Post By Amanda Langton
My favorite approach to therapy is to help clients gain insight into themselves. So often we don’t see the ways we actually sabotage our own happiness, and the more we can recognize our patterns, especially our unhelpful thoughts, the more power we have to create exactly the life we want. There are tons of books and exercises that help with our own insight. Here are my top 3 (right now).
Feeling Good, by David Burns, M.D. This is a really long book on depression, but with chapters dedicated to things like perfectionism, self-esteem, anger, and sadness, you can pretty much pick your poison and let him teach you all sorts of ways to hone in on your own patterns.
The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. This book takes you through five different ways each person might express and receive affection. Understanding your own love language can really shed light on how you want people to show they love you, and also what you can tweak in your own life to show love in a way that another person can best recognize it. There are also love language books for children, adolescents, men, etc.
Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin. This book is all about the different things that make it easy or difficult for us to change our habits (like eating, working out, being nicer to our kids, anything). Gretchen’s approach is to help the reader learn more about their own styles and then making that work for them, which I absolutely love.
One exercise I enjoy using to help me understand my thoughts a little better is called the Five Why’s. It is actually not from any of the above books but rather from Wise Mind Living by Erin Olivo, PhD. You start by numbering your paper 1-5. Starting with number 5, write down what is frustrating you. I happened to learn this exercise while trying to get my kids to do some mindfulness activities each day, so I will use that in my example below. Then ask yourself “why is this important to me?” and write your answer in line 4. For me mindfulness was important because I wanted my kids to learn to work through their emotions instead of exploding (they inherited great big feelings from their mama). Then ask again “why is this important to me?” and write you answer in number 3. Keep going until your answers get circular (repetitive). It may take more than 5 but often it only takes 3 or 4. The result should be your motive or your value, and knowing what that is will help you problem solve in healthy ways. For me the problem came down to empowering my kids to make their lives their own, and that really helped me work with them more, instead of forcing them to do something I thought would be helpful. Below is my example, but try it with your own! And enjoy your reading 😊
Post by Kari Morrison
"Are you a Strength-Based Parent?"
Parenting is Hard. When you see a child struggle with comparison and self-worth, it can be difficult as a parent to know how to approach this internal struggle and build your child's self-esteem. We live in an age where many of our children are on social networks; where comparison and self-worth are at the forefront of mental health struggles. There is so much value placed on outward appearance and accomplishments. When a child feels they are not up to par, this can result in anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases, suicide. With suicide on the rise, it is incredibly important to know how to build your child's self-worth and help them feel equipped to face the struggles of our day.
When it comes to parenting your child, do you spend your time pointing out what they are doing right or what they are doing wrong? It's quite easy to identify things that need improvement, but is it really the best way to approach parenting? How are our children going to be able to cope with stress and become resilient if their inner voice focuses on their weaknesses?
Strength-Based Parenting is an approach created from the foundations of positive psychology focusing on your child's character strengths to cultivate authentic self-worth and positive coping patterns to stress. When a child begins to recognize their natural abilities in a positive light, they will be more prepared to deal with unique challenges of our day and less likely to resort to unhealthy coping responses such as avoidance, aggression, depression, anxiety, and poor self-worth. Strength-based parenting is a proactive, deliberate parenting approach identifying your child's character strengths.
"A character strength isn't a skill or something you're good at. Rather, these strengths emerge through our feelings, thoughts, and actions. One's character is about the virtues we have and how they're used. These traits, when used, can profoundly benefit you and those around you. Researchers Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman classified character strengths and virtues into 24 categories organizing them into six types. The character strenth survey based on it has radically changed the focus of education around the world." (VIA Character, 2018).
The six virtues followed by their 24 character strengths are:
- Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation
- Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, zest
- Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
- Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
- Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self-control
- Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality
Lea Waters, psychologist and president of the International Positive Psychology has worked hand in hand with positive psychology founder Martin Seligman in authoring the book, "The Strength Switch," a parent's guide to strength-based parenting. A research based approach to build and foster self-worth and resilience in children and adolescents. She states "As a result today many parents want to know how they can help their child flourish with a healthy body, brain, and soul. Strength-based parenting helps parents place their attention on the strengths of their children, on their positive qualities, before they place their attention on the limitations and the weaknesses." (Waters, 2018).
