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

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

Doing Hard Things

Doing Hard Things

We Can Do Hard Things Glennon Doyle Melton

Today, I did something hard. Have you heard Glennon Doyle Melton say "We can do hard things"? Well, we can. I can. I think. It's not always something huge - for me, today, it was trying something new and very challenging.

Fulfilling a promise I made to myself and to listeners of Therapy Chat (talk about accountability!), I took my 45 year old body which has not been on the back of a horse for 32 years - and even then, at age 13, my experience was limited to two or three times I rode a horse while someone held on and walked it - and had my first horseback riding lesson. My first lesson, ever. It was clear that the people at the barn and at the shop where I bought my helmet today expected I had SOME kind of experience on a horse when they were talking to me. They kept saying "so you're coming back to riding?" I was like, "no, I'm an absolute beginner. I've never done it at all." 

I like knowing.

I'll be honest, I hated how it felt to admit that I didn't know ANYTHING about horsemanship. I am realizing more and more - I LIKE KNOWING! Not knowing is totally uncomfortable! At this stage of my life I feel like I KNOW in most situations. Maybe it's because I'm a parent and I've become comfortable in that "bossy know it all" role. Maybe I don't push myself out of my comfort zone often enough. Yet I do challenge myself fairly often! In fact, when discussing this with my husband he noted that it seems easy for me to do new things. Not really! Recent experiences of stepping into unfamiliar territory have reminded me (i.e. I've reluctantly accepted) that it's okay to be a beginner. But I am not going to lie, I strongly dislike that feeling. 

It seems like a metaphor for what it must be like for my clients to come to therapy. And what it has been like for me to go to therapy. It's vulnerable!!! Vulnerable is an understatement. Vulnerability makes my skin crawl.

In fact, the more I know as a therapist, the harder it is to be the one on the couch. Yet I also know that I will be my best self as a therapist when I continue exploring the parts of myself that I don't really enjoy looking into. For all of us, those parts are there and they are either in the shadows, where we don't see them as they are calling all the shots, or they are in our conscious awareness and we can manage them more effectively. [Listen to previous Therapy Chat episodes on the Shadow here, here, here and here]

So today I was struggling with not knowing, being a beginner. Pretending I don't feel that way - or avoiding noticing this overwhelming sense of wanting to know - might seem easier. I certainly don't need to write about it here! I'd rather play it cool. I could just have this private experience and not say anything about it publicly. I am sharing it here because I hope it will help you sit with that discomfort when it comes up in your life. You can turn toward the discomfort - feel it - or turn away from it - avoidance.

It's much more fun and interesting, from my perspective, for me to sit back and tell you how much I know about what you might want to try doing differently so you can feel better in your life. But what I really know all comes from my own experiences of struggling and figuring stuff out the hard way. Yes, I have a lot of training and experience but if I couldn't apply these lessons to my own life something would be missing. So showing you that I struggle too is a way I hope to help. 

How did I get here?

How did I end up on the back of a very large horse today? I've been talking about wanting to learn horsemanship. I've been talking about it for more than 10 years. I talked about it in a previous blog and Therapy Chat episode.  I've told myself that all I need to do is sign up and get started. True. So this year I signed up. I got started today. And this is what happened:

Spoiler: it wasn't all rainbows and butterflies.

I was scared. I was nervous. I struggled with not knowing. I found myself using self-deprecation while purchasing a helmet at the Saddlery and while learning how to groom and tack at the Equestrian Center. I probably won't remember how to groom and tack and will have to re-learn next time. I judged myself - fairly harshly. I told myself my body isn't able to do this - even while knowing that my body is strong. I kept telling myself I am too big for this - too tall, not slim enough. Maybe the people who ride are slim because it's great exercise. Maybe I will become slimmer too. Maybe I won't. Maybe they aren't all slim. Maybe it doesn't matter.

A horse weighs over 1,000 pounds. The horse did not seem troubled or disturbed to have me sitting on his back. He wasn't groaning at holding me up. I watched myself in the mirror, thinking, "ugh, do I look like that?" even while knowing my body is strong. Knowing I've never done this. I don't have muscle memory for this. I will learn this. I am strong! But I was judging myself. Judging my appearance. Judging myself for judging myself. Yes, I'm serious. 

