25 Feb 2019

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

ADHD / How to / Medication / Parenting / Psychology / Therapy / Uncategorized

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Before You Medicate: Considerations Before Starting Your Child on ADHD Medication Part 1

Over the last few years the health care community has been forced to take a hard look at the prescription medications that providers have been putting out into the community.  The rampant misuse of doctor prescribed opiates, stimulants, and ?benzos? has compelled clinicians to re-evaluate their methods for treating patients.   But as encouraging as this trend has been, it is still important for us as patients and consumers to take an active role in our treatment.  A balance must be struck between relying on the expertise of providersand being conscious of what we choose to consume.

I want to preface this by saying that the correct medication can do wonders for your mental health.  The difficulty stems from (1) thinking that ONLY medications can help and (2) not taking the time to figure out the true nature of the problem before deciding on treatment.

Rule out other causes

It may be tempting to want to get your child on an ADHD medication at the first sign of problems in the home or school.  The presence of inattention, difficulty concentrating, irritability, excessive activity or aggression can all be disruptive to your child?s academic success and relationships with family or friends.  But, like most endeavors, mental wellness must be built on a solid foundation that cannot be rushed.  And the best place to start, is with a proper diagnosis.

This is often easier said than done.  For example irritability, increased sensitivity, sleeplessness, temper tantrums, and difficulty concentrating can all be seen by your clinician as signs of ADHD.  However, these symptoms are also what you might expect to see with DEPRESSION, as it presents in children.   Taking the time to ensure a thorough diagnosis may save you years of chasing your tale with minimal benefit (not to mention money).

Who should I have diagnose?

First and foremost, a diagnosis of ADHD has to come from a health care professional.  Resist the urge to self-diagnose!  While no one would argue that you aren?t the expert on your child (you almost certainly are) there are clinicians out there who are experts in mental illness, which is what you need.  If your child?s school is lucky enough to have a school psychologist, try reaching out to them to discuss options.  In the community, the primary clinicians diagnosing ADHD are psychiatrist.  These are medical doctors, with expertise in treating mental illness, and they are the only providers (at least in Kansas and Missouri) that can prescribe medication.  A Licensed Psychologist may also be a good person to reach out to for an initial diagnosis.  Although they cannot prescribe, they can help you create an optimal treatment plan for your child.

With all respect to teachers out there, teachers should not be diagnosing.  A well-reasoned recommendation from your child?s teacher may be worth taking into consideration, as they do spend a significant amount of time with your child in a structured environment.  But teachers should never diagnose.  I would also strongly encourage against letting your primary care physician prescribe psychopharmaceuticals to your child.  While they may have had some training in the past on mental illness, that does not mean they?re still well versed in the subject (you likely wouldn?t let your pediatrician perform an operation on you right?).  It?s far if your PCP suspects your child may be suffering from a mental illness, to just ask them for a recommendation to a good psychiatrist or psychologist.

What goes into a GOOD diagnosis?

As I previously stated, there is no definitive test for ADHD.  I am fond of saying things like, ?there?s no thermometer for depression or blood test for inattention?.  But that does not mean we should be taking shots in the dark hoping to hit something; especially when it comes to prescribing medications to a developing brain.  There are some ways for you to know that your child is receiving a good, well thought out diagnosis.  A thorough evaluationshould include the following:

  • Extensive history ? Any thorough diagnostic intervention is going to include a detailed history going back to infancy or earlier.  You never know where important diagnostic information may pop up, so having as much information as possible is a plus.
  • Multiple settings ? An often overlooked aspect of ADHD is that it appears in multiple settings.? You would normally expect impairment to be fairly global, with signs of hyperactivity/inattention appearing in multiple areas of life.? If you only see symptoms in one area (at school, at home, out with friends, etc.) then it would be a good idea to explore other diagnoses.?*this can be accomplished through testing discussed below*
  • Areas of strength ? aside from the difficulties, children with ADHD almost always have tasks or topics for them that are considered strengths and aren?t impaired by symptoms of hyperactivity or inattention.? When interviewing parents of children with ADHD, you almost always hear, ?Little Johnny just can?t focus on anything, except when it comes to ______ .? With that he?s focused in.?? It?s important to focus on these areas (reading, video games, sports, etc.) and take them into consideration during diagnosing.
  • Psychological testing?? I know, I know, I said there?s no DEFINITIVE test for ADHD.? But there are assessments that can lend some measure of objectivity to the diagnosing process and help rule out other issues besides ADHD. These tests include the Conners 3?, BASC-3, or Brown ADD Scales??and should be administered and interpreted only by a qualified professional.? A good psychological assessment should include 1) a developmental history, (2) a parent rating scale, (3) a teacher rating scale, (4) a self-report, and (5) observation.?

Now, clinicians certainly don?t HAVE to go through all of these steps before giving an ADHD diagnosis.  In fact, there are plenty out there that will give your child a diagnosis and prescription after one, 50 minute interview.  But like any treatment, you want to be sure your provider is treating the correct thing.  Just like you would want testing done to confirm lung cancer, rather than asthma for example, before starting chemotherapy.  Before your provider prescribes your child stimulants, it?s worth taking the time to rule out other causes; like depression.

Take away

There are plenty of good and effective medications and treatments available to help manage ADHD symptoms in your child.  But, there are ZERO shortcuts.  Before you invest the time, energy, and money into your child?s treatment, it?s crucial that you insist your clinician take the time to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Thank you for reading.  Feel free to reach out with any questions or topics of interest.  In Part 2 we will be discussing treatments available, what the latest research is saying, and self-care.

