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Keep on Keeping On

We live in a quick fix society. You are hungry and you want food now? No problem, there are a billion fast food places that will serve you up a full "meal" in under 2 minutes! You need info and you need it now? Just pull out your smart phone connected to the World Wide Web and you'll have any info you need at the touch of a button, in seconds! You need something to wear and hate your current wardrobe? No problem, ...

Raleigh Weekend Family Fun

There's plenty going on this weekend in Raleigh for those of you that are not on Spring Break or returning home from your break! It's First Friday tonight so there's always lots going on this night every month. Lots of art galleries to explore and new restaurants to try! I like to look at the Downtown Raleigh events calendar often to see what all is happening downtown. There's a Make It -Take It event at the NC Museum of History. There's a Family Science Fair at Marbles Kids Museum. There's always the Farmer's Market to peruse as well as many parks around the area to play at and explore! Get outside on what looks to be a beautiful weekend. Grab your spouse, family, friends or pet and get moving!

Rules & Consequences vs. Relationship & Connection

I work with many families and their teenage daughters in family counseling. One thing we spend some time discussing is home rules. Typically teens do not like rules, think they are too strict, stupid, or that they need more freedom. The parents feel they are not being unreasonable and truly want the best for their daughters...

Don't Wait!

I see so many clients who have waited so long to start dealing with their heart wounds or relational conflicts. By the time they come to counseling patterns are deeply ingrained, relationships are on the verge of tearing apart, and hearts are badly broken. We wait to get help for so many reasons. Perhaps it's because we are ashamed to need help or scared of reaching out. Maybe we wait because we don't know if therapy will help or if it'll make things worse. Whatever the case, I encourage you to go ahead and reach out now. Waiting will most likely not make things any better. There is no shame in reaching out for help. When we are sick, we see a doctor. When our heart or relationship is broken, we see a therapist. Read about therapy, do some research; you'll find it's not as daunting as you might think! Call or email around to various therapists; find one that seems to fit your personality or values. Set up a few initial meetings after you've narrowed down your selection of counselors. Choose wisely! Counseling is a great thing. Don't wait!

Hectic Holidays

This is a busy time of year! There is the rushing around shopping for all the perfect gifts, the Christmas parties, wrapping all those presents, decorating the house, all while trying to balance work and family. This can easily lead to forgetting what the season is really about. For me this season is about celebrating when the Lord sent His son in human form to the earth to redeem us, to make a way for us to be in intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father! But it can be easy to forget that with all the input we receive about holiday shopping! Perhaps this year you and your family can find new ways to focus on the deeper meaning of Christmas. Perhaps you can give gifts that give back such as gifts from Ten Thousand Villages in Cameron Village. Maybe you and your family can put together an Operation Christmas Child shoe box for a child in another country. Maybe your church partners with organizations that help needy families have gifts for their kids on Christmas. Or perhaps you and your family can do something together that helps others - maybe volunteer at a soup kitchen or visit the elderly at a retirement home. These are neat ways to keep our mind focused on others and on Christ this Christmas. I'm sure you can think of other ways too! Brainstorm with your family and come up with a special tradition! 

Being Active Together (even in Winter)

When I'm working with clients in counseling for stress, anxiety or depression, we discuss how good nutrition, sleep and exercise are healthy coping skills towards managing their symptoms. I've blogged about that here, here, here and here. Staying active is important! And if you can incorporate activity in relationships, then that's even better! Doing something good for yourself with a member of your support system is a double dose of healthy coping skills! There are great ways to be active even in Winter in Raleigh! Raleigh Winterfest is going on Downtown right now and ice skating is a fun and active way to spend some time with a friend or loved one; I talked about that more in detail last week here! When it's not too cold outside, there are great places in Raleigh to walk or hike or run together. Even if it is cold, bundle up - the hat, gloves, scarf and all - and head outside. The Capital Area Greenway Trail System has trails all over the city. Umstead State Park is another great place to walk, run or hike. Lake Johnson is one of my favorites; it has some good hills to get that heart rate up! Plan some time this week to get outside and get active with a member of your support system; I bet it'll have a positive impact on your mood or stress level, or both!

