Finding Heart and Soul Connection In A Barn

I found my heart and soul connection in a barn.

      Hear this post on Therapy Chat Podcast  !

  Hear this post on Therapy Chat Podcast!

Note: this was originally published in 2016 and updated with information on the June 2018 2 day Authentic Self Retreat I'm hosting with Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW in Lexington, Kentucky. Register here! 

Yesterday I had a new experience which was a game-changer for me. I've been saying for at least 10 years that I want to take horseback riding lessons. I talked about it on an episode of Therapy Chat earlier this year, vowing that I would make it happen.

 Image credit: Eduard Syslynskyy/Shutterstock

Image credit: Eduard Syslynskyy/Shutterstock

I've ridden a horse maybe 5 times in my whole life, all between the ages of 10-13 years old. For a time I was obsessed with them, as many children are. I grew up in the city but close enough to rural areas that there was one horse farm many of us knew to visit. 

Recently as I've learned more about equine-assisted therapy and the benefits of spending times with horses, I've become determined to increase the amount of time I spend with horses. I'm now 44 years old and my body has changed quite a bit since I was 13. I think it's safe to say that my heart hasn't changed much, if at all, though, as I learned through this experience. 

Before I tell you what happened, let me give you some information from Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association, also known as EAGALA. From their website, www.eagala.org:

 

 

How Does Equine-Assisted Learning and Growth Work?

  • Horses are bigger and stronger than us. They are powerful creatures, and being around them can feel intimidating, which creates an opportunity to get up close and personal with our fears.

  • Like humans, horses are social creatures who live in herds. They have a social hierarchy in terms of how they relate to one another in the herd. Working on how we relate to horses is a way to work on how we relate to other humans and ourselves.

  • Because horses are prey animals, they rely on non-verbal cues to stay alive. Their lives depend on accurately reading these cues. Humans are predators. Yet for some reason horses are willing to interact with us anyway, if we let them know we are safe.

  • Horses know when what we are saying and doing don't match what we are feeling and sensing, even though we might not know. They reflect back to us what we are feeling and sensing, or the incongruence between our feelings, sensations, words and actions, even (especially) when it's outside of our conscious awareness.

The Shadow...Again?

Horses can bring our Shadow to our awareness. Yes, the Shadow again. As a wise person told me, once the Shadow is out in the light you can't ignore it anymore. I am finding this to be true again and again.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out these episodes of Therapy Chat podcast: Episode 53; Episode 38 with Renee Beck, LMFT; Episode 40 with Lourdes Viado, MFT, PhD; Episode 42 with Keri Nola.

So this is what happened yesterday. I went to a workshop on learning with horses. I gathered in a barn with a group of two other women, the instructor and the horse trainer. I really didn't know what to expect, because I haven't done anything like this before, although I have heard about it from fellow therapists. The whole experience was on the ground, not on the horses. 

We were introduced to two horses, a darker colored one and a lighter colored one. I felt super vulnerable and nervous. I wanted to know what to do and not to do, and how, and what was going to happen. I told myself to sit with the discomfort, knowing that this is where growth happens. Part of me wanted to relax, be in the moment, let go and see what happened. Part of me wanted to know, to check whether or not I was doing it right, if I was okay, to understand, to know why. These parts of myself battled for that entire two hour period. 

When we walked up to each horse I had lots of thoughts. I wondered how to touch the horse, if it was okay to touch him, and whether he would hurt me. I was acutely aware of how large and heavy he was, and that he could kick me, bite me or step on me if he felt like it. Then, I went a little deeper into my emotions. I suspected that he didn't like me. I felt self-conscious about being uncomfortable and worried who could tell. I was pretty sure he could tell, though he didn't say anything. I felt his soft, velvety coat and tangled mane. I noticed that he was beautiful and he looked like he had been through some things. I decided maybe he wasn't judging me as harshly as I was judging myself. This all happened in a span of maybe 2 minutes. Feeling a little softer toward myself, I approached the other horse.

One of the other women was standing with the horse, and I felt protective toward her time with him. I held my hand out to him, wondering if he was okay with me petting his nose. He gently nuzzled my hand. I didn't know if this was what they always do, or if he liked my touch. I awkwardly stood there for a few seconds, continuing to let him smell my hand and nuzzle it.

Then something surprising happened. He tilted his head toward me and sort of snuggled up to my neck. I don't even know what to call it. Immediately, tears sprang to my eyes. I felt seen and understood, probably better understood by the horse than I was understanding myself, at least in that moment. I had the strange experience of a felt sense - when you just know something that is coming from within. Your inner wisdom, your soul, your wisest self, whatever you want to call it, it tells you something from within yourself. It's more than just a thought. The felt sense told me "he knows I'm sad."

 Image credit: Melory/Shutterstock

Image credit: Melory/Shutterstock

One of the reasons it was weird is because I hadn't known I was sad until that moment. I felt apologetic toward the other woman standing there, because the horse was giving me more attention, and because I was fighting back tears, which is pretty uncomfortable any time, but especially in front of a stranger. At the same time, I was incredibly grateful to the horse. 

As Brené Brown says, "Vulnerability is courage."

All of that happened in the first 30 minutes of this experience. After that we alternated between activities with the horses and seated in chairs. But more strange things happened. During the time we were seated in our chairs as a group, the horses were free to roam this indoor space. 

We were talking and I was continuing my struggle between the parts of myself that wanted to avoid the discomfort of this new experience and the parts that were trying to be open and let it unfold. I'll point out that while this experience was new, that struggle is not. In fact, it is quite familiar, if I'm honest.

I practice mindfulness by checking in with myself many times throughout a given day. I notice what I am thinking, what I am feeling, what my body is holding. I frequently ask myself what I need, or what my body wants me to know. There is always an answer, if I listen. What I often notice is this struggle to know, to have the answers. It is something that pops up when I am in situations where I feel unsure. It is an attempt to avoid discomfort. I don't do it consciously, it is a defense that I'm sure developed quite early. I know I was always praised for being smart. This quality is one that I never doubted I had, and I received much attention, love and acceptance around being smart when I was a child.  

I felt very uncomfortable quite a lot of the time during childhood, so this defense (it's called intellectualization) served me very well back then and it has helped me many times since. But it does get in the way. I'm grateful for my intelligence, yet I need to ask the part of myself that wants to know to step aside quite frequently so I can stay in the moment. It's okay to be curious, as long it doesn't take me away from the current moment. 

The Most Powerful Moment

So now I'll get back to the most powerful part of the experience in the barn. After the horse snuggled up against me, while we were sitting in the chairs as a group, the horses moved around the barn. Slowly they moved toward us. Eventually, both horses came to stand behind me. While we talked, one by one they slowly crept forward until both horses were standing with their heads over me. I wish I had a picture, because to the others in the group I must have looked funny with one horse's head coming over one shoulder and the other horses's head coming over my other shoulder. They kind of crossed their heads in front of me.

It was so strange, with a result that I couldn't see the other group participants. The group leader noted that the horses could have stood anywhere they wanted, and for some reason they chose to stand over me that way. They remained that way until we stood to do another activity, and then when we returned to sitting, they did it again, just as gradually as the first time. I can't really say what happened, other than the horses knew I needed something. But that can't be all because I'm sure the other group members were having their own emotional experiences in their seats. Yet the horses gravitated to me.

I think the leader was suggesting that they knew I needed either comfort, protection or something. She didn't come right out and say it (I think she wanted me to figure it out myself). All I know is I was in love with these horses. I felt like they got me. I felt like we had a connection. I am laughing as I write these words, but I really mean it, and I still feel that way, even though more than 24 hours have passed. In fact, I've had more experiences of self discovery (what I like to call shifts) since doing that. I am eager to do more work with horses and see what happens. It was truly a magical experience.

Why Am I Sharing This?

 Image credit: Rob Strok/Canva

Image credit: Rob Strok/Canva

You might be wondering why I'm sharing this. There are a few reasons. First, I want to document this magical experience for myself. Also, I want people to know that spending time with horses can be incredibly powerful, almost unbelievably so. Some things you just have to experience for yourself, and I hope this article will encourage some of you who are reading to try Equine Assisted Learning and Growth. Lastly, I'm sharing this because it's important as a therapist that I live the way I encourage my clients to do. I've been on a journey of personal growth - intentionally only for the past two years, but probably for my whole life.  

I believe we never stop growing and learning (unless we refuse to try), and that we must continue pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones, because that is where growth happens.

I can't take my clients anywhere that I haven't been. The more I allow myself to be vulnerable and expose myself to new experiences allowing me a deeper connection with myself, the more capable I become of walking alongside my clients as they are on that journey. I have seen this to be true, and I know as my connection with myself deepens my skill as a therapist will deepen as well. 

Next week I'm taking time to venture deeply inward as I spend time with an intuitive coach in California to reflect on the direction of my business in the year ahead and do more Shadow work (gulp!). This will also be a reunion with some beautiful souls who live across the country and I am so honored that I will be spending time with them there. More is ahead, as I head to the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York in November for a retreat with horses and fellow therapists and other healers. I can't freakin' wait. Honestly, I have been bitten by the horse bug now and I can't wait for my next opportunity to spend time among these amazing creatures. And yes, I am still planning to take horseback riding lessons. It will happen! I'm currently exploring various locations to learn with horses in a different way. That will be a new arena (literally!) for me. I know what Brené Brown means when she talks about Daring Greatly. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out her book by that name.

So that is the story of how I found my heart and soul connection, with two horses and with myself, yesterday in a barn. I hope it somehow inspired you to get more connected with yourself. Let me know in the comments!

If you're interested in walking together on your journey of personal growth, and you live near Baltimore, Maryland, get in touch with me. You can also follow my musings on social media. You'll find me on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook. And don't forget my podcast, Therapy Chat

And, if you would like to have your own experience of deep connection with yourself and with horses, join Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW and I in Lexington, Kentucky June 1-2, 2018 for a retreat combining The Daring Way™ with relational equine assisted learning. Get all the details and register before May 10, 2018 for best pricing! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

What Is Trauma? Maybe Not What You Think.

What is trauma? Maybe not what you think.

When you hear the word "trauma," what do you think of? If you're like most people, you probably imagine that people experience the effects of trauma after a plane crash, surviving a fire, a major car accident, or participating in military combat. It's true that all of those things can cause someone to experience trauma symptoms, but there are many other traumatic experiences which are more common in the general population that we don't always recognize as being traumatic.

I must point out, though, that I have talked to many people who have survived house fires or military combat. Most often when I describe that these experiences - which you and I can pretty much agree, can we not, are considered by most people to be experiences fitting the definition of trauma - could have been traumatic, the person sitting with me in the therapy room will say, "I don't really think of it as traumatic. I mean, so many people have been through much worse." 

There is a reason why that statement is so interesting, which I'll explain in a minute so bear with me.

Going back to my first point, that there are many traumatic experiences which are more common to most of us than plane crashes and military combat. Some may be more common than others. Tell me, have any of these things ever happened to you? 

  • The loss of someone dear to you
  • Witnessing violence and feeling helpless to do anything about it
  • Any unwanted sexual touching
  • Being hit or hurt as punishment
  • Feeling unsafe in your home
  • Feeling unsafe in your community
  • Being afraid of being physically hurt by one of your family members
  • Being bullied in your family, at school or in your community

Some other types of trauma are more common

When it comes to sexual violence - my definition is ANY unwanted touching of your sexual body parts - or any touching of your private areas that you felt powerless to stop - it is so much more common than most people realize. For example, one out of five women has experienced some kind of unwanted sexual touching. Look around. If you are female, and there are 4 women nearby, one of you has probably experienced unwanted sexual touching. Most of us don't even identify many of these experiences as sexual assault because they happen so often to us and people we know that we think it's normal. But thinking it's normal doesn't mean you are unaffected by such experiences. By the way, if you're having trouble believing that statistic you can go here for reference. To understand more about childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault at any age, listen to my podcast episodes on the subject. 

do I have trauma

Speaking of violence, intimate partner violence is another common cause of trauma. Children who witness domestic violence in their homes often become adults who are in abusive relationships. Intimate partner violence includes pushing and shoving; the larger, stronger or more aggressive partner using the threat of violence to intimidate and control the smaller or less aggressive partner; and can also include controlling one partner's whereabouts, isolating them from their friends and other sources of support. Children often feel they need to intervene to protect one parent when there is domestic violence in the home. When children feel responsible for protecting adults, they are doing so to help themselves feel safe. If the adults are not safe the kids are not safe. You can find more information on intimate partner violence at this link

I talked about a character from the show "Mad Men" and how he exhibits the symptoms of trauma but doesn't realize it in Episode 54 of my podcast. Listen here.

I talked about how children watch adults to find out if they are safe in this podcast episode.