From her book, "The Strength Switch," Professor Waters suggests there are three ways you can start being more strength-based in your parenting approach:
Identify your children's strengths- Your kids have strengths of personality (introversion, extroversion, etc.), character (kindness, fairness), talent, (communication, strategy), and ability (music, sports, etc.). Try to spot the strengths your children have by looking for moments when they are their best and give them specific examples of what you're seeing and why this strength is valuable. If you have children over the age of eleven, you can visit www.viacharacter.org and have them take the free youth survey to give them a clearer understanding of their character strengths. Explore with each other the strengths you have in common and where your strengths might sometimes be colliding.
Write a strengths letter to your children- Take the time to write a letter to your children notating the strengths you see in them, how you see them applying those strengths, why you appreciate their strengths, and ways you feel they can further develop them to achieve their goals in life.
- Have a daily strengths check-in- Find a moment, maybe on the way home from school, at the dinner-table, or as you're putting the children to bed, to ask them what strengths they used that day. Focus on what went well with their strengths, and also try to help them spot where they might have underplayed their strengths (such as when they are hesitating or holding themselves back), or overplayed their strengths (when things didn't quite go to plan despite their best efforts). Introducing ways to dial their strengths up or down is an effective way to address your children's areas for development through a strength's lens (Waters, 2017)
While that may all sound like common sense, Professor Waters pointed out that because our brains are wired with a negativity bias, making us more likely to see what's going wrong, before we see what's going right, looking for the strengths in our children initially requires some deliberate practice. She also observed that while previous generations of parents may be concerned that this approach to parenting may result self-entitled, narcissist children who are grandiose in their self-confidence, the research suggest it produces a healthy self-concept.
So, what are your children's strengths? Do they know this is what you see in them?
Worksheet to start with your child:
Character Strengths Online Test
Book: The Strength Switch by Lea Waters
Post by Julie Holbrook - February 2018
“No Wonder!” Changing Your Story by Julie Holbrook, LMFT
A few years ago, when I was a greener therapist, a colleague of mine checked in with me to see how I was faring. I told her that even though I was still getting my footing, I was quickly learning that no matter how intimidating a client’s problem may sound on paper, once I am able to sit with a person and listen to his story, the problem seems much more approachable. This has applied across all presenting issues: addiction, marital affairs, anger issues, and even in working with sex offenders. This therapist told me she could relate, and that she oftentimes finds herself saying, “No wonder!” This phrase has stuck with me, and I now use it as an unofficial objective in treatment. I want to to reach the point where I too can say, “No wonder!”
No wonder you are trapped in this terrible addiction. It’s the only way you know to cope with painful feelings of shame and unmet attachment needs.
No wonder you have become so distant in your marriage. You couldn’t figure out how to connect with your spouse while feeling so vulnerable.
No wonder you’re so angry all the time. You can’t connect with your partner so you are turning up the volume.
No wonder you feel so anxious all the time. Your life feels out of control and your mind has become overly cautious in hopes of preventing future catastrophes.
No wonder you feel so alone. You think you’re the only one who has ever felt this way.
I want to be clear that understanding a problem is not the same as justifying it, but it does allow the client--and myself--to approach it with a measure of compassion and clarity.
These are only examples, and everyone is unique, but people often think of their own problems as if they are stories “on paper,” and ones they certainly don’t want others to read. However, as a story emerges with all of its conflicts, characters, and consistencies, we can put the behavior and the suffering into context. It is at that point we can brainstorm new endings to the story, like a Choose-Your-Own Adventure novel!
A client’s self-compassion is vital to the therapy process because it liberates them to change rather than stay embedded in their shame and suffering. Kristen Neff, in her book Self-Compassion, says, “Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion, and understanding within that are simply part of being alive (italics added).” This means that if we stop beating ourselves up, we might be able to use our energy to find a way out of here, and maybe more importantly believe we are worth the journey.
