There’s nothing like raising a teenager to make you doubt your sanity, your intelligence, even your self-worth! It is amazing to me how 1 person can have such a profound impact on our sense of who we are. All of a sudden I find myself wondering if I really do know anything about life. Have I really even lived at all? Do I really know what I know? How could I have survived so long being so stupid?

Sound familiar? Yes, this is the same child you rocked and fed and adored, the same child you played ball with, that you made cookies with, whom you read countless books to, that you stayed up with all night when they had a fever. But somehow all of those loving feelings fly right out the window when the teenager wakes up in the morning (or should we say afternoon), and is furious with you because he thinks you lost his favorite shirt in the laundry. But that is nothing compared to his wrath if you should bring up his grades or his study habits at the wrong moment. It is as if you never went to school, never took a test, and you don’t know a thing about him!

To be fair, not all teenagers are this bad, and most of them are only this bad sometimes. It’s the sometimes that are so tough to deal with. It’s a lot easier to deal with a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. They don’t have the vocabulary and the knowledge that the teenager does. Teenagers are smart. They know where our buttons are and how hard to push them. They have learned a little bit about the world and throw out just enough information that make us doubt our own argument and our own perspective. And then we either fight back and get into a raging argument that goes nowhere, or we run to the closet in tears, hoping no one else sees us.

There have been a couple of things that have helped me through this difficult stage. The first thing is to remember that this is exactly what teenagers are supposed to do. They are supposed to strike out on their own, to find their own voice, to pull away and become more independent. It helps me to feel one step ahead if I can say to myself “perfect, he was supposed to disagree with me. He is right on track”. Thinking those things also helps me not get caught up in the content of what is being said, especially when he/she is attacking me where it hurts. Internally I have a voice that reminds me that my child is healthy and growing even though it is not pleasant on my end. When children are overly compliant and voice no opinions of their own, that’s when there is a problem. These are the kids who are more at risk to succumb to peer pressure and do things they don’t necessarily want to do because they have no practice at speaking up and having an opinion. When I remember this, it makes it easier to let my kids practice arguing with me. I know that this will help them find their own voice out in the world.

The other thing that has helped me is the mantra “they are not for or against me”. I know that sounds really simple, but it has been a lifesaver for me. So often I take things personally, as if a person, a situation or an event is either for me or against me. “The reason it rained is because someone didn’t want me to go to the lake today. The reason I didn’t get that job is because someone wanted me to learn a lesson.” Sound familiar? It’s the same with a teenager. “The reason he is yelling at me is because he hates me. The reason she tried alcohol is because she wanted me to look like a bad parent.” That line of thinking is a bunch of nonsense. It had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with the teenager’s normal developmental stage. The teenager is not for me nor against me. She is for herself and finding out who she is as an individual.

I am not suggesting that anything really makes it easy going through this difficult stage, but keeping in mind that it is a normal stage, even a positive one, and to stop taking it so personal can help make it more bearable. There is another side. It will pass. Keep breathing. Cherish the moments of peace because they are there, sometimes we just forget to notice them.


Crossed legged outline meditation

A body scan is a very specific type of guided meditation, although you can do it on your own as well.  In this type of meditation, the instructor guides you to experience your entire body from head to toe, and to notice what each part feels like.  This type of meditation can be very useful in becoming more present and anchored in our bodies, and in noticing places that might need attention, but it can also be very triggering for people whose bodies have been violated.


            Ron Siegel describes the body scan as a concentration practice because it dictates where we put our attention.  During a non-guided meditation, we decide where to place our attention – the breath, sound, a mantra, etc.  During a body scan we are instructed to place our attention on different areas of our body.  Although similar, this is different than Edmund Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique.  Progressive relaxation involves tensing and relaxing muscles and is intended to promote relaxation.  The body scan does not involve the tensing and relaxing of muscles, and has the intended purpose of increasing mindfulness and awareness of the body but not necessarily relaxation.  If relaxation is a by-product of the body scan great, and if not, great. 

            The body scan can be particularly helpful when the mind is active and more prone to wandering than other times.  It is also helpful for new meditators who need help developing the muscle of concentration.  Siegal says that the body scan can help because the brain tends to stay more interested when we shift our attention to various parts of the body.

            The body scan can also be helpful in noticing physical symptoms that might need attention, and in noticing our emotional reaction to physical symptoms.  When we become more attuned to our bodies we notice shifts in sensations and we begin to notice which sensations normally shift and which ones might need medical attention. When we struggle with injury or pain, the body scan can help us notice our emotional response to the pain, and we can then learn how to relate to the pain more skillfully.

            John Kabat-Zinn uses the body scan in his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program.  The benefits, he says, are to help the nervous system rebalance itself by bringing awareness to the physical sensations of the body.  According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of meditation can increase our sense of balance and peace, it can reduce stress, and help us have a more positive state of mind.