25 Feb 2019

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

Anxiety / Depression / Habits / How to / Life Coaching / Stress / Uncategorized

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Adjusting Your Nighttime Routine: Tips for Better Sleep and Good Mental Health

For those people who struggle to get a good night?s sleep, have you considered that you might be your own worst enemy? There are some definite ?dos? and ?don?ts? to observe, which include important measures that have a direct effect on your ability to sleep and maintain good mental health. Consistent, restorative sleep is closely tied to mental health ? when you?re tired, your mood suffers, you?re impatient, and you have trouble concentrating. Consequently, your sense of well-being is compromised, and symptoms of depression and anxiety may occur as a result.

What?s more, sleep is especially important for people recovering from drug or alcohol abuse. Sleep has a powerful healing effect on the body and mind, bolstering the immune system and strengthening your metabolism. It also improves your mental outlook, an important factor in recovering from the ravages of addiction.

Consider the following points if a lack of sleep is affecting your mental condition and ability to function on a daily basis.

Observe a Sleep Schedule

Many of us get to bed only when our daily responsibilities have been completed and, as such, fail to get the necessary seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Your body functions best when you follow a regular schedule, and going to bed at the same time and waking up every morning at the same time is the best way to recalibrate your internal clock. Also, stick with your sleep schedule through the weekend and on holidays so as not to disrupt your sleep schedule. Eventually, your body will fall into line and let you know when it?s time for bed.

Winding Down

You can?t expect to climb into bed and fall asleep straight away if you?re experiencing sleep deprivation and insomnia. It?s important to spend an hour or two winding down, so prepare yourself to sleep by observing relaxing habits such as reading a book, taking a hot bath, or engaging in meditation. These activities can calm your thoughts and slow your heart rate, both of which are necessary for you to feel sleepy.

Sleep-Conducive Environment

Insomnia can be a serious problem, leading to both mental and physical complications. If it persists, it might be time to take a close look at your sleep environment. People often make the mistake of leaving a TV or computer screen on at night or keeping a smartphone on the nightstand. These are disruptions that can prevent sleep. What?s needed is a dark and quiet environment, so consider installing blackout shades and using a white noise app or machine to mask any disruptive external sound. Pay close attention to the comfort of your bed ? rough sheets and heavy blankets may drive up your body temperature, making it hard to get to sleep.

Don?t Force It

As a kid, do you remember being told by a parent just to lie in bed until you got tired? It?s a convenient piece of parental advice, but it doesn?t work when you?re an adult with a sleep problem. Whether you?re tossing and turning or just lying in bed thinking about next week?s big client presentation or an argument you had with your spouse, you?re only making the situation worse. Instead, get up and sit quietly in a darkened room, or do some light reading until your eyelids start to get heavy.

Limit Food and Drink at Night

Ingesting caffeine at night is a bad idea if you suffer from insomnia, as is eating a meal too close to bedtime. Your metabolism has to work to process the food, and you won?t feel like sleeping. Some people like to have a few drinks before bed, thinking it?ll help them wind down after a busy day. Unfortunately, alcohol undermines the healing, rejuvenating REM sleep you need to feel good and stay healthy.

Think through your sleep habits if you?re having difficulty at night. You might find that a simple adjustment will make a big difference. A consistent nighttime routine, a restful sleep space, and a little willpower in the evening can restore your mental well-being and leave you feeling refreshed and reinvigorated during the day.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

movie cinema at night 11 Jan 2019

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

Michael French / Personal Development / philosophy / Uncategorized

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Let?s Go to the Movies!

A lot of articles on our website look at therapy and various topics, but for this one, we?re going to have a little fun.? I like movies that I can connect to as a man.? I have a unique insight into how your creative juices and inspiration–as a man–are created or driven by visual images.? Any guy willing to admit that the last few scenes in Toy Story 3 brought tears to your eyes?? Or the scene in Field of Dreams when Kevin Costner?s character Ray finally got to meet his (spoiler alert?) dad and ask his father, in his prime, to play catch.? That one gets me every time.

Can you think of movies that speak of a man?s transformation?? If you?re sitting in a counseling session, you?re there because either you or someone you know is longing for change and growth.? Today’s man is challenged by the ever changing definition of what a man should be.? My father’s generation might say that John Wayne was his ideal of a man.? In the 1970s, Bruce Jenner was my idea of what a man should be–and how that has turned out!? Today, we have views of manhood that are so different.? Men struggle to define what being a man is?

Al Bundy and Homer Simpson are not who I would consider Men of the Year candidates.??? But there are movies out there that break the modern dysfunctional stereotype of manhood.?? The movies I?m going to share are merely a subjective list.? These are films that moved and impacted me. Your list might be very different.? At the end of this article, please comment and I would love to see your own list of what movies have inspired you to a higher standard of manhood.? Read on and I hope you enjoy this edition of Mike?s take on film.

First, let?s take a look at the world of football in the cinema.

?Rudy???

scene from Rudy

I love football movies.? The first one I think I cried at was “Rudy” starring Sean Astin.? I didn’t discover this gem until well after it had come out on home video.? This is based on the true story of a boy becoming a man and never giving up on a dream despite so many obstacles thrown in his way.? I still get goosebumps when I watch the film, and I tear up when the crowd begins chanting, “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” and he finally gets to go in at the end of the game fulfilling his dream.? Remember Jerry Goldsmiths rousing score and when his family sees the fulfillment of Rudy’s dreams as he takes the field?? This movie is simply wonderful and a great illustration of never giving up.