Physical violence is another confusing experience which we often struggle to characterize as being traumatic. There are many ways children can experience physical violence in childhood under the umbrella of punishment. I know several people in my personal life who were hit by their parents - with wooden spoons, hairbrushes, belts, brooms - and laughingly tell of running away from their parents or putting a book in their pants to avoid the pain. Ask any of these people if that was a traumatic experience and they will likely tell you that they deserved it because they were mischievous kids. But children depend on their parents for love and protection. It is a very confusing message that the person you trust to keep you safe also hits you and hurts you to teach you to behave properly. That was common in the 1960's and before, but we now know hitting children does not make them behave better.  In fact, it often increases undesired behavior. It is hard to admit that your parent did something that harmed you, and since a child depends on their parent being benevolent in order to feel safe in the world, the child tells him/herself that s/he is the bad one. In reality, parents who used physical punishment often believed they were doing what was right, and certainly what was done to them, in most cases. However, I have heard far too many stories of the parent hitting the child with an object until the object broke, or using a wooden spoon of just the right size and shape to hurt the most, to deny that sometimes the parent's anger was running the show in those situations. Listen to my podcast interview with Eric Greene of 1 Awesome Dad on peaceful parenting.

Another common but often overlooked experience which causes trauma is called Childhood Emotional Neglect. This term, which was coined by Dr. Jonice Webb, refers to experiences in childhood of not having your emotional needs met by the adults who took care of you. It could be because your parent grew up with their own emotional needs unmet, so they didn't know how to meet yours. It could be because they were depressed, or affected by substance abuse, or chronically ill, or taking care of a family member who was chronically ill, or they may have been physically absent for a variety of reasons. Listen to my interview with Dr. Jonice Webb on Childhood Emotional Neglect here.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is a type of attachment trauma. For more about attachment trauma, listen to my podcast interview with Amy Sugeno here.

How does trauma make us feel?

I specialize in working with people who have experienced Childhood Emotional Neglect, sexual assault, witnessing domestic violence in childhood as well as physical abuse in childhood. I mentioned earlier in this article that it is interesting that people who have lived through house fires or military combat often say "I don't think of it as traumatic, because so many other people have been through much worse."  Guess what. My clients who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused say the same thing. Another thing they often say is "it wasn't that bad because I had a roof over my head, I never went hungry and I had clean clothes to wear." It's great that your basic needs were met, but emotional needs are important too. 

trauma makes us feel alone

Trauma makes you think what you went through isn't that bad. But there is a part of you that knows that it was very hurtful. That part might be an inner voice that says "you deserved the abuse because you were a bad kid." Now here is adult me responding to that. There is nothing you could have done as a child that warrants you being kicked, slapped, punched, whipped, hit with a hairbrush, forced to participate in sexual activity before you were old enough to understand what was happening, called stupid, told you were worthless, beaten with a broom - whatever it was. Children are small and powerless. The adults in their lives should not hurt them. And that voice inside that tells you your pain isn't real, or isn't worthy of being addressed (or maybe that you are too screwed up to be helped) is not accurate. 

Okay, so I realize I have experienced trauma - now what? 

Finding a therapist who understands the effects of trauma on child development and has specialized training in trauma recovery can make a huge difference. You can feel better than you believed possible. The first step is understanding that your trauma is real, that it matters, and that you can feel better. Then the hard part comes - trusting a therapist to help you. I know there are many caring and skilled trauma therapists out there who want to help. I am one of them. If you're in the Baltimore area of Maryland, I would love to talk about how we can work together to help you feel better. Give me a call at 443-510-1048 or e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can also contact me directly through my website at this link. Or visit my website to learn about how I work with trauma. 

If you are not in Maryland (or if you are and you don't want to work with me), you can find a therapist specializing in trauma through these resources:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

ISSTD

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute

EMDRIA

Sidran Institute

Somatic Experiencing Institute

RAINN

 

Sources:

Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://www.mcasa.org/_mcasaWeb/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/National-SA-Prevalence-Updated1.pdf

National Network to End Domestic Violence. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://nnedv.org/downloads/Policy/AD14/AD14_DVSA_Factsheet.pdf

University of Texas. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: https://news.utexas.edu/2016/04/25/risks-of-harm-from-spanking-confirmed-by-researchers

Cornell University. Retrieved on March 15, 2017 from: http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/outreach/parenting/parents/upload/Spanking-Research-Brief.pdf

 

 

 

My 6 Favorite Podcasts Right Now

Looking for some new podcasts to listen to?

I'm on a bit of a holiday hiatus from new episodes of Therapy Chat podcast. In the meantime, I wanted to tell you about some other podcasts I love. Here are 6 podcasts I'm listening to and recommending frequently! I hope you will check them out and please comment with your favorite podcast!

[Click here to listen to this post in podcast episode format]

 Click here for all episodes of Women In Depth!

Click here for all episodes of Women In Depth!

1. Women In-Depth with Dr. Lourdes Viado, MFT - I love this podcast because my friend and colleague Lourdes Viado conducts interesting and (as the name implies) in-depth interviews on topics that people don't usually talk about. Lourdes is a depth psychologist who was mentored by Jungian analyst and author Dr. James Hollis. She is so knowledgeable about her work and I love listening to her soothing voice. The podcast is fantastic and I recommend it without reservation! Some of the episodes I frequently recommend to my clients include:

Episode 10: Spiritual Abuse: What It Is & Why It Matters with Tamara Powell, LMHC

Episode 23: Understanding Spiritual Abuse (Part 2) with Tamara Powell, LMHC

Episode 14: Women and the Midlife Crisis with Diann Wingert, LCSW

Episode 21: Healing the Mother Wound with Bethany Webster

Women In-Depth covers subjects that people may consider off-limits or taboo, such as infidelity, sexual abuse, staying in an unhappy marriage, and much more. I hope you'll check it out! Let me know what you think! 

I must add, Lourdes has been a guest on Therapy Chat too. I frequently tell people about her episode, which was about "The Shadow." To listen to that episode click here! I've also been a guest on her podcast.

 Click on the image to listen to Mom and Mind!

Click on the image to listen to Mom and Mind!

2. Mom & Mind with Dr. Kat Kaeni - Dr. Kat is a clinical psychologist who specializes in maternal mental health. She is knowledgeable, skilled and experienced at helping people who are struggling with infertility, emotional health related to pregnancy - including pregnancy loss, and post-partum stress like depression, anxiety, OCD and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Her podcast is a fabulous resource offering information to pregnant and parenting moms, fathers and people who are trying to conceive as well as healthcare providers and psychotherapists. I have learned so much from Dr. Kat and her podcast and I recommend it frequently! Start out with these episodes:

Episode 1: My Postpartum Story: Anxiety and Depression

Episode 3: Resources for PPD Healing and Learning

Episode 7: The Good Mother

Mom and Mind is a great resource. Stay tuned to my podcast to hear an upcoming interview with Dr. Kat. I can't wait to share her with my audience! 

 Click on the image to listen to all the episodes of Galactic Vibrations!

Click on the image to listen to all the episodes of Galactic Vibrations!

3. Galactic Vibrations with Keri Nola and Lloyd Burnett - if you've listened to my podcast you've heard Keri Nola there. She's been on twice, talking about intuition and the Shadow. I am a huge fan of both Keri and Lloyd, who are amazing energy healers and coaches. Their podcast is brand new (it came out less than a month ago) and it is a huge hit already. If you are into the "woo woo" stuff like I am, you'll enjoy hearing their energetic forecasts, oracle card readings, and so much more.  Get started by listening to these three episodes:

Episode 1: Understanding & Healing the Energy of Denial

Episode 2: Using the Energy of Fear to Unlock the Mystery of Ascension

Episode 3: The Shadow of Force, the Truth of New Years Resolutions, and People Pleasing

I've done coaching for business and personal growth with both Keri and Lloyd. They're great at what they do! And as I mentioned, Keri has been on my podcast. She talked about using intuition in therapy in Episode 11, back when my podcast was called The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. And she contributed to my series of episodes on the Shadow (after Lourdes's episode, mentioned above) in Episode 42.

 Click on the image to listen to Launching Your Daughter!

Click on the image to listen to Launching Your Daughter!

4. Launching Your Daughter with Nicole Burgess, LMFT - My friend and colleague Nicole Burgess, LMFT, practices in Indianapolis, Indiana with a focus on teen girls and women. Nicole is super passionate about her work and it comes through when you listen to her podcast.

She has been kind enough to have me on her podcast twice!  Once I talked about The Daring Way™ and the second time was about helping your daughter (or son) if they experience sexual violence. Nicole's podcast covers a wide variety of topics related to the issues of parenting girls.

Here's a sampling of some of her episodes that I've enjoyed:

Episode 34: How Art Therapy Can Be Effective With Teens

Episode 33: How to Create Healthy Boundaries In Your Family

Episode 31: Ways Parents & Teens Can Receive Support Around Suicide Prevention

I hope you'll enjoy listening to Launching Your Daughter as much as I do.

These last two podcasts are super amazing ones for therapists who are building private practices. Both of the podcasters are my buddies - they've both helped me in tons of different ways and if you're a therapist you probably already know of them. If not - prepare to have your mind blown!

 Click on the image to listen to Selling the Couch!

Click on the image to listen to Selling the Couch!

5. Selling The Couch with Dr. Melvin Varghese - Melvin is an awesome psychologist in Philadelphia who wanted to start his own private practice so like any good student, he set out to learn from people who have already done it. Melvin has interviewed dozens upon dozens of therapists and other experts in practice-building to learn how they have managed to build successful private practices and other types of businesses. Melvin has interviewed experts on marketing, multiple income streams, running groups, building websites, creating Psychology Today profiles, writing books, mindset shifts, and so much more. He's had over 100 episodes so far and his podcast is listed in the top 100 business podcasts on iTunes, which is a pretty significant accomplishment! I'm super excited for Melvin as he's now building his private practice, following all that great advice he's received, and I know he will help many people! Here are a few of his most recent episodes. There are so many - if you're a therapist trying to build your private practice I recommend you listen to every episode - but here are a few to get you started:

Episode 93: How Comparison Can Steal Your Joy

Episode 92: My Morning Routine & Productivity

Episode 85: Saying No As a Private Practice Owner

Melvin was on my podcast talking about how therapists can use podcasting to grow their practices. He knows his stuff. He taught me pretty much everything I know about podcasting. Podcasting has enriched my life in so many ways and it's mainly Melvin who I have to thank for it. Here's Episode 49 of Therapy Chat with Melvin Varghese.

 Click on the image to listen to the Blissful Practice Podcast!

Click on the image to listen to the Blissful Practice Podcast!

6. Blissful Practice Podcast with Dr. Agnes Wainman - this is another brand new podcast. Disclaimer - I was the first guest on this podcast. But I don't love it only because I've been on it. Agnes is a psychologist in Ontario, Canada who has learned the hard way how to create a private practice that feels blissful. She spent time at the other end of that spectrum, feeling burned out, and she wants to help therapists who are building private practices find their own bliss.  On her podcast, Agnes talks to therapists about their journeys to private practice. I love her perspective and I think you'll love her podcast. Check it out here:

Episode 3: Why I Became A Therapist

Episode 2: Networking Guru Allison Salmon Puryear

Episode 1: Therapists Can Change the World: A Discussion with Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Agnes was one of my early guests on Therapy Chat (back when it wasn't called that). Check out our interview here!

 Click here to listen to Therapy Chat!

Click here to listen to Therapy Chat!

So now you have my list of 6 podcasts I'm loving right now. When you have downtime this holiday season, check them out! I am sure you'll find at least one that you really love. 

Of course, you're always welcome to listen to Therapy Chat, there are 64 episodes counting the podcast version of this blog post, and I would love for you to listen, subscribe and leave a rating and review! 

If you want to read more of what I write, follow me on TwitterFacebookInstagram and Pinterest. You can also visit iTunes to subscribe to Therapy Chat. There you'll hear me talking about what I talk about and interviewing other people about what I'm interested to discuss. Or you can listen to Therapy Chat on my website, or on iHeartRadioStitcher or Google Play.

If you're in Maryland, and you want therapy to explore the vulnerable parts of yourself that are in need of healing, check out my website. Therapists can learn about my Trauma Therapist Community by clicking here.

You can also call me at 443-510-1048 or e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. I look forward to connecting! In the meantime, take care and I hope you enjoy the holidays!

 Warmly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

5 Podcasts To Listen To Now

It's International Podcast Day! Find out why you should be listening to podcasts, how to do it, and get started today with these 5 recommendations!

International Podcast Day image Canva

It's International Podcast Day! To celebrate, I created this list of 5 podcasts I recommend to clients and other people in my life on a daily basis. If you are interested in emotional health, wellness, family, parenting, relationships, trauma and improving your most important relationship - with yourself - you will find at least one on this list that you will enjoy. I think you'll love all of them! I do.

First Things First.