            If reading the above description of the body scan did not make the hair on the back of your neck stand up at least a little I would be very surprised.  Usually the idea of being more present in, and more aware of your body makes survivors anxious and want to run the other way.  Why in the world would you want to be IN your body?

            When your body has been violated, it usually involves pain.  Sometimes excruciating pain.  The smartest, most helpful thing you could have done during the abuse was to dissociate, to shut down, to leave your body in some way.  Being abused is more than your body and mind can process.  Your brain literally has no way to make sense of what is happening, and so it is forced to leave the experience floating around in your head without filing it properly because there is nowhere to file it.  Your body does the same thing.  There is no way for your body to process the things it experiences during the abuse, and so it is forced to deal with it by trying to pretend it is not happening by shutting down.  It really is quite amazing how your body and mind can take you somewhere else or go into a foggy place so that you can somehow get up the next day and manage to function in the world as if nothing happened.  It is a brilliant strategy. 

            There are a couple of problems with this brilliant strategy however.  At some point the experience catches up with you.  For some, it catches up right away, and for some it can take years.  But it can’t stay hanging out in a black hole forever and at some point, you have nightmares, or body memories or other things that let you know it really happened and you must deal with it.

            The other problem is that keeping the experience in a black hole takes its toll on you.  It requires a lot of energy to keep pushing something away.  It can also cause physical complications like headaches, lowered immunity, autoimmune diseases, heart problems, etc.  Survivors often have trouble sleeping and struggle with intimate relationships.  So, while the strategy of staying out of your body works temporarily, it does not work for the long run.

            Knowing that staying out of your body does not work permanently, does not fix the issue of bristling at the thought of a body scan however.  Going thru each part of your body at the slow pace of a meditation can be excruciating.  Not literally excruciating, but it can seem like that.  Your body has not historically been a friendly place to be, so focusing on your body inch by inch very slowly just does not have much appeal for many survivors.  Especially staying focused for 30-60 minutes!

And yet, it has many benefits to offer, things that would be very helpful dealing with many of the problems survivors deal with.

            Just like taking on anything new that is difficult, it can be very helpful to keep in mind the reasons why you want to do a body scan.  And if WANT is too strong of a word, keep in mind the reasons you are willing to give it a shot.  Keeping motivations for the things we are doing at the front of our mind is always a good idea. 

            Prepare yourself.  In every body scan I have ever listened to, the instructor has always spoken in a very soft, slow voice.  For many, just this style of speaking can be triggering.  Having someone even talking about your body can be triggering.  Having someone directing you where to place your attention on your body can be triggering. 

For all of these reasons, consider recording your own body scan.  It is not hard to find a written transcript or an outline of one.  Find one that appeals to you, or just get the idea of what is involved in a typical body scan and write your own script.  I would suggest keeping it shorter than a full body scan to begin with – maybe 10 minutes.  If you don’t like the sound of your own voice, you could always enlist a friend or counselor to record it for you.  But even then, you need to direct the recording.  Tell them the volume and tone and pace you want them to have.  This is your creation so take your time and get it right.

Make several short recordings focusing on specific areas rather than trying to do the whole body all at once.  Start with the least triggering part of your body.  For some that might be feet and legs, for some it might be hands and arms, for others it might be neck and shoulders.  As you become more able to tolerate being in your body you can include parts of your body that are less comfortable and more triggering.  But make sure to include those parts when you are ready.  Those parts need healing just as much, if not more than the other parts. 

If you can only tolerate being in your body for a minute or two, that’s where you start.  There is no benefit to doing more than you can tolerate.  The aim is to be kind to yourself, not to traumatize yourself even more.  Remember that it is not your body’s fault that you were abused, and it deserves just as much compassion as any other part of you.  Bringing your attention to your body is a way of offering it compassion.  Our attention is one of the most loving things we have to offer to ourselves and others. 

Maybe when you first begin, the safest place is your head.  Great, start there.  Notice what your eyes feel like behind your eyelids.  Notice your forehead.  Is there tension, wrinkling of your brow, softness?  Notice where your tongue is in your mouth – is it resting at the bottom of your mouth or is it at the roof of your mouth.  Remember you are not trying to change your experience, just notice. 

With any practice of this type, if you are in therapy make sure to let your therapist know what you are doing and enlist his/her help if appropriate.  If you are not in therapy, make sure a trusted friend knows that you are trying something new, so they can lend support if needed, and seek out a counselor if you need to. 

