3 Myths about Psychotherapy and Why it Can Drastically Benefit Your Life

In the last few years, their has been a dramatic shift in nations focus towards mental health. From school shootings, increase in suicides, and family separation at our nations borders now more than ever Americans are understanding the importance of mental health awareness. Unfortunately many are still skeptical about reaching out to professionals for therapy. In an effort to break the stigma around mental health, today I discuss a few myths regarding the therapeutic process. My hope is to encourage individuals, couples, and families to seek support and engage in holistic approach to their healing journey

1. Going to therapy means I’m “weak, flawed, or “crazy” This myth couldn’t be farther from the truth! Mental health professionals work with clients with many different concerns from severe mental illnesses to life transitions, adjustment disorders, familial conflict and more. Therapy can benefit anyone who is willing and ready to better their life, and it can be extremely effective when clients seek counsel prior to the issues becoming overwhelming and unbearable. Their is no specific “criteria” to see a mental health provider and it’s important to let go of your ideas of therapy from what you’ve seen in the movies and TV. Part of breaking the stigma around mental health is being willing to reach out when you think can utilize extra support. Even therapists see their own therapists (yes it’s true!) If you feel that you could benefit from therapy, reach out to a few providers and begin doing research! It may be the best decision you end up making for your life.

2. I’ve talked to everyone and no one has been helpful. Why will a therapist be different? Their is a vast difference between confiding in a friend or family member and talk therapy. For one, therapy does not rely on a therapist’s wisdom for answers. Therapy is a process in which a client and professional utilize evidence based interventions and strategies to uncover a clients reality nonjudgementallh in the comfort of a safe environment. Therapy works because of a strong therapeutic alliance created between a therapist and a client. A therapist’s role in the counseling room is to provide insight, confront cognitive distortions, and overall lead the client to conclusions, increase their coping strategies, and encourage effective decision making. The difference between talking to a friend about your issues and attending therapy is when talking to friends and family members you may receive guidance or advice from their personal experiences and become invalidated during the process. How many times have you attempted to share a feeling to a loved one, only to be disappointed when the loved one turns the focus on them saying something like, “When I went through that I just picked myself up.. you should too!” You may even find friends and family trying to sway you in a certain directions for their own agendas. Therapists rarely provide clients with advice. Instead therapists work to provide you with information and guide you to make the moves you need to have a fulfilled life on YOUR terms!

3. Therapy will make me worse

For survivors of childhood trauma, domestic violence, or abuse and neglect the thought of reliving these memories can be extremely anxiety provoking. Even if you are not a victim of trauma, is it normal to have fear that discussing these concerns may bring up buried emotions. To combat this anxiety remember therapy likely will reveal many emotions, and your therapist is trained to help you progress, channel, and let go of those memories that are no longer serving you. Make sure to chat with your therapist and request them to walk you through your treatment plan so you can take a collaborative approach to your healing journey! Therapy is a process, it may feel “worse” before it gets better; however, your therapist will continue to guide you without becoming overwhelmed in a safe and nurturing environment.

Beginning therapy is an important and courageous decision! Therapy is an effective tool to increase mental well-being and overall happiness in your life.

If you or someone you know is are interested in understanding the therapeutic process more in depth and would like to see if I would be a good fit for your therapeutic needs contact me for a free consultation at 405-323-1786

Happy Healing!

Michelle Smith RMHCI, MS

The Power of Language

Our brain produces roughly 50,000 thoughts every day. Whether we are mindful of them or not, our internal language or self-talk molds and shapes our overall perspective towards life. You can think of language as your own personal filter, governing the way you perceive, digest, and respond to the information gathered from the world around you. Many of the 50,000 thoughts are habitual, sometimes causing negative schemas that play into the decision making of everyday life.

To find out if your thoughts are shaping your life in a helpful or hurtful way take this simple test. First grab a pen and a piece of paper, find a place with minimal distractions and set a timer for two minutes. During that time, write down each thought that crosses your mind, even for a second. Thinking about lunch? Write it down. Mind jumping to that terrible conversation you had with your boss? Write that too. When your timer stops begin categorizing the thoughts as positive or negative. You may be surprised how your brain automatically wires towards the negative, in psychology we call this automatic negative thinking (ANT). Without awareness of these habitual patterns, we have little likelihood of changing these thoughts to eventually change our lives.