“Remember the Titans”?

denzel washington in remember the titans

The first football movie that was inspiring to me.? I loved the theme of racial reconciliation through adversity.? This is a journey I have been on for awhile now.? I related to Coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton) and his challenge to embrace change while being an example to his football players and more especially, his little girl.? Something about football movies means some great music and the theme of Remember the Titans is instantly recognizable to me.? The soundtrack of some classic songs added an element of nostalgia.

“Facing the Giants”?

Christian movies have struggled for years to compete with mainstream Hollywood.? These movies struggle because they don’t have star power, or a big budget.? People that aren’t religious or spiritual think the films are too preachy.? The qualities of these films have been mediocre at best.? That began to change with “Facing the Giants.”

Not only was it a great story about High School football but it was the first film that I recall that presented the Gospel and a strong life changing message within the context of the story.? You can feel the genuine love and encouragement the movie cultivates within you. You don’t often find this level of faith-driven emotions in film.

My favorite part was the Death Crawl, a grueling exercise in endurance.? I recently watched this movie for the first time in a couple of years and unexpectedly choked up during the scene.? The football player, Brock, doing the crawl represents us and the player on his back reminds of the heavy load that we often carry as men in life.? That “load” is probably different for everybody.? How many times have we given up or not given our very best because we’re tired or hurting?? Or we felt the load was too much to bear?

The other person in the scene with Brock is his Coach.? The Coach was next to him every step of the way.? The Coach is active and not just standing on the sidelines observing.? At one point, the player cries “It hurts!”? The coach says, “I know it hurts! Keep going!” The coach reminds him of his need to give it his very best.? Not when things are easy and going great but when it’s difficult and painful. If you’re a believer in Christ, our coach is God.? There are moments in our life where it would be easy to give up and throw in the towel.

God doesn’t give up and I believe He is in the trenches with us in tough circumstances. His encouragement cries, “I’m with you. Don’t quit, keep going!”? Because He knows how much better we are by not quitting.? Setting this example as men, fathers and husbands demonstrates that struggling and living a life of perseverance will not go unnoticed by the younger generation.?? The results of our struggle if we keep going will far exceed our hopes and expectations.? If you haven’t seen the film, watch it and see how the Death Crawl plays out.? The end result of what the young player went through even surprised him.

A Man’s Man of a movie.

Finally, a look at what I think epitomizes the best qualities of being a man in the movies.?? These films have made me laugh and cry.?? My top three:

Gladiator:

Russel Crowe in Gladiator

Russel Crow starred as Maximus Decimus Meridius.?? He was Rome’s version of Chuck Norris.? You don’t mess with Maximus.? He showed extreme courage in the face of losing his family and defying an Emperor.?? Some movies have quotes that people remember and this film is full of them.

Favorite quotes:? “On my command, unleash Hell.” and? when Maximus was confronted by the Emperor, he chillingly replied, “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the TRUE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” Movie lines don’t get much better that that!

To Kill A Mockingbird

caucasian man next to an african american man in to kill a mockingbird

This bestselling novel by Harper Lee was published in 1960.? In the movie version, Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch, a lawyer, and widowed single dad.? From the website www.artofmanliness.com, this description of a man who lived with integrity every day:

“In Maycomb County, Atticus was known as a man who was ?the same in his house as he is on the public streets.? That was the standard he lived by. He did not have one set of morals for business and one for family, one for weekdays and one for weekends. He was incapable of doing anything that would broach the inviolable sanctity of his conscience. He made the honorable decision, even when that decision was unpopular.”? He chose to defend a black man and many people felt that was the wrong choice.? In Atticus’s mind, as long as he knew he should help someone, popular opinion didn’t matter.? He responded back to his detractors,

?They?re certainly entitled to think that, and they?re entitled to full respect for their opinions, but before I can live with other folks I?ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn?t abide by majority rule is a person?s conscience.??

?Dances With Wolves?

kevin costner with a wolf fom dances with wolves

This Oscar winning film was an illustration of a man being transformed.? Starting off at point A and by the time the movie ended, he was at point B and a very different man.? The journey that he experienced where he believed Native Americans were savages, and even had wanted to sacrifice himself as a hero to embracing and accepting a new people as equals.? That’s the power of man being willing to look at life through a different lens.

Lieutenant John Dunbar played by Kevin Costner at the height of his acting career grew leaps and bounds by the rugged serenity of his new surroundings. Not to mention a really cool pet wolf and faithful sidekick, his hoarse.? Likewise, echoes of his transformation were mirrored by Rodney A. Grant’s character Wind in His Hair.? He disliked Dunbar but over time slowly accepted him and at the end proclaimed him his friend.? I cry every time I see the scene as Dunbar and his wife “Stands with a Fist” leave the camp and Wind in His Hair sits on a horse high on a rocky ledge crying,

“Dances with Wolves. I am Wind In His Hair. Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?”

Who grew the most, the soldier or the Native American?? Perhaps they were both transformed. ??Have movies encouraged or motivated you to be open to growth? Are they simple forms of escapism or do they challenge us to look deep within ourselves and strive to be living our very best? Movies have been a great form of self care for me. I enjoy escaping for a few hours.? But as the credits role, I have to return to real life.? These men are both real and fictional. They share a common value such as courage to do what’s right. They may stir motivation within us to embrace change and to live life differently within ourselves.? Films with a message call us to life of intentional integrity.?? It’s integrity of how I strive to live my life when I have my final curtain call that will determine how I’ll be remembered.? Not what movies I like.

If you are looking to elevate your game, find hope and meaning for transformation in any area of your life, I can help facilitate that journey of becoming intentional in manhood.? Contact me at Armstrong Family Counseling today.