For some ideas on how to adapt other mindfulness practices, follow the link for a journal that has lots of suggestions for customizing some popular mindfulness practices to make them more accessible for trauma survivors:

MINDFULNESS SKILLS FOR TRAUMA AND PTSD: Mindfulness Practices Adapted to Fit the Needs of Survivors: Kay, Jeni: 9798856277752: Books








I have been a parent for 20 years, and if nothing else, I have learned how flawed I am as a human being.  And I’m ok with that.  I love owning that I am flawed – it relieves so much pressure.  I have also learned that the best think I can do for my kids is to show them how to live as a flawed person on this planet rather than try to be a perfect parent.  I used to think I had to model for my kids how to be perfectly grounded and emotionally balanced, how to always be selfless and generous, how to always be in control, and to always have a great attitude.  Well, let’s just say I am not all those things all the time, so all it did was teach my kids that I was good at faking a lot of things.  Not really something I want my kids to value – being a fraud.  So here are a few things I am teaching my kids instead:

1.      There is a lot of processing that goes on in my head before I know what to do.  To let my kids in on the way I figure things out, instead of keeping the process in my head I do it out loud.  Now, be prepared, when you start talking out loud to no one in particular, you are going to get some funny looks and your kids might slowly back away from you in an attempt to move to safety.  But seriously, they can’t read our minds.  So how will they know how to mull things around, or how to process different options if we keep it to ourselves?  It does our kids no favors for them to think that we always have the right answer instantly.  They will always feel like they are not smart enough or not quick enough to figure problems out.  Let them in on the secret – there is a lot of thinking that goes on before we have answers.  Think out loud in front of them.  If nothing else, it will provide some entertainment!

2.     Sometimes I am cranky and it has nothing to do with them.  I don’t know why, but in the past, I had a hard time owning when I was grumpy.   I felt the need to blame it on something or someone, which was usually my kids.  If they would just be quieter or if their room wasn’t so messy or if they weren’t so dang picky then I wouldn’t be grumpy!  The truth is, sometimes I am just cranky.  Usually it’s because I am tired or hungry, and sometimes I have no idea at all why, but now I own it.  As soon as I realize I am out of sorts, I own it and tell my kids that it’s not about them, but I am a little cranky so they might want to give me a little space.  I am trying to teach them we don’t always have to blame someone else when we are upset (as satisfying as that might be).  I am not always happy and content, and that’s ok. 

3.     It’s ok for my kids to see how I get grounded.  I have been meditating for about 12 years now, and in the beginning, I thought I had to do it when no one was watching.  I have no idea why, maybe I was just self-conscious, but if I heard someone coming down the hall when I was meditating I would jump up quickly and pretend like I was doing something else.  How silly is that?  Now I tell my kids – “I need a few minutes to meditate and get centered”, and I go in my room and do just that.  If someone comes in, I don’t jump up, I continue meditating.  I suppose it’s about being afraid I am going to be made fun of or being insecure, which apparently, we never outgrow!  I have decided it’s worth the risk of being laughed at though, in order to model for my kids something that really helps me achieve more balance in my life.

4.     Sometimes even moms say unkind things about people.  We try to teach our kids to always be kind and not say mean things, and that is an excellent thing to teach.  And sometimes even moms fall short and say not nice things about someone.  Yes, I may have made the occasional snarky comment about a supermodel looking woman obviously having too much time to spend in front of the mirror, or clearly never having been pregnant, and my kids may have heard said comments.  So, I swallow my pride and admit that I only said those things out of envy because I really wish my stomach didn’t look like it had been stretched out 5 times well beyond its capacity.  I am not saying that we excuse unkind words or let them be ok.  I’m saying that we all do it, and rather than pretending that we don’t, let’s show our kids how to own our words and make repairs when necessary.  When I say something less than nice, I almost always say something like “wow that was really mean.  I think I will just keep my words to myself until I have something worth saying.”  Or I admit that I’m feeling a little unworthy in some way, but that’s no excuse for bringing someone else down.  If we don’t show our kids what to do when we make a mistake, it’s not going to prevent them from making mistakes, it’s going to prevent them from making things right. 

I love being a mom.  I love it even more when I realize that being a mom doesn’t mean I have to be perfect.  Being a mom means I get to show my kids how to handle imperfection in the most graceful way I can.  I guess when you really thing about it, we have an obligation to make mistakes just so we can teach our kids how to learn from them!  How awesome is that?


            People often ask me what divorce counseling is; what do I actually do with clients?  I love when people ask me this because I am so passionate about this aspect of my practice.  I love to explain all the ways I can help people put their lives back together after a crisis like divorce.


One of the first things I do when I meet with a client is to assess where he/she is in terms of having their basic needs taken care of.  Do they have a financial plan or do we need to work on some budgeting?  Do they have housing in place or do they need some support going through the process of renting or buying or selling?  Many people have never been completely in charge of their own finances (or shoes hanging over edge woman clutching handsat least not for a very long time), and many people have never signed a lease or gone through the process of buying/selling a house on their own.  These things can be overwhelming when you are already emotionally drained from going through a divorce, so I help my clients with some very practical things like budgeting and housing, as well at other things like how to find a mechanic, or how to get the utilities put into their own name.  Things that might seem simple when life is calm, suddenly become overwhelming when divorce takes over your life.  I have a great network of professionals whom I can refer you to when you need something beyond my expertise. 