Raleigh Weekend Activities: Date night, Family night, Girl's or Guy's night out!

There are so many fun things going on in Downtown Raleigh this weekend! Often times when I'm meeting with clients for counseling and we are discussing ways to enhance their relationships (whether it be their marriage, family or friendships), I hear people say, "there's just nothing to do in Raleigh." That is completely untrue! So clients end up sitting at home with their spouse, family or friends watching TV or movies. Now there's nothing wrong with some occasional TV nights or movie nights but it's good to mix things up a bit and try new experiences together. There are lots of options to take your friends, your spouse or your family to experience some winter fun together this weekend! Try a new experience together and see how it impacts your relationship, your conversations and your feelings towards one another. It's First Friday, so as always, there's lots to see this Friday night downtown in so many of the art galleries and local businesses. First Friday makes a great (and as cheap as you want it to be) date night! Also, Winterfest is going on, so there is outdoor ice skating too all weekend! Check their schedule to see all the fun options; Friday night they have a DJ and music! On Saturday at Logan Trading Company in Seaboard Station, you can shop for a Christmas tree, sing Christmas karaoke and get your kids' picture with Santa for free! Also on Saturday at the Museum of History there is a "Make it, Take it" event where you and your kids can make your own traditional NC Christmas ornament; my husband and I have done this with our niece and nephew before and it was so fun (and free!). For a little bit of cash you can see some gorgeous historic homes all decorated for Christmas on Saturday or Sunday for the 41st Annual Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour of Homes! This is a great way to see an amazing historic neighborhood, tour some homes and spend some quality time together. Take advantage of what downtown Raleigh has to offer this weekend and share an amazing experience with your loved one(s). This is a great way to build into your relationships and make fun memories together. 

Winter Holiday Family Fun

The Raleigh Christmas Parade is happening this Saturday morning! This is such a fun event to celebrate the holiday season. Bundle up and head downtown early to get a great spot to sit and watch the Raleigh Christmas Parade. Maybe you can make this a family tradition and each year watch the parade? Family traditions are a great way to foster good memories and enjoy each other. The holiday season is a great time to institute some fun family traditions. Let your kids come up with some ideas that would be exciting to have as yearly traditions and let them plan! When I'm working with families in counseling, we talk about traditions and family rituals that bond them together. What makes your family unique? What fun things do you do or can you start to do that will create lasting memories for you all? 

First Friday time Raleigh!

I blog a lot about First Friday because it's such a great way to enjoy time with friends, family or your significant other and enjoy downtown Raleigh at the same time! And it doesn't have to be an expensive night out either! Fall is here and the Holidays are right upon us; usually around this time there is so much going on that date night takes a back seat as do family outings. But we need to keep a strong priority on date night and family outings even during the busy Holiday season; this is something my clients hear me stress all too often in counseling. :) First Friday is a great way to do that! Bundle up and enjoy walking around various Galleries and seeing what is going on in downtown! There's also BBQ downtown this Friday night so you could make that dinner; sandwiches are only $5.00! Yumm!

Introvert or Extrovert: Which are you?

When I'm working with clients in counseling we explore where clients draw energy, whether they gain more energy from being around others or from being alone. There are many misunderstood ideas about the term introvert; often clients think if they are shy then it means they are an introvert. But this is not the case all the time. Introversion and Extroversion have to do with where you pull energy. Introverts rejuvenate by spending time alone; extroverts get charged up in the presence of others. It's helpful to understand this about yourself so you know how to refill your cup when you're drained. It's also really helpful to understand this piece of yourself in context of your relationships with others; many conflicts can be avoided when we understand this piece of ourselves and can communicate about it to our friends, family and significant others. Here is a basic overview of the difference between introversion and extroversion. If you are looking for some further info, start here!

