counseling

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.

 

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

New Year’s Resolutions

With the start of another new year, many of us find ourselves focusing on things we’d like to change in our lives – many of us call these changes New Year’s Resolutions.

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Popular points of focus include health and wellness, career goals, financial management, and planning for the future.  These are all very important things to evaluate regularly, and the beginning of a new year seems like a particularly appropriate time for evaluation and reflection.  However, we fail to actualize the vast majority of our resolutions, and this failure has a great, negative emotional impact.  This isn’t usually because of a lack of planning or resources to achieve our goals.  

Rather, it is because we lack awareness of the emotions driving us to make resolutions to change.

One of the clearest examples of this is with the proverbial commitment to eat better and lose weight.  Many of us overindulge, stress eat, or “reward ourselves” over the holiday season at the end of the year and then subsequently attempt to restrict our eating to healthier options or simply less volume overall in the new year.  We tell ourselves, “Well, I’ve had mine. Now it’s time to be good.”  We say we will “eat right” as if we were being bad or wrong previously and really knew it deep down the whole time.  This idea carries with it a subtle, or for some not so subtle, emotional sense of failure already. In addition, we may not acknowledge to ourselves the probability that we will eventually fail again, sooner or later.  Many of us reach this point and chuck in the towel.  The discomfort of making a change or the powerlessness we feel from our failures kills our energy and motivation to try again.  In the same way, our career has stalled for circumstances out of our control or our financial burdens may seem too great or confused even to attempt to overcome.  All or even one of these things can be enough to leave us feeling isolated and hopeless.

There is not a simple answer or solution to these problems, but a great place to start is by asking what emotion is motivating the resolution or desire to change.  It may be based on a negative view of self; for example, someone may feel that less valuable as a person because of dissatisfaction with his or her physical appearance.  A negative view of others may also motivate a resolution; for instance, it may stem from a desire to outperform a colleague.  Success at these kinds of resolutions will only reinforce the negative view of self or others.  It will validate the first negative, emotional experience as true. The person who had a negative view of self may feel more valuable after changing his or her appearance, but that only confirms the feeling that he or she lacked value before.  The person who wanted to outperform a colleague may feel even more contemptuous of the colleague after surpassing him or her.   On the other hand, failure often drives the negative emotional impact even deeper.  We can come away feeling even worse about ourselves or more embittered toward others than when we started.

This year, you might try making a few resolutions intentionally with positive emotional foundations, instead of recriminating ones.  The health and wellness resolution has always proven the most difficult for me to keep, but this year I am reframing my resolution.  I am going to give myself the opportunity to eat more healthy foods and exercise.  I know when I am doing so, I have more energy and feel more positive generally, but I am also giving it as a gift to my family.  Now more than ever I need to be present and active in their lives as my daughter begins to crawl and walk.  I want to give her as much of my energy as I can.  Try writing out your positive motivation on a flash card you post in your kitchen or bathroom.  Go back to it as often as you need to.  

And if you find yourself struggling to keep it, remind yourself that every new sunrise, and not just the new year, brings a fresh chance to recommit ourselves to living our lives in a way we choose, not only for ourselves but also for those we love.

By Sam Bearer, PLPC

We Are Anxious People

We Are Anxious People

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Sometimes when I am spending time with friends (or even in a work meeting!) I want to stand on a chair and shout (sheepishly), “Hi guys… it’s me…Lianne, and I’m an anxious person.  In fact right now I’m an anxious mess on the inside while on the outside I look normal!”

If I actually did this, my friends would probably laugh.  Not because I struggle with anxiety (in fact if I did do this they would care greatly for me!), but I would imagine them laughing because it’s something they would expect me to do.  I don’t hide my anxiety-ridden self from others.  As a matter of fact, something I had to learn to do when I realized I struggled with anxiety was to begin accepting it as part of who I am.  I am an anxious person.  There, I said it.  And I’m okay with it.  The truth is if I did announce my anxiety to a group of people I know I would not be alone.  I know there would be others in that room that would be feeling the same way.  In fact, I know that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am not alone in my anxiety.

I like to view anxiety as my body’s way of saying, “hey you, something isn’t right, here!”  I’ve learned over the years what my body’s signs are and how to continue to live and thrive within my anxiety, and I know you can too.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S.  They say that it affects nearly 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older – that’s roughly 18% of our population!  These findings are exactly why I know I am not alone in my anxiety no matter where I go and no matter what I am doing.

The good news for the nearly 40 million Americans’ is that anxiety is highly treatable.

Margaret Wehrenberg wrote a book called, The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques. Personally I tend to stay away from any book that claims to be “The Best-Ever ______.”  I guess it’s due to my own cynicism where anyone claims to provide the “best-ever” anything, but this book actually IS helpful.  If you *think* you struggle with anxiety or know that you do, I would highly recommend this book.  Her writing has shaped many of the thoughts I am sharing with you.

So what is anxiety?  Simply put, it is our body’s response to unresolved distress.