You may be thinking, OK I’m aware my language can use some improvement, but now what? The next step in changing those ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) is finding replacement thoughts and symbols to utilize when you notice your negative self-talk. You can utilize visualization and imagery to pump the brakes on negative thinking. For example, visualizing a large red stop sign indicating need to take a break. From there, saying something like “I got this” or “I am capable” can be a good way to switch the dialogue before it overpowers us. Find affirmations and symbols that are believable and resonate with you. Before long you will begin noticing a shift in the patterns of your language changing your emotions and behavior over time.

You can think of automatic negative thoughts as ants on a beautiful summer day. If one single ant made an appearance at your annual Memorial Day BBQ, you may shake it off and go on with your festivities with minimal concern. Now imagine if a swarm of hundreds even thousands of ants joined you and your BBQ, you may be more likely to be packing up and running for the hills! Don’t allow one automatic negative thought or ANT turn into hundreds, stop and make a change before your language overpowers your Memorial Day BBQ, or worse… your life!

If you or someone you love is struggling with negative thinking, depression, anxiety, life transitions, or other mental health concerns in the Palm Beach Gardens area contact Michelle Smith at 405-323-1786 for a free 30 minute phone consultation today!

4 Tips for Talking with Children and Teens After a School Shooting

Following the events at Santa Fe High School that occurred last week, parents are curious about what to say or how to address this tragedy with their children and teens. As a school counselor and psychotherapist, I know firsthand the amount of emotional turmoil these events can reek havoc on the family and school settings.

There is much advice on the internet about how to address this; however, if you keep these tips in mind you will be able to navigate through this conversation in an effective manner:

1.       Ask Questions and Discuss What Your Child is Seeing on Social Media

Most children and teens utilize smartphones to access the majority of their information regarding current events. As an adult, it is easier to decipher between “fake news” and evidence based information regarding the tragedy. If you have not already, sit down with your child or teen and ask what type of information they have gathered regarding the shooting and ask them to show you where the found it. Ask them how they know the information is credible. If they struggle to understand, take this as a teachable moment and show your son or daughter how to look up news articles, teaching them which resources are most credible and which ones are not (think Wikipedia, friends sharing social media posts). As a rule of thumb, if it didn’t come from a news source it’s important to fact check.

2.  Don’t Tell Someone in an Emotional State “Just Calm Down”

It can be challenging figuring out how to help your child or teen emotionally regulate after a traumatic event. Many times our own distress and frustration can get in the way of helping us information gather, rather than put a band aid on the presenting problem. How many times as parents have we used the overstated, “Just calm down already!” in high emotional situations. This statement invalidates the feelings your child is experiencing. Instead try something like “Yes, this is a scary situation and I understand your emotion. How can I help you through these feelings right now?”

3.       Don’t Sugar Coat It

A majority of advice I see on the internet states the importance of reiterating the safety in our schools and enforcing that the likelihood of a shooting happening in THEIR school is minimal. I tend to discourage sugar coating this issue. The reality is school shootings are becoming a “new normal” for this generation. Students in school today have more active shooter drills than fire drills, and are very aware that there is a possibility a shooting can occur. Instead normalize their feelings of fear and anxiety, discuss safeguards in place at their specific school, and rehearse the plan provided by your child or teens school.

4.       Assess for PTSD Symptoms Early

Sometime after the trauma has occurred, it is important to assess exactly what your child experienced especially if they were a victim or in the school during the time of the shooting. When your child is ready, ask them what they saw, experienced, and their involvement with the incident. If you notice symptoms such as avoiding school, recurrent distressing dreams, or persistent negative emotional states that last for more than a month than it is time to seek treatment. Your child may have early signs of PTSD which is a mental illness that cannot resolve itself without mental health professional intervention.

If you or someone you love is looking for therapeutic services in the Palm Beach Gardens area contact Michelle Smith, MS, RMHCI at 405-323-1786 for a free 30 minute phone consultation to see if I would be the right fit for you today!

The Importance of Mothers (and Other Parental Figures)

This weekend we celebrated all the hard-working, dedicated, and loving mothers and mother figures for Mother’s Day. This week’s blog post is dedicated to all the wonderful mothers (and parental figures) out there!