Have you wanted to start listening to podcasts but you're not really sure how it works? I felt that way too - and look at me now, I'm a podcaster myself! Listening to podcasts is easy! There are so many ways you can do it. Here's a mini tutorial and then we'll get to the list of recommended podcasts.

How Do I Find Podcasts?

Podcasts can be found in many different places - I'll use my own podcast as an example to show you. Each podcast is posted in various places, depending on the preference of the host. They are usually available on the host's website - see example of my podcast here. You can find almost every podcast on iTunes (mine is here); they are also found on Stitcher; iHeartRadio; Google Play Music; and even YouTube! There are many other places to listen to podcasts. Once you find one you like, see which places it's hosted to find your favorite.

What Can I Use to Listen to Podcasts?

Your Smartphone - You can listen to podcasts using a smartphone with a podcast app. There is a podcast app built into iPhones which connects directly to iTunes. There are other apps you can download to your iPhone or Android phone which have various features making it easy to subscribe to your favorites and make playlists. The great thing about listening to podcasts on your phone is that you can take it with you to the gym, on a walk, or while you are making dinner. 

 Image credit: Pixabay

Image credit: Pixabay

Your Computer - If you're not a smartphone user or you spend more time at a desk than out and about, your computer is another great option for listening to podcasts. iTunes is available on both Mac and PC, but if you don't like iTunes you can also open up YouTube and listen that way. You can learn more about topics you choose while performing other tasks on the computer.

In Your Car - Here in the DC area, where I live, most people have long commutes from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Podcasts are perfect for listening in the car. You can bring up the podcast on your phone and plug it into your car's Aux port, connect it with Bluetooth, or just listen through the phone's speaker. Many newer cars have built in music players where you can access podcasts now, and more will be coming in the future. If you have a long commute but don't drive, that's fine too! That's an excellent time to listen on your phone. 

Why Should I Listen To Podcasts?

Variety - You can hear anything on podcasts: how to cope with anxiety; listen to comedy performances or the news; learn a new language; hear TED Talks; get help falling asleep (not while driving); start building a business; find out what your favorite sports team is doing; and many, many more subjects. There is most likely a podcast for any subject you are interested in. If not, why don't you start one? Nothing's stopping you! Anyone can podcast! 

Control - If you don't like a certain episode you can skip it. Unlike radio, if you miss the newest episode you can listen to it later. Many podcasts have ads, but far less than radio, and you can skip them if you choose. You can listen over and over to your favorite episodes and share them with your friends by sending them a link in an e-mail or text message. You also have privacy. If you want to think about how to cope with erectile dysfunction but you're uncomfortable talking about it with anyone, even your physician, you can bet there is a podcast out there on that subject. You can listen without anyone else even knowing. By the way, if there isn't a podcast on ED yet, somebody should get on that because I'm sure it would be a huge hit! 

Free Content - Most podcasts are free to listen to, and you can listen as many times as you want. Some podcasts have membership sites where you can make a donation or pay a minimal subscription fee to support production costs, and if you love a podcast and want it to keep going you can feel good knowing you're helping out. 

Okay, so now you know how to listen and why you should start listening to podcasts - so let's get to the nitty gritty! Here are 5 podcasts I frequently recommend to my therapy clients as well as my friends and family members. Full disclosure - I've been a guest on every one of these (and one is my own). Read on to find out what you can expect on each of these podcasts and why I love each one. Then add your favorite in the comments!  

My 5 Most Frequently Recommended Podcasts:

1. Women In-Depth with Lourdes Viado, MFT, PhD 

I love this podcast. Lourdes Viado, MFT, PhD is a Jungian psychologist in Las Vegas. Her podcast, Women In-Depth, is focused on discussing some of the subjects that women talk about amongst themselves, as well as many topics that are off limits in polite company. I talked with Lourdes about how to respond when your child discloses having been sexually abused. Some other recent episodes have covered the issues of spiritual abuse, infertility and midlife crisis. I recommend this podcast to someone almost every day - and here's a secret: it's not just for women! Many of the topics are applicable to everyone! Check it out on iTunes here.

Click on the image to listen to my interview on Women In-Depth on how parents can support their children who disclose sexual abuse.  These are the kinds of uncomfortable, but super important, discussions that happen on Women In-Depth.

      Image credit: Lourdes Viado, LMFT, PhD

     Image credit: Lourdes Viado, LMFT, PhD

2. Mindful Recovery with Robert Cox, MA, PLPC

Robert Cox, MA, PLPC is a counselor in Missouri who is in recovery himself. He is super down to earth yet passionate about mindfulness, substance abuse recovery and trauma. He also has a specialization in working with individuals who are on the Autism spectrum. On Mindful Recovery Robert moves between offering mindfulness tips, psycho-education about substance abuse, trauma and other important subjects, and interviews with fellow professionals and experts. One episode I frequently recommend is on the subject of process addictions. Robert and I share a passion for advocating for survivors of sexual abuse, and you can hear us talking about it soon on Mindful Recovery. I recommend you check out Mindful Recovery Find it on iTunes here. 

3. Launching Your Daughter with Nicole Burgess, LMFT

Launching Your Daughter podcast with Nicole Burgess, LMFT is a podcast about parenting, with a unique twist. Nicole focuses her podcast on the issues specific to parents raising daughters into adulthood. Nicole and her guests talk about topics related to improving parents' relationships with their daughters. Nicole and I recently talked about sexual violence, an issue that can affect women at any age (as well as men and people of any gender identity), and I'm looking forward to that episode being released. Nicole interviewed Sharon Martin, LCSW about embracing imperfection in episode 15, which is here.  Find Launching Your Daughter on iTunes here.

4. Parenting In The Rain with Jackie Flynn, LMHC, RPT

Play Therapist Jackie Flynn, LMHC, RPT hosts Parenting In the Rain, another parenting podcast I frequently recommend. Jackie covers subjects that are relevant to the parents' emotional experience - when a parent struggles with depression, for example, as well as that of the child, like helping a child with back to school anxiety. Jackie interviewed me about emotional abuse not too long ago. You can listen to Parenting In The Rain on iTunes by clicking here.

5. Therapy Chat with Laura Reagan, LCSW-C (that's me)

I'm obviously biased, but I frequently recommend my own podcast, Therapy Chat. I talk about the subject of psychotherapy, often interviewing fellow therapists who are practicing in ways that are outside of what people usually think of when they consider going to counseling. I've interviewed therapists and other experts on the subjects of mindfulness, trauma, self compassion (with Tim Ambrose Desmond), attachment (with Dr. Jonice Webb) parenting, perfectionism (with Sharon Martin and Dr. Agnes Wainman), self care and worthiness. Dr. Dan Siegel talked to me about his upcoming book The Mind. In the next six months I'll post a series on trauma treatment and a series on attachment, and I published a practice building series for therapists this past summer. You can find Therapy Chat on iTunes here.

So what's your favorite podcast? Let me know in the comments! 

Wholeheartedly, 

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Episode 33: Worthiness, Perfectionism & Self Compassion

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 33: 

Worthiness, Perfectionism & Self Compassion

Hitting My Growth Edge

Click here to listen to this on Therapy Chat podcast! 

  Click on the image to hear podcast episode 33!

Click on the image to hear podcast episode 33!

Once in a while an experience comes along which is just beyond what you ever imagined. It’s like you never really dreamed things would get this good. I don’t know if everyone has a growth ceiling, but I think most of us do. It’s the point that is the highest you thought you’d ever go in your life. It might be that you thoughtyou’d one day get married, but you hit your growth ceiling when you make plans to marry someone so wonderful, who seems so much better than the partner you thought you’d end up with. This can cause a lot of anxiety, because we are going past what our expectations were for ourselves. Another example – maybe you hoped you’d become a doctor, but you didn’t expect to attain the position of CEO of a huge medical organization.

Maybe you always fantasized about being a musician but you weren’t expecting to be invited to write all the songs for the next Broadway hit. For me, I always hoped to become a therapist (and there were many times I doubted I’d achieve that goal). I even thought one day I might go into private practice. I never imagined having a thriving full time private practice where I’d love going to work with the clients I most enjoy serving. I never expected to have a podcast and when I did begin podcasting I surely didn’t think I’d have the chance to interview so many wonderful guests. I really never even dreamed I’d be able to interview someone like Dr. Dan Siegel. I’d admired Dan Siegel’s work on the neuroscience of attachment for about 6 years when I made a contact who facilitated my opportunity to interview him. It was then that my feelings of scarcity began to show up and loudly make themselves known.

Scarcity Rears Its Ugly Head

As soon as I heard the news that Dan Siegel had agreed to be interviewed I was elated. I was literally screaming and jumping up and down. Yes, it was that big of a deal to me! It only took about a day for me to begin wondering what was going to happen to prevent this from happening because I knew it must be too good to be true. In Brené Brown’s work, she calls this “foreboding joy.” She talks about when she was on the plane to go be interviewed for the first time by Oprah and she was super excited, but a delay was announced. Immediately she realized the plane was likely to crash and she would never have her moment with Oprah. Every time the foreboding crept in as the day of my Dan Siegel interview drew closer, I reminded myself of that story.

  Kristin Neff's Three Elements of Self Compassion

Kristin Neff's Three Elements of Self Compassion

When thoughts of “who am I to think I, a humble podcaster, am going to interview someone like Dan Siegel, a world famous expert on attachment, neuroscience and mindfulness?” crept into my head, I reminded myself of Brené Brown on her way to Oprah and told myself to stay in the moment. Just feel how excited I am, and stay with that. I’m a podcaster, and I have a platform to ask Dan Siegel some questions. There’s no reason the Universe (God, Source, whatever spiritual being fits for you) would think I don’t “deserve” to interview him. In fact, the Universe doesn’t think Dan Siegel is more worthy as a human being than I am, because to the Universe, we are all equally worthy. Here I used the three elements of Self Compassion identified by Dr. Kristin Neff: self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

Worthiness and Shame

Even as I used self compassion and mindfulness to help me remember that it’s okay to feel really excited about the amazing opportunity to interview someone I respect so highly on Therapy Chat, I struggled with scarcity. Here’s how I knew I was operating from a place of scarcity:

I didn’t want to tell my podcasting friends I was interviewing Dan Siegel. Why? I was secretly afraid it wouldn’t happen. I was secretly afraid they would snag him before me. I was secretly afraid something would happen to make them all see that I’m a fraud and a phony, and that I was a fool to think I could ever interview someone like that. I told a few trusted friends (only one was a podcaster – this person has a totally different podcast focus) and family. I’m hiding this exciting news like I’ve got a shameful secret.  In truth I really doubted I was worthy. I was so starstruck! It was kind of ridiculous, looking back. For all of his accomplishments, Dan Siegel is just a person. A brilliant person, but still just a person.

So the day finally came. It was my big moment. I have never been so prepared. I checked and double checked everything. I made sure I didn’t schedule anything else that day except for dinner out with good friends and my husband afterwards. We had the interview. It was incredible. I felt like I was floating, I was so happy to be able to interview Dan Siegel. It was a fascinating conversation and when it was over I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I immediately checked the recording to make sure everything was okay.

Here’s where things get ugly. Everything wasn’t okay. When I listened to the recording, I only heard my voice. There was no Dan Siegel voice. I actually wondered whether I had hallucinated the whole thing. If so, I knew I was really losing it. I tried several things to see if I could get his voice to come up, and I couldn’t. I called a podcasting friend, Christy, to see if she could help me. She kindly and generously spent an hour on the phone with me trying everything to fix the recording. She never shamed me or made me feel stupid. But it was all for naught. It turned out I had a bad version of the recording software many of us use, and I never knew because before that day it had always worked great. Apparently after an update there was a compatibility issue with Skype, which I use to conduct my interviews.

How Self Compassion Saved Me!

But this is the crazy part. I wasn’t freaking out. After all that buildup, to find out the episode didn’t record, I would normally have gone into a shame spiral. I would have been so embarrassed, thinking, “I knew I was crazy to think this was going to happen for me!” I would have felt like I didn’t want anyone to know what happened. I would have wanted to hide. But I didn’t feel that way. Even though it didn’t record, the thoughts and feelings that made up about 95% of my conscious awareness were: wow, I just had such an amazing discussion with Dan Siegel. How lucky am I that I got to have that beautiful conversation. I even thought, “how can I be upset? I just got to spend an hour having a personal conversation with Dan Siegel that I will never forget, and I’m considering the nature of consciousness and the Universe...” Of course, I immediately reached out to his assistant, apologetically explaining there was a technology failure, and requesting to re-record if possible. In the past I would have been so afraid to let him know everything got screwed up and his time was wasted. But basically I felt that I hoped he would agree to re-record, and if he didn’t, then it would be okay. Not because I didn’t care, but because I was at peace.  I can only attribute this sense of calm belief that everything would be okay to my self compassion practice.