10 Jan 2019

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

Anxiety / How to / Mindfulness / Personal Development / Uncategorized

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Dr. Weil?s 4-7-8 Relaxing Breath

We live in anxious, chaotic times. Watch 10 minutes of any news channel or spend time on any social media app and notice your blood pressure rise. We pride ourselves on our abilities to multi-task. You?ve seen them (or this may be us), during rush hour, driving, talking/texting, putting on make-up (or dry shaving), and eating breakfast, all the while trying to navigate successfully to our destinations. Mindfulness is a call for us to slow down and focus on one thing, one event, one activity at a time…purposeful breathing is at the foundation.

?Breathing?? you may ask, ?Don?t we know how to breathe?? Clearly, it is automatic in the sense that we don?t even have to think about it. The medulla oblongata is the part of the hindbrain that detects levels of CO2 and O2 in the bloodstream and automatically determines if any changes are needed, sending nerve impulses to the heart and diaphragm to either increase or decrease activity. However, the breathing I am talking about in this blog is deliberate and intentional, to produce physiological calmness, emotional well-being, and mental clarity.

Dr. Weil offers us his 4-7-8 breathing rhythm, the ?relaxing breath.? On his YouTube video, he explains that breathing in this manner over time can produce wonderfully ?pleasant states of consciousness? and is one of the best ways to control anxiety and emotional reactivity (especially if you have been triggered in some manner).

To begin, hold your tongue in the Yogi position (behind front teeth, where teeth meet the gumline) exhale for a count of 8, inhale (through your nose) for the count of 4, hold this breath for a count of 7, and exhale completely for a count of 8. Do 3 more breath cycles to complete the circuit and notice any changes. Keeping the ratio is important, of note, the exhale is twice as long as the inhale and holding the breath for 7 facilitates a drop in blood pressure. Practice this throughout the day (bare minimum is twice a day), especially when you notice yourself getting upset, irritated, or otherwise emotionally reactive. Choosing to breathe in this rhythm instead of emotionally reacting allows a gap between irritant and reaction; thus, thoughtfully responding and in control of your words and actions (not emotionally reacting).

The applications for using this skill are numerous: someone cuts you off in traffic (breathe); your child speaks to you in a perceived disrespectful tone (breathe); you are in the check-out line at the store and there is no movement and your ice cream is melting (breathe); you are next in the queue to be interviewed (breathe); you are sitting down to take a test (breathe); you are getting ready to take a free-throw to win your basketball game (breathe); you get the idea. For as many anxious moments we face throughout the days, months, and years of our lives, use this breathing rhythm to calm your body and your mind and be deliberate in your words and actions. Relationships can flourish when we take the time and make the effort to regain emotional control once triggered. Practice Dr. Weil?s breathing rhythm at every opportunity…you will benefit greatly.

*For Dr. Weil?s account, watch his YouTube video here.  

03 Dec 2018

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

How to / Parenting / Psychology / Uncategorized

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4 Ways to Help Encourage Your Children to Attend School

School refusal is becoming and evermore common concern for parents of children and teens.? School anxiety effects 25% of school aged children, with 2-5% refusing to attend school altogether.? With it?s short- and long-term consequences being particularly concerning, parents often feel unsure about how to address the problem.

For our purposes, school refusal should be considered separate from general truancy, due to the presence of emotional distress (specifically around attending school) and an absence of antisocial behaviors.? School refusal is a psychosocial problem, meaning it can be considered the result of both psychological and environmental issues.? This may manifest as complaints of physical symptoms shortly before it is time to leave for school or asking to the nurse, but once allowed to stay home, the symptoms quickly disappear.? Common physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or diarrhea with behavioral symptoms manifesting in tantrums, inflexibility, separation anxiety, avoidance, or defiance.

The emotional distress that is frequently associated with school refusal often manifests as fear or anxiety, with about 50% considered to have anxiety disorders. However, while it is often characterized as anxiety driven avoidance of school and school-based activities, there seems to be no absolute-uniformity in the development of these behaviors. ?Depression has also been shown to be associated with poor school attendance. ?And although mood-related issues are often centered around school or school related activities, that is not always necessarily the case.? For example, the presence of depression often manifests in symptoms that may result in poor attendance yet not be directly related to school, such as general lethargy and/or loss of interest.

The question then becomes, what can be done to help combat school refusal problems?? Most of the research done on school refusal interventions has centered around Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), behavioral interventions, and psychopharmacological interventions. A 2016 study that examined the effects of combined intervention of CBT and fluoxetine (Prozac) showed significant improvement in school attendance and mood concerns; with the improvements showing stability at 6 and 12 months. Behavioral interventions often draw upon principles of operant conditioning, focusing on how school refusal has become reinforced; either positively or negatively.? Graded or In Vivo exposure both have a long history of use in anxiety management and can be implemented to help re-acclimate the child to being in school.? Parents can also help support consistent attendance by emphasizing the positive aspects of school, helping to develop a support system within the school, meet regularly with teachers/counselors, encourage distractions such as hobbies and interests, and talking with your child about their feelings/fears about school.

4 Ways to Help Encourage Your Children to Attend School

Although it can be scary and troubling when your son or daughter starts refusing to go to school, it?s important to remember there are things you can do to help.?students chairs

  1. Don?t panic!? It?s tempting to interpret refusal as disrespect, rather fear or distress.? Keep your cool.
  2. Intervene early, as it will improve outcomes.
  3. Utilize outside support; spouse, teachers, counselors, therapists, etc.? You don?t have to do it on your own.?(816) 448-1663
  4. Be supportive.