If we look at anxiety from the micro level it typically starts with something called Stress.  We all know what it means to be stressed, don’t we?  It is important to note that not all stress is bad.  Sometimes our stress is the very “thing” that propels us to solve big problems or create something new.  Stress can take what we have already started and expand our ability to make it better.  Stress becomes problematic for us when it leads to being distressed.  Wehrenberg defines distress as “when we are faced with something too challenging or even overwhelming, causing us physical tension and mental anguish.”  Over time this unresolved distress turns into anxiety.

Anxiety is what happens when ambiguity (uncertainty) exists.  Anxiety is what’s happening when we start asking ourselves a lot of “what if” and “if only” questions.  “What if I can’t pay my bills this month?”  “What if I get divorced?” “What if I am alone forever?”  Or the “if only” questions – “If only I had ___.”  “If only I were ___.”  Both of these anxiety responses, which serve as our human way of trying to resolve the unresolved distress we are experiencing, keep us from actually resolving anything, and further, keep us out of the present time and place we are in.

So now what?  Now what do you do with your anxiety?  I’d suggest, first and foremost, that you don’t pretend you’re not an anxious person, if you are one.  Trying to deny its existence to yourself or trying to hide it from others will only make it worse and perpetuate that idea that something is intrinsically wrong with you.  Also, don’t embark on this journey alone.  Surround yourself with people who can help you and support you as you begin leaning how to manage your anxiety.

Here are some suggestions for you to consider as you begin your journey…

  1. Learn about YOU.  It’s important to learn about the situations, people, places, and topics that tend to make you anxious.  Learning these things will also help you to learn what your bodies (your physiological) response cues are when you are becoming anxious.
  1. Learn to Deal with Ambiguity.  Sadly much of our culture does not allow for ambiguity to exist.  Here’s an example – our culture would say you are either brave or you are a coward – people would like us to believe that there is no fear in being brave.  Well this simply isn’t true.  An essential part of being brave is acknowledging your fear while you are acting bravely.   In my opinion, bravery without fear is stupidity. To be alive is to have ambiguity. The key to living with it is allowing the ambiguity to exist while trying to find the resolution you so desperately desire.
  1. Strategies and Exercises.  There are many strategies and exercises out there to help you.  Identifying the right ones for you and practicing them regularly are important. This can often take some time to figure out so don’t loose hope if some of them aren’t working right away! To accompany her book mentioned above, Margaret Wehrenberg also wrote The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques Workbook. This workbook contains many great strategies/exercises, which will help manage your anxiety. But remember, it’s important to not do this alone so let’s move to #4 of my suggestions!
  1. Find a Great Therapist.  Finding a great therapist is essential to not trying to do this journey alone.  A therapist who understands and knows anxiety will be able to help you assess your anxiety, identify your triggers, bring some resolution, and help you find strategies/exercises that will be helpful to you long-term.  Your therapist will be an objective person in your life as you learn about your anxiety, grow and become free from it, and offer you support along the journey.
  1. Learn to Not Fear your Anxiety.  Struggling with anxiety does not mean you have failed as a human or that something is wrong with you.  It simply means you are a human being and this is a struggle you have.  Remember, it is a treatable, and manageable struggle.  Learning to embrace it is essential to your growth.
  1. Explore Taking Medication.  Not everyone who struggles with anxiety has to take anti-anxiety medication, but to be honest with you, most do. Choosing to begin anti-anxiety medication while going to therapy will better enable you to implement the strategies/exercises you are learning.  Beginning to take medication does not mean you will be on it for the rest of your life!  It also doesn’t mean that taking it will alter your entire personality.  It will simply help you to be able to manage your anxiety while you learn the strategies/exercises that work best for you.  I take anxiety med’s and I am SO THANKFUL for them!
  1. Have Hope.  You are going to be okay and you are not alone!
  1. Begin Your Journey.  Choose NOW to make a change in your life.  Choose NOW as the moment you began to take control over your anxiety and no longer allow it to control you.

Avenues Counseling E-News

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A New Season is Upon Us!
Since you last heard from us we have added 2 new counselors to our staff, have expanded our services, and are serving more people than ever.  I’d say its been a good season for us.  Read on to learn more.

2 FREE Ways to Support Us

1.  Like to shop on Amazon?  I sure do!  It’s easy, quick, and affordable.  To support Avenues simply shop at http://smile.amazon.com (AmazonSmile), select Avenues Counseling as the charity you want to support, and then start shopping!  You can effortlesly support Avenues just by doing what you’ve already been doing!  Same great Amazon, same great selection, same great prices.  The only difference is that a portion of your sale will be donated to Avenues.
Here’s how:

1.​ Simply shop at http://smile.amazon.com (AmazonSmile),
​2. ​Select Avenues Counseling as the charity you want to support, and then start shopping!