I’m not going to pretend that I have this Zen lifestyle in which I meditate daily for an hour and nothing rattles me. But I have been practicing self compassion, through regular meditation, since September 2014 when I learned about it at Brené Brown’s Daring Way™ training. If you’re interested in doing this (developing a self compassion practice), you can find free Self Compassion guided meditations on Kristin Neff’s website, www.selfcompassion.org. I also highly recommend her book, Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

My self compassion practice saved me. After all of this, I had sent the e-mail to Dan Siegel’s assistant and then I went out to dinner with my husband and our friends, a therapist and her husband, a college professor.  I told them all what happened and I wasn’t that horrified. Don’t get me wrong. I felt bad that Dan Siegel’s time was wasted. But other than that I was still feeling gratitude and some disbelief that I had such an amazing conversation with him. I just couldn’t find myself feeling devastated. And I didn’t want to hide. I wasn’t ashamed. I wasn’t blaming myself. This is different. The perfectionist in me would have fallen apart 2 years ago. It was incredible to observe myself and the difference my self compassion practice has made in my life, and I felt so grateful for that change! What a better way to feel.

My sense of worthiness remained intact; I told all of my friends who knew about it what happened. People were shocked, horrified, several friends said they had tears in their eyes imaging how they’d feel if that happened to them. They felt humiliated and ashamed for me! But I told them they didn’t need to worry about it, because I was okay. And late that evening I received a very kind and non-shaming e-mail from Dan Siegel’s assistant saying that they were sorry to hear about the technology failure and he was willing to re-record. I was so grateful, and I can’t wait for you to hear our interview in Episode 34, which will air next week.  I even mentioned to Dan Siegel how I felt about it and how mindfulness helped when we re-recorded. I would never have been able to say that to him if I were operating from a place of shame – I would have hoped he’d forgotten and be afraid to mention it. It’d be the elephant in the room. You’ll hear how he reacted in Episode 34.

So that’s my story. I can’t recommend self compassion practice enough. It has truly changed my life, and this experience proved that to me. Please check out Episode 34 and if you like Therapy Chat, visit iTunes to leave a rating and review, download episodes and subscribe so you can hear the latest episodes as soon as they’re released. Thanks for listening!

You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now!). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter. You can also sign up for information on my Daring Way™ offerings and other groups and workshops; sign up to receive the latest episodes of Therapy Chat when they're released; sign up to receive my latest blog posts when they are posted, and follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest, Instagram & Google+If you're a trauma therapist you may be interested in my new Trauma Therapist Community, forming now. Click here for the info. I look forward to connecting! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Four Reasons People Hate Mother's Day.

Mother's Day Can Be Tough! 

This is an updated version of a blog post I published last year on Mother's Day. I added links to a few podcast recordings from Therapy Chat and an updated guided meditation link.

Click here to listen to this blog post on my podcast!

As another Mother's Day approaches, you may be feeling a little less than enthusiastic about the big day. No need to feel guilty if it doesn't feel joyful to you. You're not alone! Most of my clients and a good number of my friends share that they have mixed feelings about Mother's Day too. This post is for all of you out there who hate the second Sunday in May for whatever reason. And there can be lots of reasons! 

 Write here...

Write here...

There are so many reasons why people find negative emotions coming up near Mother's Day. Here are some that I hear frequently, along with a few suggestions for dealing with these feelings. Feel free to share any ideas I missed in the comments below. 

4 reasons why people say they hate Mother's Day:

"I hate Mother's Day because my mom's not here. Mother's Day reminds me how much I miss her and makes me wish I could tell her one more time how much I love her."

Maybe you were close with your mom and she passed away. Or maybe you weren't as close as you wanted to be, and her death left a lot of unresolved feelings about the relationship. You might feel the loss even more acutely on Mother's Day, even if her death was a long time ago. Maybe you were adopted and you want to connect with your birth mother. The marketing of Mother's Day means you see and hear commercials which tug at your heartstrings. Be gentle with yourself, knowing that you are sad about her loss. Allow yourself to feel your feelings on this tough day. Ask yourself what you can do in remembrance or to honor her. Think about what would make you feel nurtured, and do that, whether it's lying on the sofa wrapped in a cozy blanket watching Steel Magnolias, or going roller skating with your best friend, or cuddling with a puppy at the local animal shelter. Maybe your most special friends or family are not nearby. Can you call, video chat or text them? I'm sure you know what makes you feel loved and taken care of. Do that!  

  Click on the image above to listen to past episodes of Therapy Chat! You can also visit iTunes to leave a rating and review,  and subscribe to Therapy Chat so you can get the newest episodes delivered as soon as they're published!

Click on the image above to listen to past episodes of Therapy Chat! You can also visit iTunes to leave a rating and review,  and subscribe to Therapy Chat so you can get the newest episodes delivered as soon as they're published!

"Mother's Day is hard for me because I have always wanted to be a mom and I'm dealing with infertility."

Infertility can feel very isolating, especially if your friends and family members are getting pregnant and having babies, and you have miscarried or had trouble conceiving. Even if you have made the decision not to have children, or you have delivered a baby or adopted after experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss, Mother's Day can stir up a lot of mixed feelings. Many people say they feel no one understands what they're going through. It might be helpful to spend this day doing something that feels comforting to you. Don't worry about what other people are posting on social media today. Honor your own experience in a way that feels right to you. Are you part of a support group, in person or online? If not, would you like to find one? The National Infertility Association has a list of helplines and support groups as well as a number of other resources on its website. Through The Heart has ideas for coping on its website. 

"I feel sad seeing everyone's Facebook posts saying they love their moms so much, and my mom was never there for me emotionally when I was a child. We still don't have a good relationship. I am mad at her for not taking better care of me."

I specialize in working with people who have experienced some kind of abuse or neglect in childhood. Therefore, many of my clients find Mother's Day triggers their trauma symptoms. Our culture places such importance of the mother role! Many people who are disappointed in their relationships with their moms also feel guilty about having those feelings. It is okay to feel however you feel about your mom. You do not have to pretend your relationship with her is different from how it truly is just because of Mother's Day. Here's a podcast episode I did on being estranged from important loved ones you may find helpful.

This is a good time to do what makes you feel special. If you have a partner, letting that person know this is a tough day for you and asking for extra support can be helpful. You can nurture yourself, even if you were not nurtured as a child. If you need extra support with this, therapy can be helpful. Here's a podcast episode on how childhood emotional neglect can make us feel as if we have a "fatal flaw" making us unlovable.

"I am a single mother and no one supports me on Mother's Day or any other time of the year." 

Mother's Day might feel just like any other day if you have little kids and no partner to make sure that you are celebrated on this day. I'll add it might be just like any other day, with an extra dose of resentment about feeling overworked and unappreciated. Once again, I recommend you try to do what you can to take care of you. Your kids will understand everything you do for them when they're older, but for now, they don't get it. Reaching out to a friend who is also a single mom could be helpful. Maybe it would feel nice for you and your kids to get together with a mom friend and her kids. While the kids play you can provide one another with moral support.  Or maybe you can take your kids to the park, so they can play while you get a bit of respite. Do you have any family or friends who would be willing to watch the kids so you can do something that makes you feel special on Sunday?  

A couple more things that might help:

I have two more recommendations that might make the day easier if you struggle on Mother's Day. First, it might be wise to avoid social media that day and the day after. Just like on Valentine's Day, Mother's Day is a notorious day to catch a bad case of comparison-itis when you see what your friends on social media are posting. There will be "perfect" family photos, flowers, and many photos of the fabulous brunches that someone's wonderful spouse or kids treated them to on Mother's Day. I'm not taking anything away from your friends and the wonderful Mother's Day experience they want to share on social media, but if you know this is going to be tough for you, it might help to just not look that Sunday and Monday.

My second recommendation is to try this meditation if you need a little Loving-Kindness (Metta) in your life.

To begin, sit comfortably on a chair or meditation cushion, with your feet on the floor or legs crossed. Sit up tall and breathe deeply for three inhales and three exhales. Bring your awareness to your heart and try to recall loving feelings from someone who made you feel nurtured. Slowly repeat these words:

  Click on the image to visit my website where you can listen to and download two free guided meditations. 

Click on the image to visit my website where you can listen to and download two free guided meditations. 

May I be safe.

May I be happy.

May I be kind to myself.

May I be free of suffering. 

Notice what feelings arise. You may feel the loving kindness spread over your body. You may also notice that sadness or anger are felt. Do not try to push these feelings away, but just notice them. If you can allow yourself to feel them you might find that they pass. Continue taking deep breaths in and out, and just notice how you feel. There is no right or wrong way to feel. This simple practice can be done for a minute or two, or for longer if you wish. It is up to you. 

I hope the meditation I have described above will offer some comfort, even if you hate Mother's Day. If you'd like more guided meditations, Here is a link to two free meditations on my website. 

If you have a reason for hating Mother's Day that I didn't mention, please comment below! I'd also love to hear of any other ideas you may know of that are helpful in getting through Mother's Day if it's a hard day for you. And please remember that you are not alone.

With loving kindness,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

If you liked this post, please feel free to follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Click here to read my latest e-mail newsletter. Click here if you'd like to receive my newsletter in your e-mail. And if you are interested in working with me in therapy or attending one of my workshops, groups or intensives, click here to contact me or give me a call at (443) 510-1048. I'd love to hear from you! 

Mom and baby cat Mother's Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

National Infertility Association (2015). Support groups list. Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from: http://www.resolve.org/support/support-group/support-groups-list.html

Through the Heart (2015). Retrieved on May 5, 2015 from http://throughtheheart.org/

 

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 26: Using the Body to Process Trauma

Welcome! My guest today is Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C, who is in private practice in Baltimore and specializes in treating child and adult survivors of trauma, abuse, and neglect. She’s a nationally known author, speaker, trainer, and consultant. Click here or on the image below to listen to today's episode! 

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • After 32 years in private practice, Lisa knows that trauma survivors use coping strategies such as eating disorders, addictions, self-mutilation, depression, anxiety, and relationship problems. 
  • Lisa does consulting work for clinicians in the US and Canada; she has written two books and has two more in process. Lisa is an expert on Dissociative Identity Disorder and consulting with her is a great way for clinicians who are less experienced in this work to help their clients most effectively.
  • Early in her practice, Lisa realized how important it is to approach her work from the viewpoint of being a good student and learning from your clients.
  • In the exciting world of therapy today, incredible connections are being made between trauma and the impact on the brain.
  • Lisa advises that clinicians be more aware and mindful in working with the body in trauma work.
  • Lisa explains “dual awareness,” meaning being aware of what’s happening in both the client’s and clinician’s body during therapy.
  • Lisa explains the “vasovagal zone” of the body and tracking sensations in the area that houses 80% of emotions.
  • Trauma is stored visually and viscerally, and can present with actual physical pain, such as:
    • Limb pain
    • Fibromyalgia
    • Chronic migraines
    • Stomach/GI upset
    • Fatigue 
  • One technique is to start with the body and work your way into words to deal with trauma.
  • Movement and expressive arts can also be used in trauma therapy.
  • Simplistic art therapy strategies can open the door to visually-based modality when a client is unable to communicate with words.
  • Lisa uses drawing, collaging, and sand tray art so a client can SHOW their narrative, share a memory, or process an emotion.
  • Clinicians have to refrain from interpreting the client’s art for themselves.
  • Lisa explains the stigma associated with borderline personality disorder as opposed to identifying the same client as a “trauma survivor.”
  • Lisa introduces her books: Treating Self-Destructive Behavior in Trauma Survivors: A Clinician’s Guide and Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Workbook of Hope and Healing. One is for clinicians and one is for laypeople.
  • In treating trauma survivors, you have to give them new tools to replace self-destructive behavior—other ways to self-soothe and regulate their pain.
  • Lisa explains why she doesn’t like standard safety contracts because they introduce a power struggle between client and therapist.
  • “The goal is that trauma therapy doesn’t re-traumatize.”
  • Lisa gives details about her Institute in Baltimore, in its 9th year of offering certification programs in Advanced Trauma Treatment, working with expressive modalities and traditional talk therapy. The Institute offers ethics training and has graduated 700 clinicians. Her website includes a calendar of CEU training and the details about Trauma Certificate Levels 1 & 2.
  • Find out more about Lisa and her work: www.lisaferentz.com

I hope you enjoyed this episode, which was all about healing trauma. I'm so grateful that Lisa agreed to be interviewed. If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, rate and review! You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now in some areas). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter, and follow me TwitterFacebook, Pinterest, Instagram & Google+If you're a trauma therapist you may be interested in my new Trauma Therapist Community, forming now. Click here for the info. I look forward to connecting! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 25: What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 25 OF THERAPY CHAT!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 25 OF THERAPY CHAT!

Welcome! My guest for Episode 25 of Therapy Chat is Dr. Jonice Webb, a clinical psychologist and blogger for Psych Central. She’s the author of the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. We’ll delve into this topic and its impact in our society today. Listen to Episode 25 by clicking here or on the image at right.

