as well as higher levels of concentration, self-awareness, and intentionality than we generally are used to.

It needs to be said here that this process, in therapy as well as practicing these skills in life, will take some time to sink in.

This is especially true when you consider there are years if not decades of reinforced acting out behaviors that a client wants to change.  It is likely to require a proportionate amount of time and effort for this new way of relating or sense of self to take shape.  Other factors that might increase the length of time and work to be done might be connected to and complicated by experiences of abuse or trauma.  Though the progress may be slower than an individual may like and expect, small changes over time add up to big changes.  These small steps along the way should be highlighted and celebrated as part of the greater changes each client wants to see in his or her life.

 

Why Group Therapy Works, Part 3

 by Sam Bearer, PLPC

Group therapy is a great way to help individuals make changes in their lives.  There are several aspects of group work that help make these changes possible. The first two I’ve talked about focus on the client’s investment in the group process. The first is for each group member to choose to be radically vulnerable with the other group members. The second is for each member to foster in himself or herself an outlook of unconditional positive regard in which it is safe to share, feel, learn, and empathize within the group setting.

The next piece focuses more on how the group can invest and intervene in the individual member’s life. Following the individual work of being open, the group now has the opportunity to disrupt radically the emotional foundations underlying each member’s coping behaviors that got him or her into therapy. This is one of the most difficult parts of group work, but as is usually the case with therapy, it is essential for change.

Each member must allow the very personal, negative feelings about himself/herself or others to be shared and eventually challenged by the other group members.

These negative feelings are both bound up in and displayed by each person’s style of relating.  Almost without fail, these negative feelings have been activated within the first few sessions of group work because of conflicting expectations, styles of relating, radical vulnerability of some members but not others, etc.  However, they most likely have not been fully expressed.

This is so difficult for many reasons. The most common roadblock is that the learned responses to emotional stressors, also known as styles of relating or coping patterns, are so ingrained and automatic that slowing the process down into separate phases or component parts can be daunting.

Individuals often identify themselves as inseparable from their comfortable style of relating.

In our next blog, we will conclude this series on why group therapy works.

Why Group Therapy Works, Part 2

by Sam Bearer, PLPC

In the first part of this blog series, we looked at how vulnerability in a therapy group is key to unlocking positive change in our group members’ lives.  The second way group therapy works is by offering the experience of unconditional positive regard of the group for each particular member, both in a single instance of intentional vulnerability as well as consistently over time.  This experience becomes an emotional touchstone for a reality fundamentally at odds with, and outside of, the negative emotional experiences that so often serve as the foundation for addictive behaviors.  If we didn’t have these negative emotional realities, or had a better way of coping with them, we would not have to resort to our numbing drug of choice. 

The trouble is that at some point we learned to survive the negative emotional storm by using something to numb, and we became hooked. 

As a result, we have lost the internal resilience to be able to handle it.  This dulls our awareness to such a degree that we are no longer conscious of the emotions that drove us to use in the first place.  One unique way that group work helps to uncover these emotions and simultaneously provide an experience of unconditional positive regard is through playing out the relational patterns and dynamics that an individual learned in his family of origin.  However, because the group is not that same environment, the members of this “new family” will respond differently to an individual’s usual style of relating.  For many, this brings up all sorts of anxiety, but it also brings the possibility of learning different ways of coping with these anxieties in the here and now.  Each member experiences the other group members reflecting on how they are affected by each other’s stories and then learns how more accurately to process, reflect, and self-evaluate openly with the group. 

A person may never have considered the questions or perspectives that are shared by others, or he may receive empathy from the very kind of person he assumed would regard him as weak or unimportant.

 The way group therapy ties both of the dynamics of vulnerability and unconditional positive regard together is a safe environment.  This is in part created by the therapist but must be maintained and reinforced by the group.  If safety is not a common value of the group, it won’t be possible to adequately support members or appropriately challenge them, which I will talk about more in the next part of this blog.

Why Group Therapy Works: Part 1 

by Sam Bearer, PLPC

There is a lot of research out there evaluating the efficacy of group work to address lots of different issues. The evidence is clear that group work is tremendously effective in helping individuals make positive changes in their lives.  But why?  For the past two years, I have volunteered with a local ministry that runs men’s groups to address sexual addiction and acting out.  I have had the chance to observe and think about what makes these groups work.  This experience has helped me identify several different components that I believe are key to unlocking positive change in our group members’ lives.

The first is choosing to be vulnerable.  Every man that has come to our group has felt ashamed, isolated, and singled out by the experience of feeling trapped in his addiction or by being exposed in it.  The terrible discomfort of this experience may be enough to get him through the door and into therapy, but it doesn’t mean that the therapy will be effective.  The work each person has to do is to risk being totally open about his struggle in therapy.