This is the part many people think of when they think of counseling.  Lots of working through a wide array of emotions.  The advantage of doing this with a counselor rather than friends or family is that I am impartial, I have no need to try and fix anything for you or find a quick solution, and there is no judgment.  You can be angry, hateful, sad, happy, relieved, or whatever it is you are feeling, and I will be there to listen, support, and help you heal.  Often you will think that you have finished processing through something, only to find it comes back around again and you need to work through it in a new way.  I will listen and support you for as long as it takes and I will never tell you to “just get over it and move on.”


No matter how long you have been married, your identity became tied up with being a husband or wife to another person.  You arranged your life around being that person’s partner, whether it be changing friendships, incorporating in-laws into your life, becoming a parent, maybe even changing your job to accommodate your relationship.  Now, you are no longer someone’s husband or wife, you may be a single parent, you may not have a way to support yourself financially, your friendships are different, your home life is different.  Who are you? 

These are things we will sort out in counseling.  We may explore new career paths, do some inventories to find what you might be good at or enjoy.  We may look at education – is this the right time to further your education and how can we make that work.  You might need help transitioning from being a fulltime mom to being a financial provider.  That will be a huge shift on many levels that we will work through.  Your social network will probably be turned upside down so we will figure out how you can figure out who your friends are and how to get the support you need.


When you are going through a divorce or are newly divorced, it can feel like your brain is in a fog and not quite awake.  It can be hard to organize your day, to figure out what you need to do next.  We will make lots of lists and prioritize things that need to be done, and help you figure out systems to keep yourself on track even when you are emotionally drained.  I can be your back up brain when yours needs some rest. 


It is so easy to let things slide like eating and exercise when your life has been turned into something unrecognizable to you.  Unfortunately, that just leads to a deeper dive into anxiety, depression, fogginess, and generally feeling exhausted.  I will try to help you find ways to supply your body with what it needs to keep going in the easiest way possible so that you don’t have to put too much work into it.  Just like putting the proper fuel into your car rather than water, it’s important to give your body good fuel or it won’t run any better than a car with a tank full of water.  If you need more help in that area than I can offer, I have a great team of nutrition and exercise experts ready to support you as well.


There really is a great deal that goes into divorce counseling.  Yes, there is the expected part about working through emotions, but there is so much more.  You really are not alone, there is so much I can support you with and guide you through so that you can not only survive, but hopefully come out better on the other side.




calm ocean rippleGuided meditations are very popular among people wanting some help with their meditation practice.  Having someone guide your meditation can help you stay focused, and when your mind wanders it can be easier to come back to someone’s voice rather than just your own quiet breath.  Another advantage is that there are guided meditations on so many topics that it is easy to find something that applies to whatever you might need support with.  There are meditations for relaxation, forgiveness, pain management, motivation, finding inner peace, and so on.  If you want your meditation to be focused on something in particular, or if you have a goal in mind for the meditation, guided work can be very helpful.

The difficult part for survivors of abuse can be letting go and letting someone else have influence in your head.  As a survivor of abuse, you know what it feels like to have absolutely no control.  You know what it feels like to be powerless over your body, your thoughts, your feelings, and your future. Please note that I said that you know what it FEELS like to be powerless over these things, not that you actually ARE powerless over your future.  During the times, the abuse is happening the truth is that you are powerless over your body and the immediate future of what happens to you, but you may feel like you are powerless over the rest of your life.  You may feel like you have become damaged beyond repair, and that damage will cast a long, dark shadow over your entire future.  It can feel like the abuser has not only stolen the moments during the abuse, the they have also stolen your future happiness, your future trust, your future everything. 

The abuser has a way of getting into the survivor’s head, even if no words were spoken.  There may have been overt messages during the abuse – the abuser may have told the child how worthless he/she was, or that the child made him/her do it, or that the child had it coming.  There may have been a barrage of insults thrown at the child before, during and after the abuse.  There may have been nothing said at all, but the survivor knows exactly what would have been said.  The child fills in the blanks with all the thing he/she assumes the abuser is thinking, and so the abuser doesn’t even need to say a word to get the message across.  The child will tell himself that he is worthless, that the abuse is his fault, that he deserves what is happening, that other kids aren’t doing these things, that he has a duty to please the abuser – the list is endless.  So, whether or not the abuser uses actual words or not, the messages get in the survivor’s head.


Doesn’t it make sense, then, that we would be hesitant to let someone feed us messages and things to think about when we are supposed to be in a relaxed, open, vulnerable state?  During meditation, we are letting our defenses down; we are turning inward and not toward the outside world scanning for danger.  This state in and of itself can be quite challenging for survivors.  In meditation, at least the kind of meditation I am talking about, we are not trying to attain an altered state of being, we are still fully present and conscious, but we are also attempting to turn our attention inward.  This is usually a shift for survivors, especially if you are early in your recovery work. 