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • The definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect: a parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs
  • This is different from physical neglect and abuse.
  • In her private practice, Dr. Webb kept seeing clients with the same patterns.
  • She has identified 12 different types of parenting styles that lead to Childhood Emotional Neglect.
  • Children who experience may grow into parents with the same communication patternsif CEN isn't identified and addressed.
  • Dr. Webb has developed a questionnaire, designed for adults, to determine if you’ve been affected by this CEN.
  • Her book gives case examples of parent-child dynamics leading to CEN.
  • She explains how to overcome CEN. 
  • Dr. Webb wants to put together CEU trainings for therapists who want to work with this specialty, but first, she wants to complete a research project to compile results.
  • She has a special offer for therapists working with clients who struggle due to Childhood Emotional Neglect. Listen in to hear it!
  • Contact Dr. Webb at www.emotionalneglect.com or email her at jwebbphd@rcn.com. Sign up for her newsletter on her website and check out her blog at Psych Central!

It was great hearing Dr. Webb share her knowledge about Childhood Emotional Neglect! If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, rate and review! You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now in some areas). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter, and follow me TwitterFacebook, Pinterest, Instagram & Google+. If you're a trauma therapist you may be interested in my new Trauma Therapist Community, forming now. Click here for the info. I look forward to connecting!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 24: Vicarious Trauma

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 24: Vicarious Trauma

Welcome! Today’s topic is one that’s important to therapy professionals and to first responders, too - for anyone who works with people who are suffering, Vicarious Trauma is important. I just attended a workshop on this topic by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, the author of Trauma Stewardship

Here’s what you’ll hear in this episode:

  • The terms Vicarious Trauma and Secondary Traumatic Stress are interchangeable as I'm using them here.
  • Therapists bear witness to the traumatic stories of clients and are affected by them.
  • The nature of therapy work requires empathy; it’s honorable, brave, and important work intended to make the world a better place.
  • There are small ways to lessen the impact of trauma, by mindfully checking in with yourself and using positive coping methods.
  • As a therapist, how much are you “numbing?” We discuss examples.
  • Laura recommends spending 12-60 minutes each day, for six days a week, working out to the degree of breaking a sweat.
  • We owe it to the people we help to take care of our Vicarious Trauma, and regular exercise is one way to do that.
  • Isolation is common in trauma work, because we feel like “nobody understands.”
  • The American Counseling Association lists several signs of Vicarious Trauma, including:
    • Having difficulty talking about feelings
    • Feeling diminished joy
    • Feeling trapped by work
    • Limited range of emotions
    • Exaggerated startle reflex
    • Hopelessness
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Exhaustion
    • Conflict with other staff
    • Trouble with intimacy
    • Feeling withdrawn and isolated
    • Impatience, apathy
    • A change in worldview
  • What can you do to make a difference?
    • Have a mindful presence
    • Exercise (12-60 min. several days each week)
    • Cultivate connection with yourself and others
    • Enrich your life by doing things you love, apart from work
    • Make meaning

Resources:

ACA Fact Sheet on Vicarious Trauma

Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky

Trauma Stewardship Institute 

I also shared information on my new community for trauma therapists! Registration begins soon and if you want to be notified when registration starts, you can sign up here!  

If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, rate and review! You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now in some areas). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter, and follow me TwitterFacebookPinterest, Instagram & Google+. I look forward to connecting!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 22: Handwashing As A Self Care Practice?

Therapy Chat Podcast Episode 22: Handwashing As A Self Care Practice? 

When you take care of yourself, then you take care of clients.
— Ashley Davis Bush

In case you missed it, I was so lucky to interview Ashley Davis Bush, LICSW on my podcast, which is newly renamed Therapy Chat. Click here to listen to past episodes of Therapy Chat. Ashley is a psychotherapist in private practice in southern New Hampshire with over 25 years’ experience. She has written six self-help books, including Transcending Loss and Simple Self-Care for Therapists. She is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and has some great tips to share with us about increasing our self-care. Join us! Click here or on the image to the right to listen to Episode 22.

  Click on the image above to listen to my interview with Ashley Davis Bush!

Click on the image above to listen to my interview with Ashley Davis Bush!

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • Ashley loves her work and counts it a privilege to be part of peoples’ lives. Her private practice is in her home, and it’s “a fun job, watching life unfold in front of you.”
  • Even the simple choice of working from home can be a self-care choice.
  • Ashley’s work focuses on grief, couples, and anxiety, but self-care is a common thread that is woven into her work with all clients.
  • Ashley says that much of her practice patterns itself after her books.
  • Her most recent book introduces the idea of “micro self-care.”
  • “Macro self-care” practices are the big things that we normally think of regarding self-care, but micro practices are short, simple things that can be done in 1-2 minutes.
  • Ashley focuses on self-care to avoid burnout, which she categorizes as “little b” and “BIG B” types of burnout.
    • “little b” burnout is when you are exhausted at the end of the day or week. You may need a good night’s rest or a few days off to regenerate and recover.
    • “BIG B” burnout is when you need to leave the field because you can’t take it anymore.
  • Ashley addresses “vicarious trauma,” in that ALL therapists do some sort of trauma work.
  • Personal and professional experience can cloud the lens with which we see the world, but life’s pains are a constant trauma.
  • Ashley explains self-care vs. self-violence: when you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re doing harm (violence) to yourself.
  • Mindfulness leads to grounding, bringing us into this moment right now.
  • Ashley shares her Tibetan bell practice to help bring clients into mindfulness.
  • She recommends using micro self-care practices at the beginning, middle, and end of your day.
  • Ashley’s book lists 40-50 suggestions as to how to scale down macro self-care practices into small micro practices. It's amazing!
  • Making the transformation from macro to micro self-care practices requires thinking creatively, but shouldn’t be overwhelming.
  • Neuroplasticity is the science that shows the brain can change in response to repetitive behaviors. You can rewire your brain to be more peaceful!
  • When your brain is rewired, then your default setting comes to a place of gratitude and feeling good.
  • Ashley’s three takeaways:
    • Have a basic plan for 3 micro self-care practices each day.
    • Sleep 8-9 hours each night so you aren’t tired during the day. You can tell from our interview that Ashley is well-rested! 
    • Prioritize self-care, and you’ll soon realize that you can’t live without it!
    • Be aware of the seasons of life, but regardless of the season, you can fit in micro self-care every day!
  • Find Ashley at www.ashleydavisbush.com
Everyone has 3 minutes a day in which to do something nice for themselves.
— Ashley Davis Bush

I'm so grateful that Ashley agreed to share her wisdom on the podcast. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, rate and review! You can also listen on Stitcher and Google Play (available now in some areas). And for more of what I'm doing, please  sign up for my newsletter, and follow me TwitterFacebookPinterest Instagram & Google+. I look forward to connecting!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

 

Coming Home To Yourself: My Interview With Mara Glatzel

Podcast Episode 23: Coming Home To Yourself

March 11, 2016

Listen here! or click on the image to the right.

Welcome! Today’s guest is Mara Glatzell, MSW. She is an intuitive guide and energy healer for women who facilitates daily conversations about intention, truth, and celebration. A creative leader, Mara is expert at living in her own skin with grace and ease. At the core of her work is the desire to live a well-intentioned life, which means more joy, grit, and vibrant imperfection to spare. She is MY kind of person—how about you? Her website makes you feel warm, glittery, and nurturing, and her writings and programs are truly inspiring. Want to learn more? Join us!

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • Mara works with women who want to live with more intention and responsibility.
  • She likes to take nebulous concepts that are hidden in layers and break them down into tangible, relatable pieces.
  • Mara’s work isn’t like other therapies or focused on symptoms, but is based on self-love and self-compassion.
  • Mara found this niche after finding herself “not fitting into” the standard therapy role.
  • She knows what it means to struggle with body image, fears, and trusting yourself.
  • When we sacrifice ourselves in order to “belong” to the world around us, then loneliness is the result.
  • You can have all the “right” things happening in your life, and be MISERABLE!
  • Mara’s writing background flows perfectly into her intimate newsletter offerings, which happens to be her very favorite place to write!
  • Mara is gifted in being able to talk about difficult topics in ways that people can receive them.
  • Her newsletter features the unusual option, “Click here if you want me to read this to you.” People love it!
  • “Why aren’t there MORE spaces in which people are lovingly spoken to?”
  • Mara’s “Open to Receive” program is offered at certain times throughout the year, but is now being offered as an on-demand resource on her website with daily audio to support and nurture.
  • Mara offers classes, e-courses,  workshops, online resources, and events. She loves group work and one-on-one work, too!
  • Sign up for her “The Ferocious Truth” event, starting in two days! “The Deep Exhale” comes later in the spring. Visit www.maraglatzel.com/newsletter for more info about events, resources, and more!

If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, rate and review! You can also listen on Stitcher and when Google Play supports podcasting, it will be available there too! And for more of what I'm doing please sign up for my newsletter, and follow me TwitterFacebookPinterest Instagram & Google+. I look forward to connecting!

Therapy Chat Podcast

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Is Shame Stopping You From Apologizing?

Say You're Sorry: Don't Let Shame Stop You!

A guest post from Ruth Spalding, LMSW

Recently I've talked about the pain we can experience when an important relationship falls apart (read and listen here) and considered whether or not forgiveness is necessary (read and listen here). Today I invited my colleague, Ruth Spalding, LMSW, who practices in Traverse City, Michigan to explain the role of shame in our reluctance to apologize when we do something that is out of alignment with our values. 

I've been wanting to write this post ever since reading Amy Poehler's Yes Please memoir. In it, she talks about how she really screwed up and waited a very long time to apologize. She goes into detail about what makes a good apology and for the most part I agree with her. So here are the steps to apologizing like you mean it.  

Mean It

Shame paralyzes motivates defensiveness

A lot of times when we screw up we're mad at ourselves but don't want to be. So we direct that anger at other things, maybe what we see as our excuse for our mistake. Maybe we squash it down. Either way, we usually have to really look at ourselves and what we've done. And we have to accept it so that we can get in touch with our healthy regret instead of toxic shame. Healthy regret motivates us to apologize. Shame paralyzes us and motivates us to act defensively. 

Say You're Sorry

Sounds simple, right? “I'm sorry.” That's a complete sentence. You should have a sentence like that when you apologize. If you're more of a formal person you can say “I apologize” or “I deeply regret...” If you have neglected step 1 then step 2 will be pointless because it will sound insincere. You actually don't have to say much. As long as you mean what you say it will have a powerful impact. 

Identify the Problem

Name what you did that you regret. Do not say you're sorry about someone's feelings. Their feelings are valid and do not require an apology. The hurtful actions are what require the apology. If you “don't know” what you did wrong you need to go back to step one. It's actually okay to be confused about this, we often make mistakes in a haze of strong emotions and then have difficulty rationally sorting through it. We can be really good at denial and hiding our shame and this might be preventing you from getting in touch with feeling regret for what you've done. The good news is that with some introspection you can figure out what you did wrong, but it might take some time and painful honesty.  

Do not justify, excuse, rationalize or minimize what you did. No explanation is going to reduce the other person's pain as much as a genuine apology. Shame makes us not want to exist. Regret makes us want to stop doing bad things.

Shame vs regret

Make Amends

If it's applicable, try to make up for what you've done. Did you destroy someone's furniture while partying too hard? Offer to pay to have it fixed. Of course, there are situation in which it's hard to “make it up” since the damage done isn't easily repaired. You can always say you'll make it up anyway you can but please refer to step one before you do. If you've followed all the previous steps, when you're called to make amends, you'll do so genuinely.  

Don't Ask For Forgiveness

I've seen other folks recommend this when apologizing. I don't because the apology is not about you. It's really about repairing the rupture you caused. Focusing on how you feel, what you need, is not a healthy frame for an apology. If they want to forgive you, they can, but don't ask them for that or pressure them in anyway. If they decide to forgive you, they will have given you a great gift that will probably help you feel better about the situation, but such a gift must be freely given.

Never Do It Again

For some offenses, this is easier said than done. But you should really try to stop the problematic behavior that caused issues in the first place. This might require a better understanding of your own patterns of behavior and internal dynamics that led to the problem, or it might be very straightforward. 

If you're struggling with repeating hurtful behavior, a therapist can help you move away from toxic shame toward a healthier mindset. Apologizing when you've screwed up is the biggest credibility boost you can ever get. Owning your mistakes is so highly respected because most people understand how difficult it is to do. Grappling with your defenses so you can apologize and really mean it is tough. That kind of self-awareness shows through to all that you do. Saying you're sorry is a big opportunity to show commitment to integrity, love, honesty and compassion.