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2.  Shop at Schnucks?  For those of you in St. Louis, do you ever shop at Schnucks?  If so, then we have the perfect way for you to support us!  It’s called:
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This program is very similar to AmazonSmile, in that nothing changes for you in your shopping experience.  All you have to do is SHOP at Schnucks, and when checking out, hand the cashier your eScrip card to swipe.  Schnucks will then donate a portion of your sale to Avenues.  It’s that easy!
How do you get a card?
1. Simply grab one at the Avenues office, ask a staff member to get one to you, or the next time you are at Schnucks visit customer service and ask for a one.
2. Visit the Schnucks website to register the card and you’re done!
A Counselor In The Spotlight
Jonathan Hart, LPC, in his own words…
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“I think I have always been a counselor at heart.  I have known since I was young that people, for one reason or another, have generally found me easy to talk to.

I have always loved sitting in deep conversation with one or two others and processing events and meaning and the nuts and bolts of why a thing was a thing.  I love teaching adult Sunday school classes and finding ways to get enriching, revealing conversations going among the people present.  Before I had ever considered the profession of counseling as a possibility, I remember thinking to myself, “If I could make a living doing this, I would be in heaven.”
I have found my “heaven” in the counseling room.  I love to engage with people and wrestle with new concepts and information.  My favorite moment is to see the person I’m with make a connection, to reach an understanding that they have never considered before, and to see the freedom and relief that so often accompanies that understanding.I especially love this in the context of marriage.  I have seen the reality that a struggling marriage can rob the strength and vitality out of a person’s whole life.  I also know that a strong marriage invigorates and empowers both members; it grants greater strength, courage, humility, and delight than either believes possible.To help people move from a relationship that consumes them into a relationship that enhances them is one of the main desires that drew me into the counseling profession from the very beginning, and it remains both richly satisfying and powerfully humbling.” (To learn more about Jonathan, click here)
Welcome Frank!frankfiltered
Frank Theus, PLPC joined our team a few months ago.  He brings with him much experience.  He is in the process of becoming a Certified Sexual Addiction therapist. Get to know more about Frank by clicking below.Learn More
Welcome Kim!KimHammansfiltered

Kim Hammans, PLPC joined our team in August and hit the ground running! Kim’s experience and passion has allowed us to expand our services to children.  Get to know more about Kim by clicking below.

Learn More

Did you know Avenues is a non-profit?  

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In 2013, our team donated
over $60,000 of counseling services to individuals and families throughout St. Louis.So far in 2014 we have provided $57,900 in free services.  These numbers are why we need your help!  Please consider joining us in serving those with limited resources by becoming a financial partner with Avenues Counseling, as our scholarship fund allows us to extend the vast benefits of mental, emotional, and relational health to all who seek it.

Our Services

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Could you or someone you know benefit from seeing a counselor?  Find out what services we offer.
At Avenues Counseling, we offer avenues of care to our community for those seeking healing from the pains of life, as well as those seeking personal growth. We exist to offer you a safe, trustworthy place to ask difficult questions, share your life story, and walk with you as you seek restoration.
Contact Us | 1612 S. Big Bend Blvd, Richmond Heights, MO, 63117 | Phone: 314-529-1391[email protected]

You need therapy. Everybody does.

You need therapy.  Everybody does.  Really. You do need therapy if you’re a human being like my colleagues, friends, family, clients and me.

 

A few weeks ago I read a wonderful article entitled, “Why Everyone Should Be in Therapy (Including You)” written by two men with extensive backgrounds in pastoral and clinical counseling, Chuck DeGroat and Johnny LaLonde. They base their brazen assertion on the fact that secular and Christian thinkers through the ages have agreed on the importance of “knowing thyself” by self-examination.

DeGroat and LaLonde went on to cite the likes of Socrates to Calvin to Dr. Phil. Then the authors claim, “what we learn from the best therapists…is that knowing your blind spots, becoming aware of your stories, seeing the ways in which you sabotage relationships and much more is where real growth happens.” And growth is not merely changing behaviors, but it is, perhaps, a more honest way of living this life. Costly and extensive. Courageous and rewarding.

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Further, DeGroat and LaLonde discuss the “care of the soul”, suggesting “life’s struggles were not seen merely as obstacles to be overcome as much as opportunities to know God more intimately.” So not only knowing yourself but also knowing God is the goal of therapy.

In my youth, it seems that counseling was so stigmatized by churched folk, as if diving deep into ourselves would tempt us to water down Scriptural truth or that going through counseling identifies me as crazy or faithless… or both! Fear, yes. Reality, no.
Imbedded in the article, LaLonde briefly explains what to look for in choosing a counselor to take you on your journey of self-discovery and going deep with God. He hits on great advice. Find a therapist “who will honor your request for a behavioral fix, while inviting you to much more… a counselor who is acquainted with pain and grief and can sit calmly in the presence of your pain.”

I’m a new member of the team here at Avenues. Please take steps to take that journey deep into your soul with one of us.

You need therapy. Everybody does.

by: Frank Theus, PLPC, CSAT(candidate)