For more information about helping your child or teen manage their anxiety reach out to Armstrong Family Counseling, (816) 448-1663?or at ArmstrongFamilyCounseling.com.

lonely girl 03 Dec 2018

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

Christian / Loneliness / Relationship

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Loneliness

I’ve had the privilege of working with many different types of people-addicts, veterans, couples, singles and even a few kids. Although they each had individual issues, they each grappled, in some way, with loneliness.

At it’s core, loneliness is about a lack of connection.? That connection could have been broken by the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship.?? Another type of loneliness can occur when a person makes a whole change of environment. ?Perhaps you moved to a new state for a job or fresh start. ?Making new friends can take time and that might lead to some lonely days. Loneliness can be weakened or strengthened depending on one’s perspective.?Let’s focus on three types of loneliness and take a look at strategies to overcome these types of loneliness.

Loneliness in relationships:

Most of my work is with couples.? Couples can lead a lonely existence in a relationship when they don?t feel listened to.? Being lonely in a relationship seems odd because we?re with somebody.? We share space with that person.? But if key ingredients are missing then the feelings of loneliness can and most likely will occur.?? Communication is a main “relationship” ingredient and if BOTH sides of the couple aren?t willing to work on this skills, that loneliness of not being heard and listened to can lead a spouse or significant other to another person or the end of the relationship.Couples can lead a lonely existence in a relationship when they don?t feel listened to.

Typically after an initial session, I email all my couples worksheets on reflective listening skills and creating fair fighting rules in handling disagreements.? Bad listening is a learned behavior that perhaps we learned from our parents.? We can learn new behaviors to improve our listening abilities.? Having fair fighting rules, if you use them, can move a couple from an adversarial relationship (Me, you, win, lose) to learning to fight the problem together and not against each other.? These are building blocks in becoming less lonely in a relationship and more connected.

Loneliness in singleness:

Are you single?? Do you struggle with loneliness?? Maybe not every day, but sometimes?? I can relate.? I didn?t get married until I was 41 years old.? I spent most of my young adult life in single groups and dating sites on the internet hoping to find that one connection that would cure my feeling lonely.? When I was 30, I watched a lot of friends get married.? ?I kept asking God when was it going to be my turn to start a family.? I wasn?t a hunk, but I’ve always been a nice guy.? Nice guys finish last.? I felt like that and my loneliness led me to have some incredible pity parties. ?Me, myself and I showed up and all three of us never made the party better.? It wasn?t until I started working on myself and focusing on personal growth areas that I began to change and that brought about a different perspective shift.

My focus took a change to where it wasn?t all about me.? My identity wasn?t rooted in desperation to be with someone any more.? I found my security as a single person was rooted in my faith and having healthy friendships.? I could be independent and happy and still be single.? One day I was listening to a guest speaker at my church and he had experienced incredible loss in his life.? He had lost his whole family in a massive flash flooding accident.? He was the only one that survived.? Google: Robert Rogers family and learned how he coped.? He had appeared on many of the morning talk shows and people asked him how he could go on and survive such a tragic event.?? He said it was the peace of God that was getting him through it and quoted this verse that changed my life:

Philippians 4:6-7: ?Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.? And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Right then the light bulb turned on in my brain.? I wanted that peace in my love life.? So, at 38 years old, this scripture set me on a new path. ??I trusted all of my hopes, my dreams and my expectations of being with someone over to God’s care.? I had to be at peace whether I married someday or never dated again.? What about you?? If you?re single, how have you coped with feeling lonely in your singleness?? Moping about it and having endless pity parties won?t help.? Remember, if you do nothing, nothing changes.? Focus on others.? Volunteer at your church or a community group.? Find social groups that align to your interests and hobbies so you can meet other people.?? If you need more ideas, reach out to me.? I can help because I?ve been there. ?I would love to help you take the first few steps of finding happiness in being single.

Loneliness in children:

One little documentary was released this summer that captivated the nation if not the world.? ?Won?t You Be My Neighbor? is about Fred Rogers and his passion for making connections.? He connected with kids like almost nobody else.? He showed them that no matter who they were, they had value.? They mattered, and they are loved.?? He also listened to the children he interacted with. ?He was genuinely interested in what they had to say.? That told them that they had a voice.?? Most of us have seen Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on PBS when we were younger.? The message of Mr. Rogers needs to be repeated over and over.? Because many of today?s kids feel like they don?t have a voice?except on social media and sometimes that?s a scary place to be.? Research continues to show that kids and teens that are constantly on social media and not interacting in person are more prone to loneliness and self esteem issues.

The ills of society have left our kids feeling lonely.? Divorce has caused kids pain and hurt and even damaged their thoughts. Often, their hopes are drowned out by the roar of their parent?s anger. Some children become pawns in a game of power play that parents create to get their kids to side with them.

What can we do about this growing epidemic?? Here are a couple of suggestions.

  1. Interact with your children. Make time to take them on parent-child dates.? Trips in the car are valuable for conversation. ?Listen to them. ?Get to know you kids interests, hopes and fears.? Find out who their friends are and get to know their parents.? Have fun with your kids and let them know it?s ok to have feelings, good and bad.
  2. Be consistent in your own behavior.??Follow through with what you say you will do.? Model appropriate behavior around your children.? Your kids are watching you and they look to you for moral, emotional, structure, and spiritual guidance.? If you?re not providing these, the child that gets older can become more susceptible to listening to those voices and examples that do not have their best interests in mind.