I'm Ruth Spalding, a therapist, trauma guru, and LGBTQ advocate. I love to help burnt out healers find their healthy spark again and guide black sheep to their own awesome herd so they're no longer left out. My private practice, Live Well Counseling LLC, is based in Traverse City, Michigan. If you want to read more blog entries by me or learn more about what I do visit my website. 

Thanks, Ruth, for your guest post! Readers, do you agree with Ruth's suggestions for a good apology? Please share your comments and ideas below!

And as always, for more of what I'm doing, you can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

And to listen to The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast you can click here!  You can also listen on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play. Please download, subscribe and consider leaving a review on iTunes if you like it! 


The Parent Coach Who Doesn't Have It All Figured Out

My Podcast Interview with Washington Post Parenting Expert Meghan Leahy

Meghan Leahy is a parenting expert who writes a weekly column for the Washington Post. She's a parent coach helping parents who are overwhelmed with their children's behavior. Yet she is the first to admit that she gets overwhelmed with her children's behavior too. Does this seem counterintuitive? Not if you talk to Meghan. 

Meghan states that her job is not to tell parents what to do. Her job is to teach parents what their children need She teaches that the problematic behavior is the child's developmentally appropriate way of telling the parent what he or she needs.

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE 20 OF THE BALTIMORE ANNAPOLIS PSYCHOTHERAPY PODCAST!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE 20 OF THE BALTIMORE ANNAPOLIS PSYCHOTHERAPY PODCAST!

Listen in to this fascinating interview in which Meghan shares why she doesn't tell parents what to do, why self care is important - hint: it's NOT so we can take better care of our kids! - and tells us about the theory informing her work. 

Find out more about working with Meghan by visiting her website

And if you like the podcast, please visit iTunes and download episodes, subscribe and leave a rating and review.

You can also find the podcast on Stitcher, Google Play and on my website at www.laurareaganlcswc.com/podcast.

I'd love to hear your comments on this episode! Comment below!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 


The Epidemic of Childhood Trauma

The Epidemic of Childhood Trauma - A Public Health Issue Which Is Preventable

On Episode 19 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast I talked about a subject which is extremely important to me. It is an issue I talk about every day in my psychotherapy practice, as I specialize in helping people who have experienced childhood trauma. Many of us have experienced traumatic events in childhood and think "that was a long time ago, I should be over it by now," or "it happened before I was old enough to remember so it can't be affecting me so many years later." But whether or not we consciously remember traumatic events, they can still affect us. 

 

 

Click here to listen to this discussion in podcast form on Therapy Chat (formerly known as the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast)!

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 19 OF THERAPY CHAT!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO EPISODE 19 OF THERAPY CHAT!

And these effects are not only emotional - although the truth is that childhood trauma can have long-lasting emotional effects, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yes, you read that correctly - PTSD, which we usually associate with veterans who have experienced combat, can be caused by experiencing childhood trauma too. 

In additional to the emotional effects of childhood trauma, a large study has found a connection between childhood trauma and physical ailments as well. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (also known as ACES), which was conducted beginning in 1987, found that people who had experienced childhood trauma had higher rates of suicide, mental health problems, addiction, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, lung disease, obesity and other chronic illnesses contributing to shortened lifespan than people who had not experienced childhood trauma.

The study also illuminated the fact that childhood trauma is much more common than most people realize. Sixty-four percent of adults have at least one traumatic event in their childhood history, according to the study. 

I'm passionate about intervening as early as possible to help people who have experienced traumatic events in childhood, which is why I decided early on to work with children as well as adults. It is never too late to work on healing childhood trauma, but the earlier the better. 

If you're in Maryland and you'd like some support in healing trauma click here to see if working together would be a good fit. You can also e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or call me at (443) 510-1048.

Want to hear more of what I have to say? You can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

To listen to Therapy Chat, where I discuss trauma as well as mindfulness, psychotherapy, worthiness, perfectionism, self compassion and many related subjects, click here! Please consider subscribing on iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio or Google Play if you like it!

Sources:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Effects of complex trauma. Retrieved from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects-of-complex-trauma

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). ACES 101. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). Got your ACE score? Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

United States Centers for Disease Control. (2014, May 13). Injury prevention and control: Division of violence prevention. Retrieved from:http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

 

Can Therapists Really Change The World?

Can therapists really change the world? Dr. Steven Brownlow says yes, if we get out of our own way. 

On Episode 18 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast I was privileged to have the opportunity to speak with someone who is sharp, self deprecating, and so dedicated to the field of psychology. My guest, Steven Brownlow, PhD, developed ADEPT Psychology and he graciously agreed to explain to me what it is, how he came up with it, and how it helps psychotherapists and clients. Listen in for a fascinating conversation about how Dr. Brownlow developed his theory and how he coaches therapists in use of self in their work with clients.

In our interview, you’ll hear a discussion of how emotions are built on the stress system of the body and why traumatic or deeply painful experiences in which we’re unable to regulate our emotions make us feel stuck. Dr. Brownlow describes the process by which micro-ruptures in relationship with caregivers can lead to a child’s belief that he or she is unworthy of love and how that affects our relationships over the lifespan.

He talks about why, as a therapist, you can’t take people where you haven’t been yourself. He explains how therapists can change the world and explains research findings on what makes a great therapist.  You’ll learn about emotional processing in a way you never did in school.

Dr. Brownlow discusses how he teaches therapists to use ADEPT Psychology to get out of their own way, and to get out of their clients’ way to deliver services effectively addressing the reason clients really show up in our offices.

Therapists who want to know more can visit Steven Brownlow, PhD’s website: www.adeptpsychology.com and find out how you can start showing up differently in your work with clients.

I hope you enjoy listening to my interview with Dr. Steven Brownlow about ADEPT Psychology. Please visit iTunes to download episodes, subscribe, and leave an honest rating and review! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW TO LISTEN TO THIS PODCAST EPISODE!

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO MY PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH DR. STEVEN BROWNLOW!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO MY PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH DR. STEVEN BROWNLOW!

Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast
Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Year End Reflections

It's the eve of a new year and if you're like me you might be filled with a mix of hopefulness, excitement, worry, dread and maybe even a little bit of shame about what you should have done over the past 364 days or what you should do (and might feel doubtful about doing) in the year ahead.  

Those feelings of worry and shame squelch the excitement and anticipation of a new year filled with possibilities. And the reality is, even though the calendar is changing over tomorrow to a new year, every day is filled with possibility. I decided last year around this time that resolutions don't work for me. Rather, I want to begin each year with intentions for the year ahead.  A lot can change in a year, and your intentions can evolve as the year progresses.

  Click on the image to listen to Podcast Episode 15: Year End Reflections

Click on the image to listen to Podcast Episode 15: Year End Reflections

I've been reflecting on the past year. Professionally, I've achieved the goals I've set for myself and many more. For example, I don't think in January I was really expecting to have launched a podcast. It was an idea I was toying with, and I may have even told people about that plan, but there was definitely a part of me - a scared, insecure part - that didn't think it would happen. That part of me was wrong, and I'm glad I didn't let those fears stop me from moving forward. I've been very happy with the success of the podcast so far! This year I went to California for the first time, and I started Sensorimotor Psychotherapy training. As of this time last year I hadn't planned on either of those things. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that today I may feel unsure of whether I'll be able to accomplish what I want to in 2016, but the year will unfold with surprises that will surpass what I can envision doing now.

With that in mind, my intentions for 2016 are to enjoy music, allow self-love, practice present-moment awareness, and listen to my body. I'm actually capable of doing all of those things, because they're all within my control, and there is no getting them wrong. I like the idea of setting intentions that allow me to be human, rather than something like "I will lose 10 pounds." I'm a work in progress. We all are! 

Set Intentions Instead of Resolutions

So what do you want to achieve in 2016? Are there any intentions you can set for yourself in the coming year which will allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment on December 31, 2016? What happens when you set your intentions with love rather than self-criticism? I'd love to hear your intentions in the comment below! 

And if one of your intentions for 2016 is to work on healing your trauma, that's one I can help you accomplish if you live in Maryland. Get in touch with me via e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or by phone at (443) 510-1048. If you'd like to hear more of what I have to say you can find me in lots of places online. For more from me, sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

Happy New Year!! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

3 Strategies to Survive the Holidays & Thrive All Year

3 Holiday Survival Strategies to Help You Thrive All Year Long

Greetings! In Episode 12 of The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast (click here to listen) I discussed reasons why the holidays are hard for many of us. Rather than being the most joyful time of the year, November through February is often the most stressful time of the year. If that resonates for you, then keep reading. I'm going to give you three easy strategies for surviving the holidays which you can use every day. 

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and light, but memories of loved ones who aren't there can bring painful emotions to the surface. Feelings of loss related to wishing for a happier childhood frequently arise at this time of year.

And for those of us who experienced feeling unwanted, abandoned, ignored, overlooked, or not (good/pretty/smart/successful/loved/rich/thin...fill in the blank)  _______ enough in our childhood and teenage years, gathering with family can be more painful than fun. Unspoken resentment and unresolved tension interfere with the closeness and loving warmth we wish for. Read on below to learn how to get through it with your sense of well-being intact.

Survive and Thrive This Holiday Season!

Holiday Survival Strategies:

It's a stressful time of year for many reasons, but to get through it feeling connected to your values, in control and emotionally safe, these three strategies can help.

1. Set Boundaries.

Do you know what it means to set boundaries? The best way I know to explain boundaries is this: Setting boundaries means defining what is okay and what is not okay for you. Here's how it works:

For example, let's say you always gather with your extended family at your mother's house for Christmas. You want to go because it's your family tradition and it's the only time your whole family gathers together. However, your relationship with your mother is strained and you feel uncomfortable being around her. She wasn't really there for you emotionally when you were little and you aren't close with her now. She is critical of you to your face and talks about you negatively behind your back to your siblings. Furthermore, things usually get ugly after dinner when people have been drinking and the sarcastic remarks, passive-aggressive comments and criticism start coming out. Last year you and your uncle got into a huge argument and it hasn't been addressed since you stormed out that night.

Survive the holidays and thrive all year

You plan to attend this annual ritual this year as always, but you're having mixed emotions. Part of you is hoping that this year will be different, that your mom will be kind and loving toward you and that you and your uncle will get along better. But another part of you is feeling really anxious about going, with the dread increasing daily. You feel you have only two options: go and be miserable or stay home and feel guilty. Here's how to set boundaries:  

First, ask yourself what you need. This can be difficult if you usually make decisions based on what other people need and want, rather than your own thoughts and feelings. Consider that you have many options to choose from, and pick one that feels right to you. You may decide to stay home and not attend the gathering at all. Or maybe you would prefer to go, but not hang around after dinner when things start getting wild. Would it feel better to talk to your uncle beforehand and clear the air about what happened last year? Maybe you'd like to talk to your mom about visiting her on a different day around the holidays, when there is less stress and tension. You can choose how you want to show up - literally and figuratively - for this event. Let your own thoughts and feelings be your guide. It may be helpful to discuss your feelings with a trusted friend or journal about it. Once you've come up with a plan for how you want to deal with the issue of attending the family gathering, talk to your mom about your plans. Let her know what you will be doing this year by speaking directly and without anger. If setting boundaries is new for you, it may be helpful to practice saying this in a mirror so you can feel more confident. And if this is a new communication style within your family your mom may balk at hearing that your plans are different from the usual tradition. That doesn't mean you are wrong to speak up for what you need. Communicating directly and speaking your truth in a loving way is not wrong. In fact, it's because you love your family (and yourself) that you want to find a way to attend an important event that feels right for you, so you and your can family enjoy being together.  This is true year round, not only during the holidays.

2. Manage Your Expectations.

As mentioned above, sometimes we have ideas about how we hope things are going to be when we interact with our families. We have these ideas even though we've had decades of experience interacting with family members, and the communication may not have changed over all those years. So there's a fantasy of how you want things to be, and then there is the reality of how it's more likely to go. Knowing this, it can be helpful to anticipate issues which might arise and plan for how you will deal with them if they happen.

For example, although you wish your mom would be kind, loving and supportive toward you this Christmas, the reality is that she doesn't communicate that way (even if she has those feelings on the inside). You can't control her behavior. What can you control? Anticipating what might trigger you during the visit helps you plan ahead, which allows you to feel more in control. For one thing, you can plan for how you might address it if your mother is critical of you.  On the other hand, if you are caught up in the fantasy of this idealized, perfect family visit, that criticism feels more hurtful because you're surprised and disappointed that things didn't go the way you hoped they would.

Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast

This is also a chance to set boundaries. Ask yourself what you need. What would you like to tell your mom about what is okay and what is not okay with you? Maybe you decide that when she begins criticizing you, you will leave. You can also try ignoring her or changing the subject when the criticism starts. Or you can address it with her directly. How you go about it is up to you, but you have the right to set boundaries with your family so you can feel emotionally safe. Especially if your family of origin was abusive, you owe it to yourself and to your children, if you have them, to set boundaries. Children are stuck in these family conflicts with little to no power over what happens. They're depending on you to keep them safe.