Getting up on that horse was HARD. It was SCARY. It was really high up! I was afraid I wouldn't be able to mount the horse. I literally felt like I felt when I went skiing at age 13 and I fell, and I didn't think I would be able to get up. It is not easy to follow verbal directions in that kind of situation when the animal you are trying to climb onto is moving and you can't really see where to place yourself. By the way, getting down was even harder and I almost fell. But I didn't. And even if I did. so what? Even if I got hurt?! I will be okay.

There is an element of trust to this. I'm working on it. Do I need to trust the horse or trust myself? Maybe - probably - both. As my daughter said to me today when I was telling her how hard it was, "Not everything is a therapeutic experience, Mom." Well, true. But I am convinced that this can be. And I am struggling - so apparently it already is. 

 Image courtesy of Shutterstock. Copyright: Petri Volanen

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. Copyright: Petri Volanen

[Click here to listen to my episode with Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW on Equine Assisted Psychotherapy]

When my hourlong lesson was over today, I wanted to be like "this was so amazing!" But I didn't feel like it was amazing. I had about 5 seconds during the whole experience when I was like "Wow, I'm doing this!" I also thought "Does this horse like me? I'm grateful he hasn't tried to throw me off of his back. Am I doing this correctly?" That last thought occurred at least 20 times. I said it maybe 5 times to the instructor. I wanted to say it like 100 times, at least. I judged myself for feeling scared and unsure. I wondered how the horse and the instructor were judging me.

Judging, judging, judging

When I got in my car, I felt like maybe I wanted to quit. Maybe I can't do it. And I was judging myself for feeling that way. Are you confused yet? Me too! I hated feeling like this vulnerable kid who doesn't know how to do things and doesn't believe in herself. But I allowed myself to feel that way instead of pretending it was different. I was telling anyone who would listen - my friend Anne, who I talked to after the lesson; my husband; my daughter; the saleswoman at the Saddlery; the riding instructor  - how hard it was, and how discouraged I feel. As I was telling them my feelings I was judging myself for feeling that way. At home I felt exhausted. Bone tired. Emotionally worn out and physically worn out. An Epsom salt bath is in my future. 

Has this ever happened to you in any situation? How often do you push yourself outside of your comfort zone? Do you like it? Hint: NO.

So why don't I just quit this silly horsemanship idea? Well, I actually believe that I will get better at this. I believe that I will have the experience of learning how to do something new, overcoming my doubts, and it will result in not only a sense of mastery - eventually - but also it will remind me that I can do hard things. I am strong. I'm stronger than I think I am. Emotionally and physically. Cognitively, in my logical brain, I know this. The part of me that is a scared little girl is just one of my parts. There are also other parts of me that are confident. Somewhere in there a part of me knows that this will be FUN! One day! If I keep at it. I am giggling to myself as I write that. Somewhere inside I know that's true.

No Mud No Lotus Thich Nhat Hahn

Again, it's like therapy. You go through the hard parts because you know something better is on the other side. Or you believe it is. You hope it is. And it is. Something good will come from it. I realize therapy isn't all fun and games. But it's better than staying where you are and what comes from the hard work is so beautiful, indescribably so. And you're permanently changed - you can never go back to who you were. As Thich Nhat Hahn says, "No mud, no lotus." That is true of large and small experiences of discomfort over our lifetimes. And what's the alternative? 

Embracing what is (?)

So I'm going to treasure this experience of being so new at horsemanship. I'm going to try to enjoy this feeling of being a beginner. I'll remember that once I didn't know how to do this at all. One day I'll be on the back of a horse, galloping through a field, maybe even jumping. Who knows? The sky's the limit. I have a long life ahead of me and I am going to do hard things, even when I'm scared. I mean, I don't actually know how long my life will be. Of course, no one does. But in this moment, I did this hard thing. And I am embracing that feeling, in all of its glory. The good and the bad.

I hope this will inspire you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, too. That is where the magic happens. That is where we grow. And that is really what life is all about - a journey toward self-actualization, whatever that means for each of us. It's going to be okay. 

My next lesson is on Thursday of this week. Wish me luck.