Fall Family Fun

Fall is here according to the calendar and some days the weather says it's here too! There are lots of fun fall activities you and your family can do together. When I'm working with clients in counseling, we discuss activities and outings as a way to build relationship and create memories. Whether your family has small kids, teens or whether your family consists of you and your spouse or you and your friends, doing a fun activity together is a great way to deepen relationship and make memories! Decorating your front porch with items from the Raleigh Farmer's Market is one fun activity. Carving a pumpkin and roasting the seeds are a few others! It could be a great family tradition to head to the Farmer's Market and pick the perfect pumpkin (or two)! One year we learned how to make homemade pumpkin pie using a real pumpkin; now that was a memory maker! Something fun we've done with our niece and nephew is visit a pumpkin patch where we got to "pick" our own pumpkin and do various other festive, fall activities! There are several pumpkin patches around the area like Hill Ridge Farms, DJ's Berry Patch and Porter Farms. Do something festive and fun this fall with your family! See if it doesn't create great space for the relationships as well as some great memories to look back on!

Choosing Him vs. him

I counsel many young women and teen girls who struggle with finding their identity and worth in what young men/guys think of them. If they have a boyfriend then they feel confident and worthy. But when the relationship ends they feel unworthy and insecure until the next guy comes along. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be loved and adored; we were created to be loved and to love, to know and to be known. But when that desire is put into the hands of humans and it becomes the basis for our worth and security, then we are on dangerous ground. We will never be fully satisfied or secure if we place our worth and value in other people. For my clients who are Christians, we talk about finding our worth and value in the fact that we were created by the Lord and that Christ loves us first and most! When we choose Him (Christ) rather than the "him's" of this world, we find fulfillment and joy unlike what any "him" could offer us. Here is a great article about seeking the Lord Himself rather than what His hand can offer. 

Being seen and known

The following quote from a book I'm reading (and really enjoying!), Introverts in the Church: Finding our place in an extroverted culture, really highlighted a point I make often with clients I counsel. He says it much better than I can.

There were three people in the rows in front of us who had their cell phones open during the entire movie. They were text messaging and surfing the Internet and otherwise annoying people. As I aw those cell phone screens open during the movie, I observed that the people using them were not fully committed to being anywhere during those two hours. They were physically sitting in the theater, even sitting with others who accompanied them, but their minds and hearts were scattered all over the place. They were not fully present, in terms of their attention, to the visual and auditory experience in front of them, they were not fully present to their friends and family that they were sitting next to, and they were not geographically present to the people they were text messaging. They had a hand and foot in several different places that were disconnected, leaving them as some sort of radical amputees. They were everywhere and they were nowhere. Aside from how piercingly bright a cell phone screen can be in a dark movie theater and how bizarre it is to text message during an intense and complex spy movie, I got to thinking about how handheld technology affects our sense of personal identity. So many people walk through their lives as ghosts, not fully present to anything, gliding through places and around people but not really seeing or experiencing or being seen or experienced.

We discuss the idea of vulnerability, of being known and knowing another deeply. This can be such a scary thing to do, to allow, to pursue, but is so deeply needed and desired. It's what we were made for: deep relationship. Our culture continues to find newer and faster ways of keeping us distracted and occupied and away from real, deep relationship. Do you allow yourself to be seen, experienced, known? Or do you drift through life like "some sort of radical amputee", never really being fully present anywhere? 