Within a therapy group context, there is little room to shade the truth or hide parts of it.

One of the easiest and most prevalent ways of avoiding vulnerability is to share only the parts of the struggle that we have shared before, or can be framed as something that we used to struggle with or happened in the past.  So often, these past struggles are also very much present ones, but by placing it in the past, it puts convenient barriers up which it is easy to hide behind.  We have all tried to hide our struggles at one time or another.

At some point in our story, we learned it wasn’t safe to share and be vulnerable because someone close to us would exploit our weakness.

Group therapy is intentionally confronting this emotional reality and seeking to do the opposite.  Again and again, I have seen group members gently confront each other about whether or not individuals are sharing all of the impact of the story or just the safe parts.  When a group member deliberately and consistently chooses not to hide in this or other ways, it becomes possible for the other group members to empathize, connect with, and enter that individual’s experience in the present.  This willing vulnerability is a sign that change is already taking place in the group member as well as opening the door to the possibility of deeper, positive change.

Cultivating Patience

Cultivating Patience

Since I started working as a counselor after getting my degree, I have realized how little patience I really have.  

Cultivating Patience

I spent a lot of time both in classes and in my internship thinking about the problems my client might have and how best to approach them.  However, with people outside of the counseling room, I find myself much more prone to aggravation and frustration when things seem to be working less efficiently than I think they should.   The other day I was having some issues with the self-checkout machine at a local store.  After a few moments, I began inwardly cursing the machine and its creator when an employee came over to help me.  Some of my frustration spilled over into my tone in talking to her about that problem.  I had intended to convey my pique with the machine, but this lady took it personally.  I recognized too late that I might have chosen better words to express myself.  She sorted out the issue, and on my walk back to the car, a thought struck me.

It was not the machine that I had been upset with at all.  I was upset because the few moments wasted standing in the store were cutting into my time on a Saturday.  

It was the lack of progress toward the next thing that was bothering me, and I didn’t even have a “next thing” planned that day.  My internal feeling of stagnation triggered a sense of minor outrage that then affected another person’s day.  But why is that feeling of stagnation or no forward progress so hard for me?  I believe it is because I get a great deal of my sense of self or identity in the things I do or how I do them.  When things don’t go smoothly, a little bit of that sense of self is challenged.  The lady was simply reflecting back to me what I was feeling, an undermined sense of self or power.

Simply put, I needed more patience to deal with the situation.  I needed not just patience with her or the machine, but patience for myself to slow down and do the self-awareness checks I so often encourage my clients to do.  It is so important for me to recognize that my agency, identity, or power, or lack thereof, is not defined by those moments when things don’t go right, big or small.  Those things are practiced and displayed in those moments.  The patience required to handle them better, however, comes from pausing and remembering. Regardless of how I handle this situation in the present moment, I am worthy of the same kind of care I seek to display to my clients.  

My impatience in these kinds of moments is likely this lack of self-care in action and keeps me from caring for others in those moments as well.  This is why cultivating patience for myself as well as others, is the way not only to becoming a better counselor, but also a better human being.

By: Sam Bearer, PLPC

Opioid Addiction and Community Support

Opioid Addiction and Community Support

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Recently I (Lianne) was asked to be a part of the Mental Health and Wellness Summits created by Missouri Care, A Wellcare Health Plan, Inc.’s Community Impact Council for the Faith-based Community as a panelist.  The first Summit was on April 7 at The City of Life Christian Church in St. Louis, MO and it addressed the Opioid Crisis within the Faith-based Community.

Thankfully the Summit was recorded because the information shared is valuable and educational.

During this half, you will learn about why opioids are so addictive and how this epidemic has grown to where it is now.  You will also learn about how Mental Health stigma’s are hurting our communities and the people within them.

The second half of the Summit talks about the addictive cycle and then the panelist’s field questions about this issue, care, counseling, and faith.

I hope you take some time to listen to the recordings of the Summit.  The information and wisdom shared will prove helpful to those in social work, counselors, parents, teachers, pastors, and other care providers.  Teens would also benefit from watching these videos with their parents and could lead to beneficial conversations to help your teen make good choices and bring understanding to them about the seriousness of the opioid problem.

To those with a loved one struggling, there is hope!  There are many services available to those who are struggling and for their loved ones.  These resources are highlighted in these videos.

There are more Summits coming up over the next few months.  Below is a list of Summit topics and dates.

-Saturday, May 12, 2018, The Church and Suicide (Body Shaming, Self-Image, Bullying, Depression)
-Saturday, June 2, 2018, The Church and Trauma: Mental/Behavioral Health and the Homeless Man
-Saturday, July TBD, 2018, The Church and Trauma: Domestic Violence

By: Lianne Johnson, LPC, CTP