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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, ...

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...

Navigating Independece

I work with many older teen girls and their families; many of the young adults I work with are college students. Navigating independence is difficult for families; it's difficult on the teen as well as the parents. Developmentally teens need to be gaining increased independence and responsibility. They need to be learning ways to manage their new liberties. Parents are learning how much freedom to hand over and how to ensure healthy accountability. This can lead to a power struggle, to a tug of war between teen and parents. Arguing often ensues and relationships get wounded in the fight. Many families end up getting quite torn apart during this lifestage. But it doesn't have to be such a difficult time. Family counseling can be a great way to help open a healthy dialogue about the desired independence and the necessary accountability. Compromises can be reached and healthy communication can be the open door to those compromises. Accountability is necessary for the new responsibilities teens are facing, yet it's important to establish trust in your teen so they feel they are capable of exercising their new liberties. This is a crucial time developmentally for teens; they way they learn to manage independence can set them up really well or really poorly for their futures and parents play a crucial role in that process. By parents consistently offering encouragement and healthy boundaries, teens can successfully navigate to a healthy independent place!

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? 

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!

Raleigh Family Fun this Weekend

There are several fun events this weekend that sound fun and family-friendly. When I'm working with teen clients and their families, we focus on building family relationships, increasing healthy communication and family togetherness. We talk about creating time for conversation and creating time for fun. Here are a few ideas going on this weekend if you're looking for something to do with your family in downtown Raleigh. Staying healthy is important and how fun would it be to do that together; Marbles Museum is having "Family Fit - Zumba" this Saturday for an hour. You could take your family to that event and then stay and play at the museum! There is also a Caribbean Carnival downtown at City Plaza; this sounds like a great cultural event with lots of fun entertainment and food! Marbles is also having a day at the Mudcats. This is a great way to support the museum, meet other families, and enjoy some baseball as a family! I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone; do something new and different with your family this weekend. New experiences can be a lot of fun and connect you together as a family in unique ways!

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!

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!

Sharing New Experiences

Looking for something fun and different to do? Bogged down with the same old routine for your fun nights out or date nights? I always encourage clients I see for counseling to try new fun things, to spice up their nights out with family, friends or their significant other by trying a new experience. Sharing a new experience together helps increase connection and gives you something new to converse about together. When we share a fun new experience together, we feel closer and more connected to that person. It creates new memories also. So get out there and try it! Carolina Rollergirls have a double header this Saturday April 14 at Dorton Arena in Raleigh. If you haven't been to see the Rollergirls yet, it's quite the experience and a guaranteed good time! Take your significant other, a group of friends or your family to this exciting event and enjoy sharing a new experience together watching the Rollergirls! 

Great Teen Workbooks

I see a lot of teens and their families for individual and family counseling. The teenagers I see struggle with various issues; some face anxiety, depression, stress, family issues, self injury, self esteem issues, bullying, etc. Many of them are in some serious pain and are looking for an outlet for that pain but do not have healthy coping skills. Some of them have difficult family situations or struggle with being bullied at school. I have found some great resources that I use with many of my teen clients; several of them have had great success using these resources! These workbooks contain short exercises that are geared towards helping teens cope in healthy ways. Stopping the Pain is a workbook for teenagers who cut or self injure. Beyond the Blues is a workbook for teens who experience depression. The Anxiety Workbook for Teens helps teenagers cope with anxiety and worry. Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens teaches teens Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills that can help them manage mood swings, control emotional outbursts and get along with others better. The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens teaches teenagers mindfulness skills that helps them decrease stress. The Bipolar Workbook for Teens helps teens learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills for mood swings they may experience. Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens teaches teenagers Cognitive Therapy skills to increase their self image and improve their self esteem. These workbooks may not be helpful for every teenager but I find many teens respond well to the short lessons they contain!

I feel ______ because __________.