If you want to read more of what I write, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram 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 iHeartRadio, Stitcher 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. 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!

Warmly,

 

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 27: Sexual Assault Is Not Someone Else's Problem!

 CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO HEAR EPISODE 27 OF THE PODCAST!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO HEAR EPISODE 27 OF THE PODCAST!

Welcome! Trauma therapy became my passion after I volunteered at a Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Virginia starting in 2002. I got great counseling experience and went through extensive volunteer training before I became an employee in 2003. I learned a lot about trauma, and even though sexual assault is not something we like to talk about, it’s a common problem. Statistics show that one in four women and one in six men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but I'm focused on ending sexual violence every day.

What you’ll hear in this episode:

  • Two types of sexual assault are Childhood Sexual Abuse (listen to Episode 30 for that) and Sexual Assault/Rape not involving a child. The latter is our focus today.
  • If you are sexually assaulted, you have several options to consider. To help you make sense of what to do I recommend the following:
    • Call a Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline. Visit the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network at www.rainn.org for the national phone number which will connect you to your local Sexual Assault Crisis Center. You will speak with a trained person who knows your local area's policies and procedures and can help you understand your options.
    • Be aware that many hospitals provide a forensic evidence exam at no cost to you, within 120 hours of the assault. You can also get checked out by a doctor, but that type of medical exam is not the same as collecting forensic evidence which will be needed if you plan to report this crime to authorities. Your local sexual assault crisis center can provide information on which hospitals have forensic nurses to collect evidence, and most will offer you an advocate to accompany you and help you know your rights in the process when you're making decisions about having a forensic exam.
    • Whether or not to report the assault to the police or other authorities is a very personal decision, and you have options. If you are in the military you have another process you can choose to participate in, and if you're a college student your school will have a non-criminal reporting process you may elect to use. 
    • Reach out for support to someone you believe will be supportive. For friends and loved ones wanting to be supportive, visit www.evawintl.org (End Violence Against Women International.) Check out their “Start by Believing” campaign.
  • Keep in mind that the civil legal process is another option outside the criminal investigation; a lawsuit can be another way to hold offenders accountable even if a criminal prosecution is unavailable. 
  • The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) is an outstanding resource for survivors, and has information on survivors' legal rights as well. www.mcasa.org .
  • Find a Sexual Assault Crisis Center using the Directory at www.centers.rainn.org.
  • There are some common reactions of victims following sexual assault/rape. Find a comprehensive list at www.musc.edu
  • There are many community events across the country in April to bring awareness to sexual assault. The events include The Clothesline Project, The Monument Quilt, Vagina Monologues (www.vday.org), Take Back the Night, and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.  Although April has ended, events may go on throughout the year and it's never to early to plan your participation next year!  
 Click on the image above to listen to Therapy Chat!

Click on the image above to listen to Therapy Chat!

Nobody likes thinking about sexual assault but until the day there is an end to sexual violence, we need to be aware of how to get help and what options are available.  And that day, when there is an end to sexual violence, will come if we all get involved to make a difference. Imagine a world without sexual violence. It is actually possible and I'm working with many others to make this happen. I hope you'll get involved too. Visit www.rainn.org to find your local Sexual Assault Crisis Center and find out how you can help.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you liked this episode, please visit iTunes to download episodes, subscribe, rate and review! 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, 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

 

 

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

The Secret To Raising Well-Adjusted Children

Three simple rules for raising well-adjusted children

I think we can all agree that a central goal of parenthood is to raise children who are well-adjusted - meaning they can handle the ups and downs of life, function well in relationships as well as at school and work, and have satisfying inner lives. So how do we accomplish this? There are so many different ideas out there about how to be a "good" parent. So I'll add my voice to the discussion. Click here or on the image below to listen to podcast episode 21. 

I believe there are three simple rules which will help your children grow up to be well adjusted, generally happy adults. Read below to learn what they are! 

1. Learn about child brain development. 

  Click here to listen to podcast episode 21 ! 

Click here to listen to podcast episode 21

Much of the frustration of parenting comes from our failure to understand the child's behavior. For example, many of us find it extremely upsetting when a two year old says "No!" over and over. They call those years the Terrible Twos. I know when I was a parent of a young toddler I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to get my child to listen to me once he turned two. I had no idea how to handle toddlerhood. 