Honoring that we are allowing ourselves to be in a vulnerable state, it is wise to be cautious about the words that we let in when we are in this state.  Those words can have a lot of impact.  I have found that some clients absolutely refuse to do guided meditations because they don’t want to let someone have the power to influence their thoughts so deeply.  For someone who has not experienced abuse this can be difficult to understand.  These folks find it calming to let someone else guide their thoughts and their experience.  They find it much easier to do guided meditations rather than self-guided meditation.  Survivors can feel left out and wonder if there is something wrong with them because they have so much resistance to guided work.  You are not crazy, doing it wrong, being difficult or a bad meditator if you struggle with guided meditations.  In your world with your experiences, it makes perfect sense.


If guided meditation is something you are interested in, it is worth the effort to adapt it to your needs.  Some things that can be helpful are to have a friend record a meditation so that the voice is one that you trust and are familiar with.  It is also very helpful to start slow, don’t try to tackle a long meditation all at once – maybe just start with 5 or 10 minutes for the first several sessions.  Keeping your eyes open initially might also be helpful.  It can help you orient to the present moment, reminding you where you are in time and space.  To begin with, pick a lighter topic like relaxation rather than something like forgiveness that might be more triggering.

If you are in therapy, seek support from your therapist and let him/her know what you are doing.  That way if something gets triggered you will both be more prepared to handle it.  You may even want to try guided meditations with your therapist to begin with until you feel safer with the process.  If you are not in therapy, you may want to let a close friend know that you are starting a new practice that might be triggering so that he/she can be ready to give any added support you might need. 

Trust your instincts and take things at your own pace.  If you try it and it does not feel right, let it go for now and try again another time.  Guided meditation can be helpful, but only at the right time and under the right circumstances for you.  May you find healing in your practice of meditation.





parent bowling with child happy            I recently read something that compared parenting to sales.  The book was totally unrelated to parenting, so at first I didn’t really think too much about it, but later the concept started to nag at me. Are parents really salespeople?  How do I feel about that?  Am I offended? Am I curious?  What does that really mean?

            To be honest, my immediate response was that I was offended.  As parents I thought we were supposed to lead, educate, mold, and discipline our children, aren’t we?  We show them by example and when they don’t get the hint then we TELL them what to do.  We don’t wait for them to decide they are going to buy into this being an obedient kid thing, we expect them to do it.  I admit it, that was my parenting ego jumping in and asserting her opinion.  It was also a stereotypical view of a pushy, slick salesperson.  I am a parent, not a slick salesperson who has no morals and just wants me to buy something I don’t need! 

            After a few seconds of being on my soapbox, I stepped down and let my higher self weigh in on the conversation.  That’s the part of me that looks at things with curiosity and less judgment.  I decided to expand my idea of salespeople.  Yes, there are those who don’t listen and just come in with lots of practiced lines and don’t relent until you either buy something or you have to get downright rude to get rid of them.  But that’s not what good sales is all about.  Sales is about getting in your customer’s shoes, taking on his/her perspective, and seeing what their needs are.  A good sales person will look at things from your perspective and then find the best fit for your needs.  They will follow up to see how things are going and attempt to correct any problems.  They will be polite, respectful and friendly.  Of course, their aim is to sell you something because that is how they make their living.  But if they sell you a defective product or something you hate, then how likely are you to go back to them or recommend them to someone else?  Their livelihood depends in large part upon their reputation, repeat customers and referrals.  So, it doesn’t make sense for them to sell you something you will hate and then tell everyone you know that they are terrible.  The basic idea is that you do want to buy something which is why you are there (unless we are talking about telemarketers, which we are not), so why not find the product or service that best fits your needs?

            Let’s look at those ideas in terms of parenting.  I absolutely think as parents we need to walk in our children’s shoes frequently.  As adults, our brains and emotions work one way, and our children’s brains and emotions work differently.  If we try to impose the logic of our more evolved brain to that of a much less evolved brain we are not likely to get the results we want.  For example, if we tell our 6th grader he needs to get good grades because it will benefit him in the future, we aren’t likely to get a lot of buy-in because the part of their brain that can plan for the future is still developing.  Some kids might get this concept, but for the most part their world is much more immediate until that part of their brain develops more, which won’t be until their early 20’s.  It’s not his fault and he is not purposely being difficult, the wiring just isn’t there.  So, a good salesperson would take on the perspective of someone who needs more immediate reasons to get good grades because that’s what their biology requires.

            What about the toddler who has a tantrum at the market?  Our goal is to get them to behave and not cause a scene, right?  We are trying to “sell” them on the idea of being polite in the market.  Being a good salesperson, we would look at things from her perspective and figure out what she needs to “buy” our idea.  First, is she hungry?  Adults can put off being hungry but a toddler can’t.  Her blood sugar levels affect her greatly, and she has no control over her behavior if her blood sugar is too low.  Also, if she is hungry, that’s a little mean to take her to a place full of what she needs but tell her she can’t have it.  Her world is still limited to food, nurturing, and emotions that she can’t control.  Her body is simple – feed it frequently, give it lots of rest and lots of activity.  As a salesperson wanting her to buy into the idea of behaving at the market, it is our job to make sure her body has what it needs first.  She depends on us for this; she is not yet able to do it herself. 