Communication is so important in friendships, family relationships and romantic relationships. It's also important in professional relationships. How we communicate says a lot about us and also contributes greatly to how others view us. Healthy communication contributes so much to positive self worth and healthy conflict resolution. Healthy communication can also assist in decreasing stress, anxiety and depression. You don't have to spend long in counseling with me before you learn this tried and true phrase in healthy communication: "I feel (insert feeling word) because (insert reason, situation, etc)." For example, "I feel disappointed because you told me you would take out the trash and didn't follow through". That sounds a whole lot better than, "You didn't take out the trash and I'm so upset." When we start communication with "you", it puts the other on the defense. It typically results in the other person automatically raising their gloves and getting ready to fight. However, when we start communication with "I feel", we are simply sharing our feelings, our perspective, our opinions with another person. That kind of initiation will more often get a positive response than a negative one. Monitor your communication this week when you are interacting with coworkers, friends, family or significant others, especially when it's about something negative or involves elevated emotions. Notice if you tend to start off saying "you" or "I". The "I" statements will more often elicit positive responses from the other than communication started with "you". Practice starting communication with "I feel (insert feeling word) because (insert reason). Here's a brief article that gives emphasizes this point too!

Easy to Forget

Sometimes with all the hustle and bustle at this time of year, it can be easy to forget what this season is really all about. We get "wrapped" up with so much else going on: shopping, trying to find all the right gifts, decorating, Christmas party-ing, cooking, traveling, and don't forget all the wrapping, etc. So much is out there to distract us, from the sales to the new tech-y toys. I found myself getting wrapped up with my Christmas shopping list and then stopped and realized how much I was in the rush of the season. I'd forgotten to acknowledge the whole meaning behind it during my shopping fury. In the Church calendar, Advent falls before Christmas. It's a time to prepare, anticipate, and get ready for the birth of Jesus. When I was a kid we had chocolate Advent calendars. Each day we'd open a little door, read a Scripture from the Bible about the coming of Christ or prophesies about His coming, and then my sister and I would get to split a piece of chocolate in half and eat! We loved those calendars. I think likely at the time we looked much more forward to eating the chocolate than the birth of Christ. But I think it still taught us about the season of Advent, about being excited about something, anticipating someONE. This time of year has such excitement associated with it. We have Christmas carols whose lyrics get us excited about the season and there are radio stations devoted to only playing said Christmas carols 247 so we can really get excited. There are Christmas tree lots everywhere, the stores and malls are all decorated for Christmas. Why even last year in Raleigh we got snow for Christmas and had a real "white Christmas". It's fun to be excited and enjoy the season, but it's so easy to forget Who is at the center. Have you gotten too hurried this season? Is your focus on gifts and Santa and the things of Christmas rather than the Who of Christmas? When I see couples or families for counseling we spend time talking about their family traditions, their rituals. Traditions and rituals bond families together in unique ways. I talk a little about this concept in a blog post here and here, if you'd like to read more. What traditions does your family have this time of year? Are there any you might want to add?

Winter Raleigh Family Fun - Great Date Idea!

So much to do in Raleigh this time of year. Winterfest downtown is one of those things! There is ice skating and other fun things to explore and experience. Bundle up and head downtown to City Plaza. This would be a great outing for families to do together. It would also be a great date idea. At just $8.00 per person, it's not too expensive either! Ice skating can be a fun activity and perhaps quite humorous even! Make a day of it or an evening of it. Wander around downtown and try some of the great local restaurants. You might find a few great shops to do some Christmas shopping as well! Stitch is a really great store with fun things to buy! Take advantage of your area Raleigh. There's so much to discover. Spend time playing together as a family or as a couple. Then spend some time reflecting on your relationships. I encourage couples and families I'm seeing for counseling to spend time both in "shoulder" time (doing the same things together) and "face" time (intentional conversations about your relationships). These combined help relationships grow and maintain their closeness. What fun holiday traditions do you have? Are there ones you want to implement? What are your favorite holiday memories? If holidays are a difficult time of year for you, share that with each other too. Be intentional about your family outings and your date nights. Intend to grow your relationships, nurture them and watch how spending time together draws you closer together. Have fun this Winter Raleigh!