Maybe Uncle Freddie gets drunk every year at dinner and begins yelling at his daughter, your cousin Annie. As much as you hate seeing him do this every year, you feel powerless to do anything about it. Again, you can't control his behavior, but knowing that this is likely to happen you can plan for how you will handle it. It is okay to leave the room when you feel uncomfortable, and you can be as direct as you like in explaining your reason for doing so. When others are behaving inappropriately or abusively you don't owe them an explanation, but you can still excuse yourself without being hurtful if you've anticipated what might come up and how you'll handle it. Setting boundaries with love can help you maintain the relationships you value without feeling as if you are tolerating being mistreated. Once again, managing your expectations about your interactions with family members is something you can do year round. 

3. Practice Self Care. 

Self care is another concept which we often hear about but don't always understand. Self care means treating yourself the way you'd treat someone you love. So you don't have to subject yourself to doing what you've always done for the holidays if you don't enjoy it. What would make you feel good during this time of year? This can be a good time to catch up on rest and relaxation. If it's a particularly sad, painful time for you, allowing yourself to feel your emotions and finding ways to comfort yourself can help. As suggested above, ask yourself what you need. Tune into what your body and mind are telling you and let that be your guide. 

Do you give yourself time to feel your feelings, or are you more likely to push through and try to ignore feelings which may get in the way of you completing everything on your to-do list? Practicing self care can be as simple as making time to eat when you are hungry, rather than skipping meals in favor of attending to other responsibilities. Stopping work to go to the bathroom is an act of self care. Getting enough sleep at night is part of a self care practice. Setting boundaries, moving your body daily, taking time to read for pleasure, listening to music, walking in nature, soaking in a hot bath, meditation, spending time doing things you love - all of these are examples of self care. What does self care look like for you? 

I write frequently about self care and talk about it on The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. Here are several articles I've written on this subject.

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Therapists Share Their Self Care Tips 

Rethinking Self Care

How Self Care Helps Me Succeed In Business

Using Self Care to Nourish Your Soul and Fall In Love With Yourself

Self Care Apps Recommended by Therapists

Using Self Care to Prevent Burnout

Hopefully these will help you understand why you deserve to make self care an important part of your routine. And if the sadness you feel this time of year is not going away, consider getting in touch with me (if you're in Maryland) or another therapist to get started feeling better. You might be surprised how much better you can feel.

If you’d like to talk to me about working together click here or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can reach me by phone at (443) 510-1048. For more from me, sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me onTwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

I wish you peace this holiday and a joyful New Year!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

Finding Safety in An Unsafe World

Update: As of March 4, 2016, the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast has a new name: Therapy Chat! It's still found in the same locations online - my website, as well as iTunes, Stitcher and (soon) Google Play.  So when you listen to the podcast episode attached to this article, don't be confused! 

Finding Safety in An Unsafe World

There have been a lot of horrible things in the news lately. There was another mass shooting just yesterday. Terrible things are always happening: violence, hatred, fear, oppression...they all seem to go together, don't they? Is this inevitable?

These are scary times.

Scary things are going on. We're more aware than ever before of our shared humanity. Has it gotten worse or was it always like this? Globalization is bringing our world together. Our young people are growing up learning that people all over the world share the same feelings. We all want to be safe and free. 

I remember when I was a child of about 9 reading a short news article in our local paper. It said that a large number of people - maybe 1000, or 10,000 or even 100,000 - had died when a landslide happened in East Asia. I wondered at this story, feeling sad and scared. I was reassured by an adult who told me that it was nature's way of correcting the overpopulation in that country. Those humans who died were individuals with their own stories, their own hopes and dreams, just like me. Their lives mattered. But in that time, we were so detached from a reality of life different from our own here in the U.S. that it could seem as if people in faraway places we never saw were not actually humans like ourselves. Those people who lost their lives were not "others." That concept creates an artificial distance between us. Distancing ourselves from others' pain can help us feel safer, but it also creates disconnection.

Those people who died that day, and everyone who has died before and since, regardless of geographic location, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, sexual identity, skin color, hair color, eye color, language or any other characteristic wanted safety, belonging, connection and control over their own lives just like you and I. 

Now, thanks to global 24-hour news and the internet, we can see the devastation and pain when an earthquake or tsunami destroys a town, or when flooding or tornadoes hit and people lose shelter and suffer injury or death. We see the humanity of those who are affected. We witness their pain and loss, and we can feel empathy for them and gratitude that we were not directly impacted. But it can feel like too much.

Sometimes it feels like too much.

It's too painful. Watching and reading news of terrorist attacks around the world is so painful. We may want and need to turn away because the pain is too much for us to bear. We begin to fear that we may be at risk of experiencing this same pain and loss. What if terrorists attack here? How will we be safe? How can we keep our loved ones safe?

Please know, if you have trauma, such stories can trigger trauma symptoms which can sneak up on you. Not sure if you might have trauma? Read this post.

I talk about this often with my clients.  Suddenly you have a general sense of unease which becomes a feeling of being unsafe. Next thing you know you've switched into autopilot, survival mode. When you're in this mode you're usually not consciously aware of it. So check in with yourself: Am I absentmindedly checking Facebook? Obsessively checking e-mail? Wanting to micromanage my kids or my spouse? Suddenly forgetting about self care? Feeling stuck, immobilized? Click here for a short body scan mindfulness exercise to help you get centered and grounded in your body. 

I'm scared! What can I do?

So why do these bad things happen? The world's problems are so complex. Are the natural disasters caused by climate change? Well, if so, what can be done about that? Some are saying our planet isn't going to survive unless something changes. It's a terrifying thought! What can be done to protect the Earth for our children's children? It can feel hopeless. I see the feeling of powerlessness to effect change as the result of our overwhelming anxiety and fear. In other words, although it may feel like a hopeless situation and you may feel powerless to make a difference, that is not reality. You can take action if you want to change the way the world is.  As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has!"  That's one of my very favorite quotes. 

  CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO THERAPY CHAT PODCAST EPISODE 13!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO THERAPY CHAT PODCAST EPISODE 13!

Using the example of climate change, if you feel worried about it, ask yourself what one small change you can make that will have a ripple effect. Can you teach your children not to litter? Can you make a change in what you consume? Can you donate old clothing instead of throwing it out? Post a Facebook status that raises awareness of the problem? Make a donation to an organization that is working to address the problem? Volunteer to pick up litter on a road in your town one Saturday? 

Many of us are feeling fear and a sense of helplessness from the violence we see and hear about. Most recently the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris this month have created fear that we won't be able to stay safe. With so much anger, hatred, violence and talk of vengeance, are these problems ever going to get better? And will we be safe? 

  Image copyright Laura   Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

I'll quote Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." Our discussion about terrorism and violence in general tends to be overly simplistic. We break it down into "good guys" and "bad guys." There are no good guys and bad guys! There is just us! We can do good things and we can do bad things. 

We look at people who do bad things with disgust and wonder how they can be so cruel. Are they just bad people? Maybe they were born bad. How can they hurt others and seemingly not care? How can they be so heartless? It would seem that people who commit acts of terrorism actually take pleasure in hurting others, torturing them and seeing them suffer. This is incomprehensible to most of us.

Yet some voices call loudly for vengeance, saying the only way to solve the problem of terrorism, to keep us - the good guys - safe, is to blow 'em up! Nuke 'em off the face of the earth! Or capture them and torture them until they admit who their leaders are so we can kill them! Harsh, yes, but they deserve it for what they've done to the good guys! Bad guys deserve what they get! We hear a lot of bloodthirsty cries for justice - swift and deadly. I'll be clear that these are not my views. I feel that anyone who hurts someone else should be held accountable with a justice process that is fairly and evenly administered. However, violence begets violence. If we react with vengeance instead of understanding the cause of the behavior and addressing that, we do not resolve the problem. 

Often people who use violence and vengeance to express their pain use their interpretation of religious directives to justify hateful and destructive behavior toward various groups based on ethnicity or culture. We, the good guys, know this is wrong. But Xenophobia (defined as fear of what is strange or different) tends to be our knee-jerk reaction. How is that any different from the attitudes driving terrorists? 

Then what's the answer? Or is it hopeless?

The opposite of this hatred and fear is empathy and compassion. What if we believe that the people who commit acts of terrorism and violence are human beings like ourselves who feel justified in their actions? What if they think their behavior is justified because of their own desire for vengeance related to some hurt and pain they feel? What if we could look at the conditions that create whole groups of people who fear and hate other groups of people and address the underlying causes? I know that sounds complicated but it really isn't as hard as it seems. 

Sociologists and other human behavior researchers have been studying the causes and solutions to these issues for years. What if we looked at the causes of violence, oppression, racism, misogyny and actually addressed the underlying reasons for those attitudes and behaviors? What if we looked at each other as fellow humans, regardless of what makes us different from one another? Could we live more peacefully, feeling safer and having more freedom and ease if we were able to consider that everyone else is doing their best in a given moment? I'm no better than you and you're no better than me. What if we are all equally worthy of love, acceptance and approval? Because, whether or not we believe it, it's actually true. As humans, no one is better, and no one is less than another. How might things be if we lived this way?

Wanting everything to be okay

As for feeling that we need to have some reassurance that we will stay safe and that nothing bad will happen to us or the people we love, we don't get that. There is none. Bad things will happen. We will hurt. And we will get through them and we can be okay. 

I used to believe that a good life is one in which I would always be happy, or at least content, and nothing bad would happen to me. I still want to believe that I can get through life feeling safe from pain and most importantly, that I won't lose the people I love. I don't know if any of you have felt this way. I know I'm not alone in the feeling. But I don't feel this way because it's how life is, or how it's supposed to be.

I feel this particularly deeply because of the fact that in my early years I did experience loss of people who were most important to me. It took a long time for me to process how these losses affected me. So the worry about losing the most important people in my life comes from that early experience. Now that I know that and now that I've processed the pain of that loss, I can live in the reality that nothing is certain. No matter what I do, there is really no way to insulate myself from the possibility that I might lose the people I love. 

In some small ways, my children growing up can be an experience of loss. It's a process of losing the close connection we've had their entire lives. It is tempting to try to hold on to them in a way that prevents them from becoming independent adults, to serve my own desire to feel connected and loved. But that's actually not healthy for them or for me. Being conscious of that feeling of wanting to keep them close to fulfill my own needs keeps me in check, and I set boundaries on my role in their lives to create a healthy relationship. Setting boundaries (defined as what's okay and what's not okay with me) isn't just a one time thing. As we all grow, the boundaries are re-drawn. The relationship isn't static, so the boundaries must change too. 

So how do we live with the reality that we can't possibly prevent every bad thing from happening, no matter what we do? How do we go through life and be okay, even when something bad can happen that might take us by surprise? Well, one way to do it is to live your life worrying about every possible risk and taking steps to avoid it. I wouldn't recommend this strategy since it could eventually make you feel afraid to leave the house with no one wanting to be around you because you worry so much you make everyone else nervous. 

 Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C  Psychotherapy Services, LLC 2015. All rights reserved.

Another option is to pretend everything is fine even though inside you're dreading the moment when everything falls apart. This strategy often leads to feeling disconnected from yourself because you get so good at ignoring that constant worry that you don't really know how you feel anymore. People who do this will sometimes say, "I don't know who I am anymore. What do I like? I have no idea." Those of us who do this frequently find ourselves taking temporary comfort in numbing out through watching TV, becoming absorbed in social media, binge watching DVDs, compulsively eating, shopping, using sex, gambling or substance abuse to escape. But does it make you feel safe? Not really. There will be loss. You will suffer at points. It's the human experience.

Getting grounded 

So what does help? How can we go through life trying to be okay if we can't be 100% sure that nothing bad will happen to us or the people we love? For me, two things have helped. First, healing from the traumatic experiences of my life by working for much of my adult life (starting at age 29) to process my trauma from those early losses I mentioned and other painful experiences has helped me to feel much safer in the world. The second part of my healing, and I share this in hopes that it will help you too, is implementing a self care practice.

Being grounded means being in the present moment, in your body, here and now. From what I've experienced personally and witnessed in others, any regular practice which makes you feel grounded is key to being present in your body, mindfully aware. I can say unequivocally that when I feel grounded and centered in my body I feel safe and I'm not worried about anything happening to me or the people I love.  I wrote a blog post about getting grounded when trauma symptoms are triggered. It, and the graphic above, explain basic grounding techniques. Click here to read the post.

Here and now. This moment is literally all we have. We truly cannot know what's going to happen next, in any area of our lives. Having control is only an illusion. I saw a beautiful quote by Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe which read, "I say to the moment: 'stay now! You are so beautiful!'" But do we really stop and appreciate the moments of happiness we experience? I've found myself in the middle of a joyful moment worrying when it's going to end rather than just being. Have you ever done that?