However, there was one thing I did right. Knowing that I was clueless about babies and being a parent before I had my first child, I bought books and subscribed to magazines that taught me what I needed to know. This was before the internet was really a thing. I mean, it existed, but nobody I knew used it then. I really wanted to be a good parent and I had absolutely no idea how. So I called in the experts, and it made a difference!

Learning about child brain development is useful for several reasons. First, it helps you know what to expect and how you can adapt as your child grows and changes. If you haven't noticed, children are constantly doing that. The more flexible we can be, the better we can work together with our children.

There are tons of great resources for learning about child brain development. Now that we have the internet at our fingertips, literally (you're probably reading this on your phone), we can use websites like www.healthychildren.org, operated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, for trusted advice on everything from physical to emotional to social development into young adulthood. You may have heard that we now know the human brain continues developing throughout childhood, reaching full maturity somewhere between the age of 21 to 25. So when we expect seventeen year olds to exercise impulse control, plan ahead, consider consequences of their behavior and think logically about their decisions, we're asking them to use parts of their brains which aren't fully developed yet. 

Well adjusted children

How can we learn about child brain development? Visit the website I mentioned above from the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Read a book about it. Dr. Dan Siegel, a brilliant child psychiatrist who has studied this for years, has written a number of books. A list of his books can be found by visiting his website here. The Whole Brain Child, Brainstorm: the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, No Drama Discipline and Parenting From the Inside Out are all highly recommended reading for parents. 

2. Be attuned to your own emotional experience.

What does this mean? It means knowing how you feel inside. Understanding your emotions as they are occurring. Maybe not understanding exactly why you're feeling what you're feeling, but at least being able to know something is going on. Throughout a given day you'll have emotions coming up. Contentment, happiness, longing, sadness, grief, fear, anxiety, irritation, impatience, excitement, frustration, worry, foreboding, anticipation and so many other emotions course through us all day and all night long. 

Being attuned to your own emotional experience means you feel these feelings as they're occurring. You notice them. With mindfulness, you may observe them without getting caught up in them. With a lack of present moment awareness (the opposite of mindfulness) you may not notice them until they bubble up and out, catching you by surprise. If you have a habit of shutting off your awareness of your emotions (something I learned to do when I was about 7 years old), you may feel a very limited range of emotions, such as only worry or sadness. Those were my go-to emotions for a long time. But that habit, which can be very helpful when you have overwhelming emotions you don't know how to deal with in childhood, can lead to a lot of numbing and avoiding when you reach adulthood. 

Be attuned to your emotional experience

Examples of numbing and avoiding behaviors include getting sucked into the internet, gambling, compulsive shopping, comfort eating or depriving yourself of food, overworking, focusing on everyone else instead of yourself...you get the picture. 

How can you get more attuned to your own emotional experience? Try this simple technique which is free and can be done any time, any place. Pause and ask yourself, what am I feeling right now? What do I notice in my body? How do I feel? See what happens. The key is to slow down and tune in to your body. It will tell you what you need to know. If you're really good at blocking out emotions, it might take some practice before you really hear what it has to say. Another way to become attuned to your emotional experience is through mindfulness meditation. Try downloading my free Mindfulness Body Scan guided meditation from my website. Click here to download for free.   If a lack of understanding of your own emotional experience is getting in your way, find a therapist who can help you work on this. If you're in Maryland, I'd love to help! Information on how to contact me is at the end of this article. 

3. Be attuned to your child's emotional experience.

As you might guess, this is like being attuned to your own experience, but it's noticing what your child is feeling instead of yourself. Using your awareness of developmental explanations for your child's behavior (see #1, above), you can understand what the behavior is telling you about your child's emotional experience. For example, a 10 month old baby who cries when you put him or her down is not "spoiled," but rather seeking the comfort and safety of connection with you. It's developmentally normal for children to have separation anxiety at this age (but not only at this age! See this article for more). Becoming angry or impatient with your child for fussing and crying when you leave ignores the child's emotional experience and doesn't help the situation. And, if you're not attuned to your own emotional experience you may become flooded with emotions when your child becomes fussy. Instead of reacting in a way which is congruent with your values related to parenting, you may lash out in some way, leaving you feeling ashamed and helpless. Your child may also feel ashamed and helpless.