Lastly if a child is lonely, we have an incredible opportunity to help them form healthy connections? Do they have someone they can talk to and spend time with like a teacher, friend, relative, mentor or parent? ?We all need healthy connections and children are not different.?? This article has just scratched the surface to what some face.? Counselors at Armstrong Family Counseling have a wealth of experience to help adults and children cope with loneliness.

Connecting with others is a big way to overcome the stigma of loneliness. If you are lonely and need to talk, contact us today.?

01 Dec 2018

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

Anxiety / Communication / Couples therapy / Depression / Faith / Marriage / Parenting / Personal Development / philosophy / Relationship / relationship counseling / Sobriety / Therapist / Therapy / Uncategorized

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Q&A with Michael French

What do you do?

My real title is Option Bringer.  Clients that seek counseling often feel that there are little to no options in what they are struggling with.  My role is to show them that there are options.  I accomplish this by connecting. Connection is the key!  My approach emphasizes creating a safe nonjudgmental space that allows clients to process their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I enjoy giving clients homework in the form of worksheets that they can utilize to gain insight, knowledge and perspective.  These are ?tools? that can provide clients success if they utilize them.  All of this can provide hope and a way forward even in the most difficult of circumstances.

How do your life experiences contribute to your counseling style?

Helen Keller once said, ?Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.?  My life and all its mountain tops and valleys are a reflection of this quote. Listing my ?credentials? in life doesn?t seem enough.  We all have our trials and moments of great stress and grief that shape our life.  I have endured and been blessed by my own. From the pain of addiction to the loss of my sister to suicide, those things were not easy to overcome.  But God?s grace showed me I can.  His strength was what I needed to stand and find my way out of the darkness.

Credit: AnExtraordinaryDay.net

This road of growth and change also wasn?t without error.  Mistakes, yes, there were a few.  But I learned from them. Through it all, including my years in graduate school and this journey of counseling, I have had a couple of constants that have kept me going.  First, is my relation with Jesus Christ.  He has guided me through all the twists and turns of my life.  He has never left my side or walked away, even when I detoured from Him.  Whatever success I have in this field I owe to Him.  I can?t do this without His direction and His wisdom.  Then there is my wife LeeAnn.   She has validated and affirmed me like no one else. She helped me believe that I can go from being pessimistic to optimistic. I am driven to be the best I can be due to her never-ending patient love for me.  So game on!  I am in this game, an active participant, and I look forward to helping you elevate your game.

What do you specialize?

I work predominantly with adults 18 and up.  Within that age group, I work and support clients in the following areas:

Relationship Counseling
Singles Counseling
Blended Family issues.
Foster Parent issues
Career concerns
Depression and Anxiety
PTSD
Christian Counseling
Domestic Violence, both victim and perpetrator
Addictions

How do you approach therapy?

Everything in the client/counselor relationship starts with rapport.  This is a strength I believe I have.  As I mentioned earlier, having connection with the client is a cornerstone to success.  Being consistent and showing up as myself.  Showing up as authentic and fully present is something I strive for in every session.  I don?t try to be someone I?m not.

Clients benefit when they see that they can be authentic.  They don?t have to pretend they have it all together.  They can be themselves around me.  As trust increases, clients often start to peal back the different layers of their life.  That?s when the real work begins.  Lastly, as a Christian, whatever skill sets I have I rely on Him for guidance. So prayer is something that if clients ask for it, I offer it to them.  Prayer is vital to what success I have and prayer is an effective weapon against the difficulties that all of us go through.

 

Contact Michael French today!

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23 Nov 2018

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

Communication / Conflict / Culture / Family / Holiday / relationship counseling / traditions

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Strengthening Relationships During the Holidays

For many people, the holiday season truly is ?the most wonderful time of the year,? and for many others, this is an ideal they struggle to achieve. ?Whether you grew up with great holiday memories, struggling to recreate those experiences as an adult, or you grew up with terrible memories, now attempting to give your new family the opposite, it is not an easy task to achieve family unity and joy during the holiday season.? Let?s examine some common obstacles and how to work to overcome them.

Unresolved Issues

relationship | couple | intimacy

It is a common tendency in relationships to resolve issues by ignoring them.? Doing so results in the buildup of pain and irritation.? This is similar to an untreated infection in the body.? Let?s say you fall and scrape your knee, and many unsavory particles make their way deep into your tissue, and instead of cleaning it out, you simply put a bandage over it and ignore it.? Over time, infection sets in, and touch becomes sensitive.? Eventually, activities as simple as walking will become very difficult, if not impossible.? In relationships, the unresolved issues are the infection.? Any attempt to discuss those issues brings pain, and any attempt to draw closer together becomes difficult, and perhaps even impossible while the infection in the relationship remains.? In these cases, it is recommended to seek relationship counseling.? A qualified relationship counselor is skilled in healing conflict, just as a qualified physician in skilled in treating an infection.? Resolving the issues removes the barriers to unity and joy in the relationship.

Family Culture

Thanksgiving and Christmas are so deeply loved by many people that any change to these holidays are often seen as wrong, or even heretical.? Instead of bickering about which family tradition is correct and which is a mockery, it is better to understand that with the creation of a new family must come the creation of new and unique traditions.? Any attempts to recreate past traditions will ultimately end in frustration since there are different people involved, and it is a different generation.? Creating a new culture, your family?s culture, the culture your children will forever remember, is a wonderful and rewarding endeavor that has the power to unify the family in a lasting way.? This takes time, patience, and the consideration of new ideas.? Many families can accomplish this on their own, but if those attempts fail, relationship counseling can be a wonderful tool to help build a strong, unified family culture.