Longing to be Heard

Working with teenage girls in counseling takes up about a third of my practice. I have been working with teenage girls in a counseling setting since April of 2007. If you would have told me while I was in graduate school or in my first job as a counselor that I would be spending the next 5+ years of my career working with teenagers, I would have laughed out loud! The thought of working with teenagers was daunting to me, scary at best. But I had a great supervisor during the years I was working to become licensed who kept encouraging me to think about working with teens. I wanted to get back to NC after living in Georgia for 4 years and of course the job I found was working with teenagers! It was quite humorous to me at the time. Now that I have been working with teenage girls and their families for over 5 years, I cannot imagine anything different for my practice. I love counseling teen girls and love working with them in a family counseling setting too. OK, out of story mode now. What I hear consistently from the teenage girls I see in counseling is that they want to be heard, they want their voice to matter, and they long to be loved deeply after being heard. Once I realized this crucial piece of information, counseling with teenagers became a powerful process. When I took time to really get to know them, to hear their voice, and to know who they were (as much as they knew who they were at the time), something happened. When I kept working to hear them, I earned their respect and our therapeutic relationship grew. They allowed me to speak into their lives and call them on unhealthy behaviors, and sometimes they actually listened to me and changed their actions. Wow, that's the power of relationship! Knowing someone deeply, being allowed to speak deeply into their life, and then seeing them make deep changes as a result. I have truly been honored to walk alongside some amazing teen girls over the past 5 years. I encourage the families I work with to aim for these deep kind of relationships too. Aim to listen long and hard and deeply. And then don't just rush to correct or share your point, just wait, be, sit. Let the teen guide you; they are struggling to know who they are and where they are heading in life. They are grasping for independence they don't yet fully understand but more than fully desire. Listen to them, let them ask you into their world, and when they do let you in (and they will!), listen well and make sure they know you love them so deeply! They long to be heard, known and loved deeply. If communicating with your teenager is difficult at best, consider family counseling. It can be such a powerful experience to improve upon your communication and deepen your relationships within your family!

What's the goal?

I work with many clients who are going through some really difficult trials as they walk through the counseling process: grief, loss, anxiety & panic, depression, relational struggles. When I'm working with a client who is a believer in Christ we often discuss their desired end goal. We all want the trials to go away, the pain to end, the struggle to cease. But often that is not the Lord's primary goal for us. He wants us to know Him more, to showcase His glory more, to make Him known more. And sometimes that is done best by allowing the struggle or the pain to be present. Not that He wants us to hurt or takes pleasure in that; He doesn't, He grieves with us. But I'm not sure His primary goal for us is a pain-free life. I think He desires intimacy with us more than a trial-free life. And often we can experience deep, deep intimacy with Him walking through a trial, not at the end of it. It's often in the midst of the trial or grief or struggle that we can meet the Lord so closely and experience Him in a way we haven't before. Are we willing to go through the struggle, through our trials, through the grief with a different goal? What would happen if we set the goal of knowing the Lord more, experiencing deeper intimacy with Him rather than the pain going away, the sadness ending or the struggle ceasing? What would daily life look like then?

Date Night Time!

Whether I'm counseling a couple or a wife, I always encourage regular date nights as part of a strong, intimate marriage. A great professor I had during graduate school, Dr. Sytsma, has an organization called Building Intimate Marriages. On his site there are great resources for couples and individuals who are wanting to work on strengthening their marriages. I often point clients towards the "Try This At Home" section of his website. There are great date night ideas there for various types of dates such as a fun date and a working date. I highly encourage you to grab one of these and your spouse and head out for a date that will be sure to impact your marriage! If you find that to be difficult or produce tension you are unable to work through well, consider couples counseling! 

Conversation Starters

When I'm counseling couples, I often find that they don't converse much at all (or much anymore). After time of not deeply conversing together, it can be hard to pick back up with great conversation. Where do we start? What do we talk about? Those are questions I hear a lot. It can be difficult to come up with conversation topics when things in the marriage aren't going well or there are tension and hurt present. I like to point couples towards conversation starters; that way they don't have to do the work of coming up with topics of things to talk about, they can simply choose questions from the list and start talking! Here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here are various links to conversation starters; these are all geared towards married couples but couples who are not married will find that many of the questions can apply to them as well! For families and friends, these conversation starters can be great for getting to know you conversations or for deepening relationships as well; you may just have to cut some questions out and/or tailor some to be age-appropriate if you are using them for family conversation! 