            Checking in after the “sale” as a parent doesn’t mean getting your kid’s approval on your parenting.  To me it means checking to see how they are doing, what’s going on in their world so that we can continue to see life through their eyes.  If we know they are being teased at school it makes their moody behavior at home much more understandable.  We can then figure out the “product” that is the best fit for them.  Maybe they need some help with self-esteem.  Or maybe they need help with some words for when they get teased.  Or maybe it is more serious and we need to step in.  The point is, knowing their need helps us adjust our parenting to fit the situation.  And then we can check in to see if the intervention or “product” is working, or if we need to adjust something. 

            I think too often we miss the very basics of being friendly, polite and respectful.  We want to make sure we are seen as their parent and the one in charge. Since when does that mean being rude and unfriendly?  I am much more likely to follow a leader who is respectful and friendly to me than I am someone who is a jerk.  Our kids are no different.  They respond to being treated kindly.  Fear of parents is not the same as respect.  Fear will only go so far.  If you want them to “buy” something, don’t alienate them right off the bat by talking to them in a way that immediately shuts them down or puts them on the defensive.  You want them to stay engaged, to listen to you.  Talk to them in a manner that would make you want to listen.  It will probably work with them as well.

            Perhaps the idea of being salespeople is not that far off.  At the very least, borrowing some tools from the sale profession might help us be better parents. I think the things we are trying to instill in our kids will last a lot longer if we set up the conditions for them to want to buy what we are selling.  This is not to replace the times when discipline is required, or in other unusual circumstances. In general, though, just like salespeople who have several different products, we have a lot to offer as parents, and finding the best way to offer that to our children can’t hurt. 


For more parenting help give me a call or send me an email.  I would love to help!

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC

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            Even if you don’t say those words out loud, I can see them in your eyes.  That is one of the biggest fears, if not THE biggest fear of those who come to see me for help with an eating disorder.  I recognize that look because I saw it in the mirror right before I went to every counseling session.  That thought went through my head when I went to see my dietician.  I just knew there was a conspiracy to make me fat.  That’s all anyone wanted, I was sure of it. 

            Never mind the fact that you are probably losing hair, you get winded walking up the stairs, your skin is dry and flakey, your brain feels like it’s in a fog most of the time, you get chest pains sometimes, and you can’t eat even when you want to.  Never mind that you are miserable both physically and emotionally.  The worst thing you can imagine is going to counseling or treatment and becoming fat.  It sounds crazy to people on the outside, but I get it.  Even if the rest of the world falls apart, at least you are thin.  Even if I couldn’t do whatever it was I thought was important at the time, it didn’t matter because at least I could be thin. 

So what is the answer?

            The answer to the question is NO, I am not going to make you fat.  I have no interest in making you fat.  Truthfully, I prefer to leave your weight up to your doctor and your dietician.  I don’t want to fight that battle with you.  Except for the fact that I want you to be healthy enough to do all the things you want to do and more, your weight is really none of my business.  I am far more concerned about your emotional well-being than I am your weight.  I know that sounds hard to believe because everyone makes such a big deal about your weight, right?  After all, if people weren’t on your back about your weight, you probably wouldn’t even be thinking about going to counseling, right?

            I don’t fully believe that.  If being thin felt that great, if it fixed all your problems, then you would not be reading this.  My guess is your world has become so small that all you think about is food and weight, and that it is hard to imagine a life without those thoughts consuming you.  I bet there are times when you cry because you want to eat dinner with friends but you have to turn them down because you just can’t do it.  I bet there are times when your joints ache when you get out of bed and you feel like you are 90 years old.  I bet you feel like shit much of the time, but you have convinced yourself that’s normal, that everyone feels that way.

            Living with an eating disorder is miserable.  And to be quite honest, recovery feels miserable in the beginning as well.  Anyone who tells you otherwise has not been there.  Even though I have no interest in making you fat, and your weight is not my business, helping you deal with the discomfort of getting healthy is my business.  It will take time before getting healthy feels good.  But you CAN handle it.  It will be uncomfortable, and sometimes painful.  But you CAN handle it.  Living with an eating disorder is difficult – you handled that.  I know you have it in you to handle recovery.  You might as well give it a shot – you can always return to your eating disorder if this recovery thing doesn’t work out. 

If I’m not gwoman with shirt flying in wind in fieldoing to make you fat, then what does happen in counseling?

            Great question.  Every therapist is different, so I can’t speak for how other people do it.  And every client is different so I can’t even say for sure what counseling will be like for you.  What I do know is that at some point the eating disorder behaviors served a purpose; they made sense.  I am in no rush to get rid of those behaviors until we figure out how they served you.  I really want to understand what your life is like, what you feel, what you think, what is it like to be in your shoes.  From there, we can decide together the best plan. I won’t take control away from you.  You get to be part of the process.  In fact, I expect that you are the expert in your life, not me, so it would be silly for me to tell you how to live your life.