Time

Time is currency in the world today, and anything we desire requires a payment.? People have named our age the ?information age.?? It is called this because we can now access nearly any information we desire within seconds on a small rectangular device we carry everywhere we go.? More than anytime in recorded history, we can manage most of our affairs without getting out of bed.? We can pay bills, shop, connect with people, go to school, make money, watch movies, file a lawsuit, renew a prescription, all without even standing up.? There is one thing, however, that we cannot do from this small rectangular device, and that is to build strong, healthy relationships.? This requires time, time spent engaged with people, time not spent staring at a screen.? We can?t approach a relationship the way we monitor social media.? The time required to build strong, healthy relationships is not small; it is substantial.? Time is currency, and if we don?t pay the full price, the result is like the cheap shirt we buy at the discount store that shows its first tear two weeks after buying it.? On the other hand, if we spend substantial time together as a family, and that time is quality, it will be an investment that will pay us back with love and joy for years to come.? In summary, the holiday season can be a wonderful time to build strong, healthy relationships if we resolve buried issues, if we create new traditions together, and if we spend large amounts of quality time together.? If these attempts fail for any reason, seek a qualified relationship counselor who can help you and your family succeed.

?Click here to contact Armstrong Family Counseling.?Let us help you strengthen your relationship today.

03 Oct 2018

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

Addiction Recovery / How to / Sobriety / Stress

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Coping With Addiction: How To Get Back On Track After A Relapse

For the millions of Americans who are living with an addiction, learning how to cope with the stress and pressure of getting sober can be overwhelming. Relapses are common, and they can bring a weight of guilt with them, which can in turn lead to more substance abuse. It?s a very difficult cycle to break, but it?s important to figure out the best ways to get healthy in every way–mind, body, and soul–so that you can get back on track without sacrificing everything you?ve worked so hard for.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help things fall into place after a relapse. From opening up communication with your family members to practicing meditation and learning how to relax, taking care of yourself is the first priority. Whether that means ridding yourself of guilt and shame or simply learning how to cope with stress, finding out what works for you will help you break the cycle for good.

Keep reading for some great tips on how to feel better and get healthy after a relapse.

Ask for help

It can be very challenging and humbling to ask for help, especially if you?ve already done it once before, but suffering a relapse is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to many individuals who have made a commitment to turn their lives around, and it?s not an indication of failure. The key is to recognize the issue and ask for help as soon as possible so that you may begin rebuilding. Find a counselor, therapist, or group session you can join, or talk to your sponsor or a close family member or friend.

Relax

Stress is a major contributing factor to many relapses, so it?s imperative to learn how to cope with those feelings and reduce them. This might mean learning how to say no, finding a way to reduce your task load at work, or working on family issues.

Think about the things that bring you the most stress and how you can effectively make your life easier. In the meantime, you can practice meditation and/or yoga to help break down those feelings. This has long been a benefit for those who are struggling with stress and anxiety. Make sure you have a quiet space to relax in that is free of distractions. You can find out more about creating a meditation space here.

Forgive yourself

The way you handle your relapse is extremely important. If you feel guilt or shame, it will be nearly impossible for you to move on and make healthy choices, so it?s important to learn how to handle those emotions and how to forgive yourself. This may require the help of a therapist, or you might talk to your friends and family about your struggle. Sometimes, simply being open and honest about what we?re going through is the best way to move on.

Adjust your strategy

It?s always possible to make changes to the way you approach your sobriety, and it?s important to do so if you feel it isn?t working. You might take a look at the people you spend the most time with. Are they supportive? Are there people in your life who abuse drugs or alcohol when you?re around? It can be difficult to make major changes, especially when it comes to your relationships, but it?s critical to make your own health a priority.

Coping with addiction relapse is never easy, and it often takes time to get to the place you want to be in. Try to be patient with yourself during this time, and think hard about the way any changes you make to your lifestyle will affect you down the road. With a good plan, you can get your life back on track.

Constance Ray started Recoverywell.org with the goal of creating a safe place for people to share how addiction has affected them, whether they are combating it themselves or watching someone they care about work to overcome it. The goal is to share stories of hope from survivors who know that the fight against addiction is one worth having, because no matter how it affects you, life can get better.

 

Hand over water | symbol of freedom 06 Sep 2018

BY: Angela Lake, MA, LPC, NCC | Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Specialist, Trauma, Parenting, & Relationship Expert

philosophy / Trauma / Uncategorized

Comments: 1 Comment

Freedom From the Past?

Living With the Past?and Freedom From It?

Our past is host to many memories and stories.? Past moments of our lives can bring about a plethora of thoughts and feelings.? Some of my most favorite memories are of the many adventures my wife and me have done together.? Although I’m grateful that I have a lot of fond memories from my past, I have?other memories that are difficult to look at.? These memories serve as reminders of my bad choices, disappointments, my sin, and failure.? I’m sure that if you’re reading this, there’s a chance that you too have struggled with past moments and situations in your life.?

A guy with sunglasses on smiling?People put on a front and cover up those less than pleasing things when interacting with others.? I see these personas when I am at church or out eating and in front of others.? We put on our best clothes and our biggest smiles acting like we have it all together.?? Sometimes we overcompensate by being overly joyful or talking too much.? Most people can see right through it, yet we continue the charade of keeping the mask on that tells the world that everything is ok in our life.