Mother and Baby

Attending to your child's emotional experience appropriately helps your child feel safe and secure in the world. That sense of safety and security - known as secure attachment - is important to growing up to be a well-adjusted adult. You can get more information on attachment by reading this article. It's also covered in the book Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell which I mentioned above.  Sometimes your own attachment or childhood experience of trauma gets in the way of developing a close connection with your child. 

If you're in Maryland and you'd like some support in healing trauma and attachment 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. If you're outside of Maryland, find a therapist who can help you work on trauma and attachment. It is never too late. 

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 Instagram & 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!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

Sources:

Arain, M., Haque, M., Johal, L., Mathur, P., Nel, W., Rais, A., Sandhu, R. & Sharma, S. (April, 2013). Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatric Disease Treatment. Retrieved on February 29, 2016 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/

Laslockey, M. (2014, February 13). How to stop attachment insecurity from ruining your love life. Retrieved on February 29, 2016 from: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_stop_attachment_insecurity_from_ruining_your_love_life

Schlossberg, S. (n.d.). Separation Anxiety Age by Age. Retrieved on February 29, 2016 from: http://www.parenting.com/article/separation-anxiety-age-by-age

 

 

 

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/

 

9 Things I'll be Talking About in 2016: What to Expect on the Podcast In the Year Ahead

At the end of the year we tend to take stock and notice themes. In the beginning of the year we tend to plan and look ahead. So I've taken stock and looked ahead.  CLICK HERE OR ON THE IMAGE BELOW TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE #17!

Over the past year there have been certain themes that have been really prevalent in my practice and because of that I want to talk about them more on the podcast in the year ahead. There are several big issues - I actually made a list - and came up with the nine things that have been common themes in my practice this year and I feel will be important to discuss on the podcast in 2016.

The first theme that’s really been prevalent in my practice is body image. Men, women and children in my practice talk about wanting to have a more loving relationship with their bodies. As you may know, most people I work with have experienced trauma. I think there is a link between healing trauma and having a loving relationship with one’s body, because we know trauma is stored in the body.

A second theme which has been really prevalent in my practice over the past year is craving deep, meaningful and authentic connection. I live in a wonderful community where people tend to gather with neighbors and friends and people are very kind, but relationships tend to stay at a surface level rather than delving into feelings. People say they wish for friendships in which they feel truly seen and heard. I will discuss this more on the podcast in 2016. 

Along with the theme of craving connection there’s also a theme of allowing connection. The problem is not feeling comfortable letting people in - and again, I work with a lot of people who have experienced trauma, so trust is often a major issue. When you’ve experienced relational trauma somebody has hurt you and it gives you a different perspective on whether or not it’s okay to trust people. So naturally, allowing people to really know you - showing up and being seen as who you really are - can be a challenge for people who have experienced trauma and that’ll be something I’ll be talking about more in the year ahead.

 CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE 17! 

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE 17! 

The next theme I identified that I want to talk about is workaholism and perfectionism. Here in the DC/Baltimore area we are working, working, working, working, working, working, doing, doing, doing, never wanting to slow down. It never seems like enough. It can be really hard to make time for oneself - including for therapy appointments - if you feel that without you at work something is going to fall apart. Another theme that goes along with that is being distracted, avoiding, numbing, dissociating, being disconnected from your body. Again, that goes along with trauma too so I’m going to be talking about that more.

When you are avoiding your feelings by numbing, staying busy with work, never giving yourself a moment to be still, you’re not in present moment awareness and you are, as I like to say, on the fast train to burnout city. People are expressing feelings of being burned out - on work, on caregiving, on parenting - all of those things can be very stressful! So it makes sense that you would feel burned out, especially if you never give yourself a chance to rest. And our culture does not encourage that! Wanting to increase self-care but not knowing how is a big theme that I’ve been talking about with people in my practice and I want to talk about more on the podcast. Actually, it’s a pretty consistent theme on my podcasts so far and it will be in the year to come as well.