To move into this space, one of my favorite exercises is to imagine that one your dearest friends is going through exactly what you are going through, and to think of what you might say to them as a supportive friend. Would you criticize them, or would you meet them with empathy? Would you shame them, or would you offer acceptance? Now, imagine saying these exact things to yourself, and be genuine. I know, it’s easier said than done.
A little understanding paired with some self-compassion can go a long way in kick-starting real and lasting psychological change. Give it a try, and if it feels to hard, reach out to someone who can walk you through it. It could be the beginning of a beautiful new ending for your story.
Post by Julian Dalanhese - January 2018
Cognitive Therapy 101: Core Beliefs
By Dr. Bridgett Ross
Core beliefs underlie many of the automatic thoughts discussed in the previous blog entry. Identifying and then challenging such core beliefs can not only change feelings but can also transform a person’s approach to life. Assumed to be true, core beliefs often go unnoticed and unchallenged. Through identifying automatic thoughts, we can sometimes uncover the main beliefs that underlie our personalities.
Core beliefs can arise from childhood experiences, innate dispositions, cultural influence, and/or any combination of the three. Consequently, they can be difficult perceive and/or change. When reading the following descriptions of typical core beliefs, determine whether any seem characteristic of your personality and/or notice any childhood experiences or other environmental factors that may have contributed to the belief.
Beliefs about defectiveness reflect a general sense that one is inherently flawed, incompetent, or inferior. Often times, people who maintain thoughts characteristic of a defective core belief withdraw from close relationships in fear that others may discover that they are inherently bad. Examples of thoughts patterns characteristic of defectiveness include:
· I’m not good enough
· I can’t get anything right
· I’m stupid
· I’m inferior
· I’m nothing
· I’m worthless
· I’m insignificant
· I’m a bad person
· I’m unattractive (ugly, fat, etc.)
· I’m useless
· I’m a failure
· I don’t deserve anything good
· There’s something wrong with me
· I do not measure up to others
· I’m always wrong
· I’ve done things wrong
· I’m abnormal
Those who uphold beliefs about being unlovable often make assumptions about the extent to which they belong and question whether they deserve love or can be loved. Individuals who believe they are unlovable may withdraw from relationships or maintain superficial companionships to avoid the suspected pain that will arise when they are inevitably rejected. Furthermore, the belief that one is unlovable can lead to significant feelings of loneliness even in the presence of others. Some thoughts related to an unlovable core belief include:
· I’m not lovable
· I’m unacceptable
· I’m always left out
· I don’t matter
· I’m not wanted
· I’m alone
· I’m unwelcome
· I don’t fit in anywhere
· I’m uninteresting
· Nobody loves me
· Nobody wants me
· I’m unlikeable
· I’m bound to be rejected
Individuals who maintain core beliefs rooted in abandonment often assume they will lose anyone to whom they form an emotional attachment. Abandonment and unlovable core beliefs can often be related or even one and the same. Often times, those concerned with abandonment believe that people will ultimately leave, which will result in misery and loneliness. Consequently, people with abandonment beliefs often seek reassurance and silence opinions out of fear that others will desert them in the presence of differing viewpoints. Examples of thoughts related to abandonment can include:
· People I love will leave me
· I will be abandoned if I love or care for something/someone
· I am uninteresting (and people will leave me because of it)
· I’m unimportant
· If I assert myself, people will leave me
· I can’t be happy if I’m on my own
· I’m not as good as other people
· My partner is no longer interested in me
· I’m bound to be rejected/abandoned/alone
Helplessness or powerlessness beliefs generally result in people assuming they lack control and cannot handle anything effectively or independently. Individuals who believe they are helpless often face difficulties making changes. Furthermore, a sense of powerlessness can cause people to try to overcontrol their environment or completely give up control. Some common thoughts reflecting helplessness/powerlessness core beliefs include:
· I’m helpless/powerless
· I’m out of control
· I must have control to be okay