I see it when I meet with clients.? But a few sessions in, that?s when the mask starts to drop and they begin to reveal that on the inside, they don?t have it all together.? Most of their feelings of insecurity, sadness, guilt or shame were rooted in the past.? Past behavior, past hurts, and pain.? They struggle to live in the present because they are stuck, living in the history of their life.? It could be about anything.? Perhaps they were fired from a job for making a mistake.? Maybe they hid a family secret or even a secret of their own like an addiction or bad relationship.

person holding a sad face sign over their face

I recall when I was in college; I attended a support group called Adult Children of Alcoholics.? There were people in attendance that were 60 years or older.? For the first time in their life, they were dealing with things that impacted them from 30-40 years before.? ?Some of them had been carrying their past on their backs like a heavy bag of boulders that represented their most painful and difficult memories.? They became prisoners of those things that preceded their present.? There was no freedom to live in the here and now and look forward to the future as long as they were shackled to their heavy load.? I had my own heavy bag of memories but when I observed the struggle those people went through, I knew I had to let go of that heavy bag before it became heavier or buried me under the weight.? The chains had to drop and I had to find my freedom.

The question then becomes how?? How do we let it go?? Sometimes we don?t even know what bothers us.? Often, the answer is buried under years of repressing and concealment. ??All we know is that ?something? is causing us pain or emotional insanity.? We get to the point of being sick and tired of what we are going through.? That might lead us in seeking out extra help like a counselor or a support group. ??Counseling often stirs things up and one of the consequences of that is that we may feel pain.? That?s difficult for most of us.? We don?t like to feel pain.

However, it is through the pain that we begin to find a way out.? Finding that freedom from our past comes from 2 essential building blocks: Acceptance and forgiveness.? We?ll tackle these one at a time.acceptance displayed through 2 girls laughing together

Acceptance

One the biggest stumbling blocks to moving forward are denial.? We deny the reality to what occurred.? We make excuses or we self-medicate to avoid acknowledging the truth.? Once we can find acceptance, then there is a measure of peace that gives us strength in saying, ?this happened.? Or ?I did this.? There can be no moving forward without this.? I have worked with clients that struggled with addiction, PTSD, and were perpetrators to abuse or were victims of someone else?s violence.?? The first step to their healing began with bravely confronting the past and saying, ?I will face this, no matter what!? ?What things in your past do you need courage to face?

Michael J. Fox is best known for his role as Alex Keaton on the ?80s sitcom ?Family Ties? and the Back to The Future trilogy however in his personal life, he has battled with Parkinson?s disease.? He was diagnosed in 1991 and he had to face that his life would never be the same.?? He had this great thought on acceptance.? ?Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.?? For many of us, after acceptance, the way through to finding freedom from the past points to forgiveness.

Forgiveness:

There are two kinds of forgiveness:?Self-forgiveness and forgiving others.?? In acceptance, we face reality and what happened.? In self-forgiveness, we own the responsibility of what the flaw or mistake was that we committed.? I was fired from my first counseling job because I made a mistake.? After about 6 weeks of struggling with guilt, self-condemnation and?the shame over my actions, I was at my lowest.? I had to be broken.? In my brokenness, I found some scripture that allowed to me work through that difficult time.? They gave me hope for the future.? God wasn?t done with me.? Perhaps they can help you.

Jeremiah 8:4: ?Jeremiah, say this to the people of Judah: This is what the Lord says: You know if a man falls down, he gets up again. And if a man goes the wrong way, he turns around and comes back.?

Philippians 3:13-14:??Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead, I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.?

Self-forgiveness and accepting Gods forgiveness didn?t take away the action or the consequence.? But it allowed me to live with what happened.? Now when I look back, it is merely an event in my life.? I no longer have feelings of guilt and failure.? I?ve learned and moved on from it.? It no longer holds me as a prisoner.

Johnny Cash once said this about our failures of the past:? ?You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.?

We have talked about self-forgiveness but what about forgiving others.? When someone has wronged us, forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things we do.? For some, it seems impossible and creates a paralysis in even thinking about it and for others; they have tasted a freedom and release of bitterness and hate.

Carolyn Holderread Heggen wrote the book Sexual Abuse: in Christian Homes and Churches.? While the book focuses on abuse in the church and home, you can apply her words to your own journey of forgiving others.?? She writes that offering the offenders forgiveness is not forgetting and it’s not about letting them off the hook.? She said that ?while extending forgiveness is a profoundly spiritual act and can bring spiritual growth, it is not a way of avoiding the pain. It is not done quickly or flippantly to avoid the terror of woundedness.”

So if you’re struggling to come to the point of forgiveness, there is no timetable when such a thing should occur.? Talking to a counselor can help to begin this.?? The author notes that forgiveness “is a process that allows the victim to let go of the intense emotional pain associated with the abuse/offense and replace it with inner resolution and peace.”? She indicates that sometimes the abuser may not be repentant and then forgiveness becomes the process of letting go of the pain and bitterness to God?s care.

We must choose forgiveness–either live with it as it begins to burn bitterness and resentment onto our heart or be willing to give our burden over to a higher power. That requires actively exercising our faith by asking God to help us to work through that struggle to forgive.??? Al-Anon has a saying, “Let go and let God.”? When we let go of this burden and place it into Gods care, the transformation begins and like spring bringing new life to the land, so too does God brings us a new life and peace to our heart.

If you are struggling to find freedom and relief from where you are currently at in life or from your past, I can help.? Perhaps you are struggling to forgive or maybe you have been in denial on certain things.? Contact Armstrong Family Counseling and let us help you begin the road to recovery and independence.

Photo of Michael French M.A., PLPC | Armstrong Family Counseling
Michael French M.A., PLPC

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