Harry Harlow, a psychologist in the 1960’s understood the importance of parental figures to the social-emotional development of humans. Prior to his study with monkeys, many people believed babies and children depended on their mother’s due to their need for a food source and survival.

Harlow thought different, he felt the comfort provided by caretakers was also a factor to development, and he was right!

Harlow studied the effect of monkeys on two different types of “mother figures”. One “mother figure” made of wire only had the monkey food, the other had no monkey food but was covered in a comforting terry cloth. Harlow was fascinated when he noticed the monkeys would spend the majority of time with the terry cloth mother, running only to the wire mother just long enough to fill up on milk. Harlow founded the importance of love, compassion, and validation to our development thanks to this intriguing psychological study.

For humans, the same is true. It has been proven time and time again that children with secure attachments to their parental figures have the best chances at healthy physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development. Love, encouragement, and compassion given by parental figures is vital to effective growth and sends the message that our children can trust in us to meet their needs.

A recent study even linked parent-child communication to children’s successes. The study founded that quality conversations were a key factor in successful development. These imperative interactions foster connectedness to our families. Warm and positive communication with purpose help children more accurately understand family values, morals, appropriate communication skills, and increases confidence and self-esteem.

If you’re having trouble finding time to have conversations with your child, take the car ride to and from school or doctor’s appointments as an opportunity. Ask your child or teen open ended questions to get them talking about their feelings and day. Instead of “What did you do at school today?” Try something like “What was your favorite part of your day?” This question warrants a little more pondering and also cannot be answered with the overused “It was good, Mom!”. Not only will it help foster your child’s development, but it will increase the quality of your parent-child relationship and encourage healthy relationships in your child’s future.

Whether you are a mother, father, or parental figure you are appreciated! No one works longer, more strenuous hours, or a more important job than parents!

If you or someone you know is struggling with parent-child communication, self-care and work/life balance, or other mental health issues and would like to set up an appointment for psychotherapy please contact Michelle Smith, RMHCI, MS at 405-323-1786 for a FREE 15 phone consultation!

Benefits of Therapy for Children During the Summer

The countdown is on! Days are getting longer, sun is getting warmer, and the last school bell is right around the corner (35 days away if your counting!).

For many children, summertime is a break with less responsibilities, more freedom, and less stress. Due to increased time for free play, promoting independence, and strengthening interpersonal relationships it may be a great time to start thinking about taking some of the availability in schedule to address certain symptoms you may have noticed your child demonstrating during the school year.

Before the School Year Ends

Take time to schedule parent-teacher conferences, follow up with guidance counselors, 504 contacts, and coaches to get a clear picture on how your child has adjusted throughout the school year. It is unlikely children will “grow” out of certain mood, impulse, behavior, or social struggles in a matter of months without support. In my clinical experience, abatement of school year stressors are likely to return, in more severe forms during the next school year if not addressed.

Availability to Focus on Home Based Challenges

If your child or teen struggles with behavior problems at home and in school, summer can be a great opportunity to hone in on improving skills in the home environment. Therapists can work with your child and family on identifying mood disturbances, increasing problem solving skills, planning and organization, and increasing positive communication in the family system. During the school year hustle and grind, it can be easy to allow these important goals fall to the wayside. Summer is a great time to tune up our emotional growth inside the family system (where change is most likely to stick!)

Structure

Change in routine can be wonderful, but also can cause uncertainty in the lives of school aged children and teens who are hardwired to schedules. Adding weekly therapy appointments provides routine and structure to the laid back feel of the summertime. Keeping children on consistent schedules has been proven to increase sense of security, positive self-image, and control in numerous environments.

Increase Your Family Tool Bank

Therapy provides an opportunity to learn and develop healthy coping strategies in a safe environment, but the benefits extend past changes in your teen or child. By engaging in this collaborative effort you are letting your child know the family is working to improve together, and it is a priority to the family to be the best you can! Benefits such as improved communication, reflection of feelings, and increased emotional connection are only some of the wonderful outcomes of investing in you and your child’s mental and emotional health this summer!

For more information on booking an appointment or consultation for your child, teen, or family contact Michelle Smith MS, RMHCI

405-323-1786