One thing that I want to change about the podcast this year is that even though I talk about the fact that I’m a trauma therapist I don’t think I really talk very much about trauma on the podcast. I guess I just expect that people really know what it is but I’m realizing that when I say trauma you may be thinking of someone who has experienced a house fire, natural disasters or combat. Those are certainly traumatic event but I’m also talking about childhood experiences of no one attending to your emotional needs or being physically abused.

9 topics for the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast in 2016

Many people don’t consider some experiences that they may have had as physical abuse even though they may qualify, like being hit with a hairbrush, being slapped, punched, spanked with a belt...whether or not it would be something that a court would prosecute a parent for doing when you were younger (because it may have been seen as normal then), the effect is traumatic for child. I think there’s an under-recognition of how serious the problem of trauma is, how much it affects so many of us. I will be talking a lot more about the effects of childhood trauma, the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, and things that I talk about in therapy sessions but I haven’t mentioned much here on the podcast.

The last theme that I want to cover on the podcast more in 2016 is negotiating relationships with family of origin when one has had an unhappy childhood. It’s a problem for so many people and one that people don’t frequently speak about. We have this American cultural ideal that families are always there for each other, families come first, etcetera. But if you had an abusive childhood and you are uncomfortable being around your family, where do you fit into our American cultural ideal if that’s your life? It’s true for so many people. We’ll be talking more about that in the podcast this year.

So these are the themes that I’ve heard about in my practice over the past year and want to talk about more in the podcast in the coming year. I would love to hear your thoughts about these topics and any other themes that you may be interested in hearing covered on the podcast so please leave comments on this post!

Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast

I would love to hear your feedback! If you like the podcast, please consider subscribing on iTunes and leaving a rating and review. This helps iTunes know that people are enjoying the podcast and it makes it easier for people to find it when there’re more ratings and reviews and subscriptions because that’s how they decide how popular it is.

As always, if you like what I'm doing, please find me on social media! You can follow me  on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and Google+. To listen to my podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. You can also subscribe to my occasional e-mail newsletter by clicking here. I only publish them when I have something new to tell you about. 

Here's to an interesting 2016!

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

What is Perfectionism & Why Should I Care?

Perfectionism - What is it? Why should I Care?

We all know them. People who have it all. They drive expensive cars , live in large, beautiful houses in the best communities and have lucrative, prestigious jobs.

They volunteer in the community, drive the carpool, bring just the right dish to the neighborhood gathering and casually deliver a hand-made hostess gift which strikes just the right note - and look gorgeous doing it. They make tons of money, their houses are decorated just so and beautifully landscaped. They're attractive, smart, fun, and everyone envies their perfect marriages. Their kids are cute, smart, athletically gifted and well-behaved, with excellent grades and participation in many extra-curriculars (they excel in all of them). They're the people everyone wants to be around. Many of us wish for such perfect lives.  So who are these amazing specimens of humanity, these superachieving individuals who walk among us? 

Well, around here we just call them our neighbors, colleagues and friends. I live in a community in which it seems that everyone is super-human. Everyone is outstanding, the best of the best. High schoolers with 4.5 GPAs (on a scale of 0-4.0) worry that they won't be accepted to the colleges of their choice.  We must be thin, beautiful, smart, athletic and likable. There is so much focus on being the best that many people struggle with anxiety and depression, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.  If you're a highly intelligent person who also happens to be a gifted athlete you should stand out - but there are so many highly intelligent gifted athletes here that it creates this intense push to rise to the top of a group of people who are the cream of the crop.  And for those who have any learning issues, or those who are not athletic or even - gasp! - don't like sports, it can feel like there's something wrong with you.  

In fact, oddly, even those who are the cream of the cream of the crop seem to feel something is missing. They always try their best but it still doesn't seem good enough.  Does our community put too much pressure on all of us to achieve? Are we the ones putting pressure on ourselves? When you have it all and you still feel like it's not enough, you may be a perfectionist. In fact, those of us who have loving families and a safe place to live already have everything that matters, so why are we constantly striving and striving for more, more, more?  Not necessarily striving for material things, but working so hard, always doing, never pausing to pat ourselves on the back and appreciate just how great our lives really are? 

 CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE ON BRENE BROWN'S GUIDEPOSTS FOR WHOLEHEARTED LIVING!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE ON BRENE BROWN'S GUIDEPOSTS FOR WHOLEHEARTED LIVING!

If any of this resonates with you, listen to Episode 7 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. In it, I talk about Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection. I recommend this book to so many of my clients. It helped me understand how perfectionism was holding me back in my own life, and what can be done about it. 

One of the problems with perfectionism is that is prevents us from truly enjoying life. Instead of living in the present moment, appreciating being alive, we are looking outside of ourselves, comparing ourselves to our friends and neighbors and imagining that their lives are so much better than ours. While we are striving to compete and be the best, we are presenting an image to the outside world which isn't authentic because we don't want anyone to know how small we feel. And it gets in the way of having deep, meaningful relationships with others because there is so much focus on pretending to be fine.  

For more on this subject, check out my upcoming workshops, learn more about The Daring Way™,  or contact me about working together in individual therapy, clinical supervision and consultation or schedule a burnout prevention consultAnd if you'd like to hear more from me you can 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 podcast, search the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and (coming soon) Google Play. Or click here to listen via my website. 

What did you think of this Podcast Episode 7? I'd love to hear your comments! You can also rate and review the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. If you like it, please consider subscribing! 

Wholeheartedly,

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

 

 

 

Connecting With Your Own Needs: Vulnerability in Action

Connecting With Your Own Needs: Vulnerability in Action An Interview with Dr. Agnes Wainman, the Self Care Activist

Recently I was fortunate that Dr. Agnes Wainman of London Psychological Services in Ontario, Canada - also known as The Self Care Activist - allowed me to interview her about self care for The Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. 

Agnes and I had an interesting (and funny, in my opinion) interview in which we discussed society's unreasonable, unrealistic and unattainable expectations of women which encourage us to neglect our own needs and see self care as indulgent. We talked about how social media can make our relationships with our children, our partners, our friends and ourselves more difficult than they need to be. Agnes shared her own journey from "burned out to blissed out" as a mother of newborn twins and doctoral student and the lessons she learned about vulnerability and authentic connection. She shocked me by telling me what Canada does to support new mothers! 

 CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE #16 WITH DR. AGNES WAINMAN

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO PODCAST EPISODE #16 WITH DR. AGNES WAINMAN

Click on the image to listen to Episode 16 of the podcast and if you'd like to hear more of what Agnes has to say, check out her website: www.londonps.ca or visit her YouTube channel where she shares tips and tricks to incorporate self care into your life.  

What did you think of this episode? I'd love to hear your comments! You can also rate and review the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. And if you'd like to hear more from me you can 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

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

 

Using Self Care to Prevent Burnout - Mari Lee shares her story

Using self care to prevent burnout -

My interview with Mari Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S

 
  CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE WITH MARI LEE, LMFT, CSAT-S!

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST EPISODE WITH MARI LEE, LMFT, CSAT-S!

Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast

 

Recently I was honored to speak with psychotherapist, author, speaker and practice-building coach Mari Lee, LMFT, CSAT on the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast. Mari has a private practice in Glendora, California working with sex and porn addiction and she has written books about this subject. She is also a coach helping therapists build their private practices. On her website, www.thecounselorscoach.com, she offers many tools and resources for therapists. 

Click here to listen to the podcast, or click on the image of Episode 14! 

Mari shares her story of switching careers in midlife to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Although she loved her work, she quickly realized she was on a fast train to burnout city. I've been on that train and it can be really hard to get off! That's one reason I admire Mari so much. She realized she needed to make changes in her life in order to have balance and practice self care. She was able to redesign her private practice, which allowed her to bring her best self to her work with her clients, while finding time to write books, do public speaking and teach courses online. Mari shares how she is able to live with balance between her work and personal life. Listen in to this episode to learn what Mari did to build creativity into her time and create additional revenue streams outside of her direct work with clients. 

I so appreciate Mari taking the time to share her journey with us. Whether or not you're a therapist, her message about using self care to prevent burnout is one that any of us can learn from. Listen in and enjoy this interesting conversation between two therapists about bringing authenticity to work and loving what you do every day.

 

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!

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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