Face-time vs. Facebook

Face-time: the act of spending intentional, relational time with another face to face (definition/word-use is mine for the purpose of this post and not to be confused with the Apple product FaceTime). Often when I'm out, I notice how people are together doing something (coffee, lunch, dinner, etc) but aren't really being together; their face-time is minimal. They are typically both on their phones - perhaps texting or checking Facebook or maybe posting something on Twitter. Sometimes I just watch (non-stalker-like) to see how long they go without talking to each other...sometimes it's a long time! As a counselor, a lot of my job focuses on helping clients have stronger, healthier, deeper relationships - with themselves and with others. I wonder what role technology and social media has on decreasing our awareness of ourselves as well as decreasing the quality of our relationships. Many of the teenagers I see for counseling have a lot of difficulty telling their peers things in person; they are much more comfortable sharing via text or Facebook. What does this say about future generations' abilities to form and deepen relationships as our society becomes more dependent on technology? Where has all the face-time gone? People have become so accustomed to spending time with their phones rather than engaging in face-time conversations; when there is a lull in conversation, rather than thinking of something else to ask or share, they grab their phone and start browsing around. Technology and social media seem to have become quite a crutch; Facebook is much less risky and vulnerable than face-time. Rather than journal and increase awareness of personal thoughts and feelings, people turn to their email, Facebook, blogs or Twitter. Rather than dialogue and intentionally get to know someone better or resolve issues in relationship, people distract themselves with their technology or social media; in essence they avoid or delay relationship/face-time. What impact would individuals experience if they took the first 30 minutes of every day to think, pray, journal, read and did it without any technology? I wonder what would happen if friends made a commitment to sit at lunch or coffee and put their phones away completely; turn them on silent and put them away (totally unseen and don't check them)! What would happen if families had a technology-free time each day or each week where they focused on their relationships without any technology distractions? What impact might couples feel on weekly date nights if technology wasn't allowed? Would people talk to each other more, face the discomfort more, or become more aware of their thoughts and feelings? Would we learn more things to share about ourselves or think of more questions to ask others? There are links to helpful conversation-starters on my blog here and here if you want to have these printed out before hanging out! :) Is there a relationship in your life that could use more technology-free time? The benefits from focused relational face-time would likely far surpass any semi-interesting fact you might miss on Facebook!

Too Attached??

I have worked with so many clients in counseling who have formed unhealthy attachments with people in their lives. Perhaps they are too dependent on someone else for their worth, value or stability. Or sometimes they find their worth, value and stability from allowing someone else to be too dependent upon them. Either way, it's unhealthy for these clients and they work to learn how to detach from these relationships and to then have healthy attachments. We were made for relationships (including significant others and friendships). However, we are all messy people and things can get unhealthy pretty quickly in relationships. Once unhealthy attachments are formed, it can be really tough to let them go and learn to be healthy in relationship. Jade Mazarin, a friend of mine from graduate school, has written a couple of posts about how to let go of unhealthy attachments (she's referencing more than just unhealthy relationships). Take a look at part 1 and part 2 of her posts "How to let go of unhealthy attachments"! She has also written a book, "The Heart's Journey to Freedom", for women who have unhealthy attachments with men; here is where you can read more about it and buy the book!

Winning & Losing in Marriage

Here is a great blog post by another therapist about marriage. It is a great take on winning and losing in marriage and what great marriages can be if we choose to lose most in the marriage (serve each other). Our American culture says to go after things we want, they should "serve" us. If our technology fails us, we throw it out and get a new model. We typically do the same with our cars. But Biblically speaking we are called to be servants to each other, to stick with each other in marriage even when our spouse isn't "doing" what we want and need. Mark 10 says, "43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus is calling us to serve one another using His example. If we are demanding that our spouse serve us and meet all our expectations, marriage isn't going to work well! But if we aim to live in our marriage by serving, loving, encouraging, and supporting our spouse, we will be following in Christ's example. I encourage you to take a look at this post!