Teens & Stress

I see quite a bit of teenagers and their families for counseling. One of the biggest issues I see is stress - now it may also be accompanied with anxiety and/or depression, but stress is what a lot of teenagers are experiencing. What I don't often see are teens who know how to effectively handle that stress. So instead they act out, engage in sexual activity, get into drugs or alcohol, cut themselves or harm their bodies in other ways or yell and argue with their parents. What a lot of teens are saying through these actions is "help me, I'm overwhelmed and I don't know what to do!" Now this isn't the case for every teenager, but many that I see are feeling overwhelmed, under immense pressure from parents or at school, have difficulties in their friendships or romantic relationships. Perhaps they are being picked on or bullied at school and they struggle with low self-esteem. Sometimes what helps is to decrease the amount of activities teens are involved in so there's less stress. Other times they need to hear their parents say they love them and that A's are not the goal but rather trying their best is the aim. Open communication between parents and teens will often times decrease stress in a teens life when done in a healthy, supportive and positive manner. Stress is all around us; we have to know how to manage our stress or how to eliminate stress that can be eliminated. A lot of stress we bring on ourselves; maybe we are over-involved or haven't resolved conflicts with loved ones that need to be resolved. Maybe we aren't engaging in enough positive activities that we enjoy. Increasing positive activities in our life can help decrease stress for some people. We also often engage in irrational thinking patterns and negative self-talk that increase our stress. I work with clients in counseling (teens and adults) to identify their thinking patterns and the way they are talking to themselves. We often uncover unhealthy, irrational thought patterns that lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression. Also, we find a stream of negative self-talk running through clients' minds that is not helping them in any positive way! One way to decrease stress is to examine these things - thought patterns and self-talk - to determine if they are healthy and rational. If not, the next step is to identify a healthy, rational and positive alternative to the negative, irrational thought. It takes some time but the more we speak the rational, positive thought to ourselves, the less stress, anxiety and depression we experience. If your teen is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression, I encourage you to open a dialogue about that. If they are resistant to that, enlisting the help of a counselor can be a great next step!

On Being a Family

It's hard being a family. Put together different personality styles and temperaments and you are bound to have conflict and clashes.Add to that people who have grown up in the same home and are reaching the teenage years, and things just get downright tough. I work with many teenagers and their families. We work on communication, relationship building and conflict resolution most often. What I hear most from the teens I counsel with is that they desire to be heard; some of them tell me that outright and with others I hear that more indirectly. But they all long to be known and loved at their core - even if they aren't sure who they are quite yet. That can be said for us adults as well; at our core we are desiring to be known and loved. Teens are seeking attention, affection and love - and often they seek this in the wrong places. It can be scary to seek this kind of love from our families. Maybe there has been pain or hurt in the family and they have been wounded in the family. Or maybe there hasn't been any major family trauma or tragedy but it is still hard for them to reach out; likely it's just a product of being a teen, searching for who they are and where they belong, needing connection yet desiring independence as well. I encourage parents to pursue their teens, pursue their kids' hearts. Chase after them even when they continue to run away or put up walls. Deep down teens do desire to be known and loved; they need their parents attention. It's just hard for them to ask for it, so instead they disobey, rebel or talk disrespectfully. It's hard to be a teen; there is so much pressure to perform - to make the grade. There's pressure to fit in, to look certain ways and act certain ways and if you don't you'll be an outcast or made fun of by your peers you so desperately want to love you. It's a tough world to grow up in these days. I admit though, I'm not a parent of a teen so I don't fully know what it's like to have your child rebel, disobey or disrespect. And I know I'm no longer a teen and that they live in a different world than what I experienced during my teens. Yet I think a lot of it comes down to pursuit of relationship- real, deep, consistent relationship. It's not going to always be easy or pretty, but that is life - messy and difficult. So parents...pursue your teens. And open to letting your parents in every now and then, even if it's hard. I encourage you to seek out Family Counseling if times are rough in your family; it can be a great tool to navigate the relational changes and challenges that happen during the teen years. 

Fun Family Outing

There are so many great things to do in the Raleigh area for families. Something fun I have done with my family is to boat around on Lake Johnson. Lake Johnson is a fun area to romp around, explore, walk or boat! You can feed ducks or get chased by geese! Doing something fun and different is a great way to invest in your family, show your kids you care and want to invest in them, and just all out have fun together. Whether I'm working with teenagers and their families in family counseling or working with couples and talking about the importance of family, family outings get brought up. Family outings really help to build connection and deepen relationship. Memories are created and a strong family foundation is fostered. There is great benefit to initiating something fun for your family to do. Before the weather gets cold, I encourage you to get outside and do something fun as a family.