            There will be times when you hate me – that seems to be part of the process for most everyone I have worked with.  That’s ok.  I hated my therapist too.  And I kept going back.  And I got better.  And, guess what, she didn’t make me fat!  I understand the terror you feel when you talk about food, or try and do something different with your food.  Sometimes it actually feels like you will die if you have to eat one more bite.  I don’t mean that symbolically, I mean it literally feels like you will die.  I know how intense those feelings are and I will walk through all of them with you.  I am not afraid to go anywhere we need to go.  I won’t give up on you no matter what.

            I think the best way to describe what therapy will be like is to say that it will be completely unique to you.  It will be a creative, collaborative process between the two of us.  Even if something has worked for hundreds of other people, if it doesn’t work for you we will throw it out and try something else.  It will be hard, it will be uncomfortable, it will be inspiring, it will be funny and tearful, and it will be worth it.  It’s ok to be afraid and come anyway.  As much as you don’t want to hear it, this can kill you, and I refuse to let that happen if I can help it. 



light night skyIs it really that important to get 7-8 hours of sleep? I mean, is that just something people say because it sounds like a nice thing to do, or does it really make a difference? Let’s start with the basics. You feel better after a good night’s rest, right? You are probably moodier if you don’t sleep well, and you are less able to focus. I know that I am certainly more grumpy and less patient if I have not slept well the previous night. I might be able to hide my grumpiness, but it takes a lot of energy to do that which means I have less energy for other things.
Other than just making us less moody and more alert, let’s look at some specific things sleep does for us.
1. Sleep helps your brain prepare to learn new things, and then it helps your brain store what you have learned so that you can recall and use it. For example, if you are in school, or learning a new job, when you sleep your brain is getting primed to learn new information the next day. Then, after you learn the new information, when you sleep that night your brain is busily processing and filing the information so that you can remember it when you need to. That could be helpful for passing a test, or getting the promotion you want, don’t you think?
2. Sleep is good for your heart. When we sleep, our body takes that time to heal our heart and blood vessels. Not getting enough sleep has been linked to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Since we are dependent on our heart to live an active and healthy life, it might be a good idea to do everything we can to keep it healthy, which includes getting enough sleep.
3. There are several ways in which sleep helps us with appetite and weight management. Sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, so if you are concerned about being overweight, getting enough sleep needs to be part of your daily practice. Sleep also helps balance our hormones that regulate our appetite. Lack of sleep might make you feel hungrier during the day because your hormones have not had a chance to regulate themselves.
4. If you want to make better decisions, get enough sleep. Making good decisions is a critical part of achieving your goals. Who do you think gets into the better college, the person who makes bad decisions or the person who makes good decisions? Who do you think does a better job at saving money for a car or home of their dreams – the person who makes bad decisions or the person who makes good decisions? And who do you think has a better relationship with their partner – yep, I’m guessing the person who is able to make better decision. Research shows that sleep helps you process and organize information, enabling you to make better decision.
I kind of like the idea of being able to think better, being at a healthy weight, not having a heart attack and being able to learn new stuff. Those things all sound appealing in my quest to live a healthy and happy life, what about you? Do you like the idea of spending your days with plenty of energy, being able to think clearly, and achieving the goals that are important to you? If your answer is yes, it sounds like getting enough sleep might be more than just a nice idea, it is critical to getting what you want. If you are having trouble sleeping, stay tuned for part 2 for some helpful tips.

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPCC


retirement glasses on wood table            We hear all the time that we need to plan for retirement – we need to have a solid financial plan so that we can enjoy our retirement years rather than spending them in poverty.  But how much do we hear about investing in our cognitive future so that we can spend our retirement years enjoying our loved ones and our memories rather than being fed and bathed by strangers and not recognizing our friends and family?  Personally, I have heard very little about the latter topic, which seems to me to be just as important. 

            Did you know that the damage from Alzheimer’s Disease can begin anywhere from 20-50 year before symptoms appear?  The beginning stages of the disease are very slow moving, but the last stages are much quicker.  So, the time to do something is before you even see signs of a problem.  Just like a financial savings account, the time to make deposits into your mental savings account is before you need it.  Here are some ways you can build your cognitive savings account:

1.      Nutrition:  Unfortunately the typical American diet is not great for our brains.  Full of chemicals, sugar and unhealthy fats these foods don’t do anything help prevent getting Alzheimer’s Disease.  One of the best things you can do to invest in your future self is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.  Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants which help protect your brain from brain cell deterioration.  When you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetable you get lots of nutrients that are often lost when foods are processed.  Studies show that people who eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables have a 40% slower decline in cognitive abilities than those who eat 4 servings or less.