· I’m weak
· I’m vulnerable
· I’m trapped
· I’m needy
· I’m ineffective
· I do not measure up to others
· I’m unsuccessful
· I can’t achieve
· I can’t change
· I can’t handle anything
· There’s no way out
· Other people will manipulate me and control my life
· I am trapped and can’t escape
· If I experience emotions, I will lose control
· I can’t do it
· I’m always number two
· I finish last
· I can’t stand up for myself
· I’m a loser
· I can’t say ‘no’
Entitlement core beliefs are sometimes not entirely apparent. Generally, they reflect a belief related to specialness that causes individuals to make demands or engage in behaviors regardless of the effect on others. Those who maintain an entitlement core belief assume they are superior and deserve a lot of attention or praise. Often times, people develop an entitlement core belief to compensate for feeling defective or socially undesirable. Entitlement beliefs can lead to unreasonable demands that others meet your needs, rule-breaking, and resentment of successful others. Some entitlement-related beliefs include:
· If people don’t respect me, I can’t stand it
· I deserve a lot of attention and praise
· I’m superior (and am entitled to special treatment and privileges)
· If I don’t excel, then I’m inferior and worthless
· If I don’t excel, I’ll just end up ordinary
· I am a very special person (and other people should treat me that way)
· I don’t have to be bound by the rules that apply to other people
· If others don’t respect me, they should be punished
· Other people should satisfy my needs
· People have no right to criticize me
· Other people don’t deserve the good things that they get
· People should go out of their way for me
· People don’t understand/get me (because I am special/brilliant/etc.)
· I can do no wrong
Caretaking, responsibility, and self-sacrifice could be separated into independent categories, but they reflect similar beliefs and can be addressed as a group. Self-sacrifice beliefs refer to the excessive forfeit of one’s own needs in the service of others. Individuals often feel guilty, and compensate by putting the needs of others ahead of their own. Such people often believe they are responsible for the happiness of others and apologize excessively. Responsible individuals may take pride in their diligence and dependability, without necessarily feeling a need to care for others or engage in self-sacrifice. People who maintain core beliefs rooted in caretaking, responsibility, or self-sacrifice may have felt overly responsible for family members in their youth. Related thoughts include:
· I have to do everything perfectly
· If I make a mistake, it means I’m careless/a failure/etc.
· I’ve done something wrong
· It’s not okay to ask for help
· I have to do everything myself
· If I don’t do it, no one will
· I’m responsible for everyone and everything
· If I care enough, I can fix him/her/this
· I can’t trust or rely on another person
· If I trust people, they may hurt me (and I won’t survive)
· People will betray me
· People are untrustworthy
· My needs are not important
· I shouldn’t spend time taking care of myself
· When I see that others need help, I have to help them
· I’m not a worthwhile person
· I’m only worthwhile if I’m helping other people
· If I express negative feelings in a relationship, terrible things will happen
· I have to make people happy
· It’s my fault
The above core beliefs and related thoughts represent some common possibilities. Other core beliefs may relate to approval-seeking (“I’m only worth something if people like me”), glamour (“I must be beautiful and admired”), autonomy (“if someone enters my world, I will have no freedom at all”), failure (“If I don’t succeed, I’m worthless”), unwanted (“I don’t belong anywhere”), etc.
In noting your own thought patterns, you may notice consistencies and/or discrepancies with the information above. These core beliefs and/or resulting thought patterns are not true; they are merely thoughts resulting from a combination of childhood experiences, environmental factors, and your innate temperament. Some people believe these ideas so strongly that they cannot see the untruths in such extreme lines of thoughts. Because core beliefs are often born in childhood, they may reflect messages that were overly or implicitly communicated by family members. It can be helpful to determine where your core beliefs materialized, but it is not necessary. While maladaptive thoughts patterns and core beliefs may be difficult to challenge, many techniques exist that allow change to be possible. Recognizing such beliefs can be an excellent first step.