Finding gratitude

So how can you feel okay, knowing there is no guarantee of what will happen next? Well, let me ask you - are you safe right now? Can you be okay in this moment? Check in with yourself. What are you feeling? What are the emotions? The thoughts? What body sensations do you notice? What do you hear? How is your breathing? Can you experience gratitude for this moment that you're allowing yourself right now, just to feel how you are? Can you be okay right now, even if everything is not okay? Right now you're safe. In this moment, there is nothing you have to do or be other than just being you. 

Right now, as you are, without changing anything about yourself, you are enough. See if you can take a deep breath and just let that wash over you. You don't have to do anything else right now besides just be. This is the only moment. There is nothing to think about that happened before, and nothing to think about doing next. There is this moment, right now. Just breathe into it. And as you are doing this, just being, ask yourself if there is anything you can feel gratitude for right now. Sometimes when we feel really good it can be a feeling of gratitude for how well things are going. And if there are some things which aren't going so well, or things you're worried about, see if you can find anything that you can feel gratitude for. 

In any moment, as worried and stuck as I might feel, if I try I can always find something to experience gratitude for. When I feel critical of my body or discouraged with myself for getting out of my regular workout routine, I can experience a feeling of gratitude that it's not too late, that my body is strong and I don't have any health problems at the moment to prevent me from being able to go ahead and do something active like stretch, take my dog for a walk, do yoga or go to the gym. 

Sometimes it's simply helpful to notice that right now, in this moment, I and the people I love are all okay. No one is hurt or sick and we all love each other. That can help me stay grounded and present instead of worrying what if something bad happens?  Another practice I find helpful is listening to guided meditations. Click here for a guided meditation I recorded to help with grounding, gratitude and creating a sense of safety for yourself and the world. 

Thanks for reading my longer-than-usual post.  I hope you found it useful in these scary times. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! I'd love to hear from you.

If you’d like to talk to me about working together click here or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can reach me by phone at (443) 510-1048. For more from me, sign up for my occasional newsletter! I don’t send them out unless I have something I want you to know, and you can unsubscribe any time you want. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my weekly podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

 

3 Reasons You Might Not Be Feeling It During the Holidays

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" But not for everyone.

 

It's that time of year again, late November. Time for holiday cheer in all of its forms. It starts with everything pumpkin spice followed by turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie, lights, wreaths, peppermint mocha, evergreen trees and family gatherings. At the tail end of the season you have  New Year's parties and resolutions for the year ahead.

Holiday cheer

For some of us, this is a time of year to look forward to with excitement and joy. We envision happy reunions with loved ones who live nearby and those who don't visit as often. Everyone is laughing, enjoying time together, feeling gratitude, contentment and peace. There are parties to attend, heartfelt gifts to give and receive, special traditions and family celebrations which have been repeated year after year. 

Not everyone is feeling the love, though. For many of us, the holidays are quite the opposite. My clients often share that the holidays are the most difficult time of year. Why? I will give you three good reasons below. In my next two posts I will talk about ways to survive, and even thrive during what can be a tough time for so many of us. Read on below to find out why my clients say that the holidays can be the most stressful times of the year, rather than the most joyful. If you've ever felt the holidays are more challenging than fun, tune in to the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast to hear strategies for making this time of year more bearable! You can listen to the podcast episode on this topic by clicking on the image below. 

 CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE ON THE PODCAST 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE ON THE PODCAST 


1. You want to feel excited about the holidays, but you can't be with the people you love. 

Holidays can feel lonely
  • You may have lost someone you love in the past year. The first everything without them is hard, but the holidays seem to hit particularly hard. It might feel like you are just going through the motions. Even if their loss is not new, you're reminded of the pain of missing them every holiday.
  • Maybe this is your first Thanksgiving or [insert the winter holiday you celebrate] since an important long term relationship ended. Being suddenly single at the family gathering can feel like you have all eyes on you as you try to act normal and hope no one will ask about why you and your ex aren't together anymore.
  • Perhaps you can't be with your family, and it just doesn't feel right celebrating the holidays away from the people you love. Whether you're a deployed military member or the family left back home, it's hard to be away from the people you love at the holidays. Sometimes geographical distance just makes it too hard to visit at the time of the year which is, let's face it, the most expensive and stressful time for air travel. You may have limited time off from work and spending those precious days hustling through airports or driving on congested roadways for a short visit, only to turn around and do it again to get back home, may be less than appealing.
  • Maybe you're divorced and dreading dividing holiday time with the kids between you and your ex-spouse. 
  • You might be local, but you're staffing the hospital, fire or police station, mobile crisis team or other 24/7 job so your co-workers can be home with their families. While you love your job, it does put a damper on holiday celebrations. Don't forget to take care of yourself - helpers need help too! 

 

 

2.  Trying to create the "perfect" holiday is stressing you out! 

  • Consumerism is at an all time high during the holidays. We all know that stores have started putting up Christmas displays sometimes even before Halloween. Black Friday, the annual shopping day after Thanksgiving that supposedly offers the best sales has creeped into Thanksgiving, and there have been a lot of complaints about intruding on this annual holiday and forcing retail store employees to miss their families' celebrations.
  • You may feel pressure to find the "perfect" gift for everyone on your list. You worry about finding the right combination of thoughtful and affordable for each person and your list is growing year after year! 
  • You feel the "proper" way to celebrate the holidays is to decorate your house just so. This means putting up lights outside, decorating with wreaths, electric candles in the windows, and setting just the right festive tone. It has to look better than everyone else's house, and can't be the same as what you did last year. This is expensive, time consuming and can be stressful for you and anyone who is helping you with all of this setup. 
  • The holidays can put a huge strain on finances! When you add up the costs of greeting cards, postage, home decorations, holiday meals for large numbers of people, buying the right outfit for each holiday party you attend, alcohol and travel, you have quite a large amount above your usual monthly budget. And for many of us, there is no extra pay in the months of November and December to cover these expenses. 
  • You're putting pressure on yourself to create perfect holiday memories. Buying children expensive gifts can be a way that parents try to ensure their kids' happiness. If your financial situation is strained you may find yourself comparing the number of gifts you're giving your children for Christmas or Hanukkah with what other families are doing and feeling you come up short. This can cause a lot of shame at this time of year.  If you put too much pressure on yourself to create a "perfect" family, click here! 

3.  You can't stand getting together with your family of origin.

 Feeling alone? Left out in the cold?

Feeling alone? Left out in the cold?

  • If you had a less-than-happy childhood, those feelings frequently come to a head at this time of year. When gathering with extended family, unresolved and unspoken issues can be the elephant in the room. No one is willing to talk about it, but everyone knows it's there - Tommy and Joey don't get along, and Mom and Dad keep trying to get them to spend time together. Or Uncle Fred is creepy and everyone feels uncomfortable around him, but no one feels like they can speak up. There are secret alliances and certain people being kept in the dark to avoid upsetting anyone. The kids, who can usually sense what's really going on, may act out, feeling the stress and tension that is palpable while the adults seem oblivious.
  • Some family members may think of family gatherings as a time to pretend to be one big happy family, while others are just waiting for the chance to air their grievances. Or maybe everyone is pretending to be happy through clenched teeth, but once the alcohol starts flowing people are saying what they really think. Longstanding jealousy and resentment between siblings tends to show up in these situations. Part of us is hoping to have that perfect holiday that we think everyone else enjoys, while another part of us is dreading seeing these people again.  

We get the message that we are supposed to love the holiday season, but for those who feel disappointment and grief over what's missing, it can be overwhelming. If you're in Maryland and you'd like some support in getting through the holidays click here to see if working together would be a good fit. You can also e-mail me at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com or call me at (443) 510-1048.

I'll write more about getting through the holidays soon and I'm planning to host some workshops on self care during this festive and stressful time of year. Get in touch with me if you'd like more info on that!

Want to hear more of what I have to say? You can sign up for my newsletter. I'm not one to bombard you with newsletters and clog up your inbox. I send them every so often when I have something to say that I think you might find useful. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest & Google+

And to listen to The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast you can click here!  Please consider leaving a review on iTunes if you like it!

Warmly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C




Think You Might Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Do you have Seasonal Affective Disorder or are you simply sad? 

I often hear from clients that the winter months are hard. A common statement is, "I think I have Seasonal Affective Disorder." Seasonal Affective Disorder refers to having less energy and increased depressive symptoms at certain times of year, particularly during the Fall and Winter months. It is thought that less sunlight during the winter interrupts the body's cicadian rhythms and causes changes in Serotonin and Melatonin levels, causing mood changes and sleep issues. You can find more detailed information about the definition, causes, risk factors and treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder by visiting the Mayo Clinic website

Much has been written about Seasonal Affective Disorder. I invite you to consider another possible cause for this seasonal sadness. Trauma anniversaries can cause intense feelings at certain times of the year. A trauma anniversary is the date that something traumatic happened in your life. I will explain more below.

winter tree

Susan felt that her symptoms were completely unexplainable and unpredictable, but when talking in more depth about the story of her childhood and the loss of her mother, she revealed that her mother died on May 31. She also pointed out that she never had a chance to grieve her mother's death since she was too busy trying to survive in an abusive home without her only protector. Her father was not attuned to her emotional needs and he lacked the ability to cope with his own grief. 

Susan's annual experience of overwhelming depression in June makes sense when you consider that her mother died at the end of May, so that incredible pain she experienced throughout the month of June 28 years ago, when she was 12, was never processed. Trauma is held in the body, and feelings which are outside of our conscious awareness can show up seemingly at random. You can learn more about this by reading Bessel van der Kolk's book "The Body Keeps The Score," Peter Levine's "In An Unspoken Voice,"  Babette Rothschild's "The Body Remembers," and many other books on the subject of trauma and the body.

Considering whether there is any explanation which may relate to prior traumatic experiences helps us take back control of our own wellbeing.  Susan's body was reminding her every June of the deeply painful loss of her mother. She struggled all year with depression, which is common for survivors of childhood abuse, and in June it became unbearable every year. Susan was able to break this annual cycle and take back control of her emotional and physical health by working with a therapist specializing in trauma. She was able to process these traumatic experiences and she felt better than she had ever thought possible.

*Susan is not a real person. Her story is a composite of many stories clients have shared about their trauma anniversaries. 


This is by no means a comprehensive list of traumatic experiences. If you believe you have experienced trauma, and you are ready to start the healing process, find a qualified therapist who has specialized training in trauma. As difficult as it may be to begin therapy for trauma, it is so worthwhile to find out that you can feel better than you ever thought you could. I know this is true because I have personally witnessed that transformation. 

If you don't have trauma and you really do have Seasonal Affective Disorder, the article I cited above recommends getting more sunlight, taking a vacation to a sunny place (heck yeah!) and/or trying therapy or medication. If you're not sure, talk to a helping professional, whether your primary care doctor or a therapist. 


Susan's Story

Susan* had experienced depression throughout her adult life. Despite taking medication faithfully, she found herself being hospitalized for inpatient psychiatric treatment once a year -always in June - and she lived in fear of when her next depressive episode would cause this disruption in her life. When Susan was a little girl her father was an alcoholic. Her mother tried to protect her from his rage but when her dad was drinking, he often physically and sexually abused Susan. When Susan was twelve her mother died suddenly, and Susan was left alone with her father, who continued to abuse her until she was able to move out on her own at 18. The effects of her traumatic childhood continued to haunt Susan when I met her at age 40. She explained that she felt sad much of the time and her pain would build throughout the year, until in June she would have a breakdown and end up in the hospital because of suicidal thoughts. 

morning light
sunny winter light

So Do I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder or Trauma? 

So before you assume that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, ask yourself whether there is a certain date or specific month that is especially difficult for you. Is there any event you can recall which happened at that time of year which might relate to your feelings about this? Have you experienced trauma? It's not always as obvious as we think. Some situations which can cause trauma include:

  • Loss of a parent or other primary caregiver during childhood
  • Sudden, violent or traumatic death of a loved one or close friend
  • Witnessing domestic violence in childhood or being in a physically violent relationship
  • Growing up feeling that your emotional needs weren't met, that no one was there for you
  • Experiencing physical abuse, including being "spanked" with a belt or other object, or being hit in any way when you were a child, even if you don't consider it abusive
  • Being bullied
  • Any unwanted sexual contact, from touching to intercourse without your consent or when you were incapacitated in some way
Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

If you'd like to talk to me about working together click here or send me an e-mail at laura@laurareaganlcswc.com. You can reach me by phone at (443) 510-1048. For more from me, sign up for my newsletter! I send e-mails every so often when I have something to say, and I definitely won't overwhelm your inbox. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookPinterest and Google+. I have a weekly podcast which you can listen to here.

Source: 

Author Unknown. (2015) Retrieved on November 10, 2015 from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047

 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C