2.     Exercise:  Keeping fit can help lower many of the risk factors associated with cognitive decline, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.  Exercise also improves blood flow to the brain, and it can help keep blood vessels soft and pliable, reducing the risk of stroke.  Recommendations are that you get approximately 20-30 minutes of exercise/day, including both aerobic and resistance activities.

3.     Social:  Study after study shows that isolation is not a good thing for humans – feelings of isolation and loneliness actually increase your risk for dementia later in life.  Friends can help reduce stress, reduce depression, and support positive lifestyle changes.  Those of you who tend to be introverts don’t worry – I am not saying you must become social butterflies.  For some of us, it only takes 1 or 2 friends to fend off feelings of loneliness.  The idea is to know how much social interaction you need, and make sure you get that.  You can even incorporate social with other things – work out with a friend, have a dinner party, join a cooking club.  Look for ways to include connection in your life, and make sure it is real life, face to face connection rather than just social media.

4.     Sleep:  Sleep is more than just downtime; it is the time our brain uses to clean house.  Our brains need this time to get rid of toxic substances, thoughts and memories accumulated during the day.  How much sleep do we need?  Apparently, there is no definitive answer.  It was thought that 7-9 hours is optimal, but studies seem to say that individual needs vary.  Rather than going by the number of hours, go by how you feel.  Do you feel energized throughout the day or do you get sluggish and need large amounts of caffeine to get you through the day?  If you have enough energy, you are probably getting enough sleep.  If you feel like you are dragging your feet, you might need a little more sleep.  Being sleep deprived is not a badge of honor; it is making withdrawals from our cognitive savings account.

Losing our memories, losing our independence, these don’t have to be the inevitable results of growing older.  We have some choice.  There may be factors beyond our control, but there are a lot of areas that we can influence.  Don’t try to overhaul your entire life.  Pick one or two things to start with.  Practice them until they become habit.  When those one or two things become easier, then pick something else to add in.  Before you know it, you will be well on your way to having a great mental savings account!


Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC, Certified Brain Health Coach

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Divorce and Grief

woman standing in field golden hourDIVORCE AND GRIEF


            There is a unique kind of grief that comes with divorce.  There is no funeral, no death of a person, no obituary or burial, and yet there is loss just as deep as if someone has died.  In another sense, there has been a death – the death of a dream, of a way of life, of a family unit, of lots of things that can’t even be named.  Perhaps we should have a funeral after the end of a marriage.  Perhaps that could help the grieving process along in some way.  Ceremonies often give closure and respect to the magnitude of change. 

            I think that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief are relevant after a divorce just as much as after other types of losses.  If you are going through a divorce, the stages below will probably sound familiar.

1.      Denial:  While denial can be useful in helping us get to work, fix dinner for the kids, and do the daily things we need to do, it can also be overused.  We pretend that everything is fine even when absolutely nothing is even remotely ok!  We pretend that we can handle all that is going on even when we go to be with a migraine night after night.  Sometimes we must deny how deep the pain is or we would not be able to function.  Denial is a normal stage, we all go through it.  Know that it helps us function when we need to, but eventually we will have to look at reality.  Be there when you need to, but don’t prolong the visit with denial.  Denial can easily become guest who overstays their welcome and begins to stink like the proverbial fish. 

2.     Anger:  This can show up in all kinds of way.  We might be angry at our ex, angry at ourselves, angry at our parents, our job, our religion, even at the rabbit that is eating nibbling peacefully on the lawn!  Anger helps us protect ourselves – it often empowers us to keep ourselves safe.  Anger is not the enemy if we don’t let it control our behavior in destructive ways.  Most of us are not comfortable with anger so we try to ignore it or go back to number 1 and deny it.  It hurts, it is powerful and it is untamed.  Let it be there.  It won’t hurt you.  It is a necessary part of the process.

3.     Bargaining:  This is usually a desperate attempt to make things go back to the way they were, or at least how we wanted them to be.  We might decide the marriage wasn’t so bad after all, or there was that one thing that we could try that would make all the difference.  You know – that one special blend of herbal tea that can fix everything.  For me it was more bargaining with myself than anyone else – “you can suck it up, can’t you?  Really, things were not all that bad.”  Or “wow, divorce is so much harder than whatever you thought was tough in the marriage.  Just try one more time to make it work.  Look at all the fun you had on that one vacation 7 years ago!”  Sometimes we bargain with our ex, or sometimes with God or anyone else in the universe who will listen!  We are willing to do whatever it might take to make this divorce go away.

4.     Depression:  This is the stage when you eat a lot of ice cream, stay in bed all day and watch brainless TV.  Who knew they could make a reality show out of people who like to dress up as mermaids and stay in their bathtub all day?!  Stock up on tissue because you will need it for this stage.  Cry every tear that wants to be cried.  Feel the depression in the depth of your bones.  The best way to not get stuck here is to embrace it fully and let it be as big as it needs to be.  Then, allow it to move through you and into the atmosphere or down to the center of the earth.

5.     Acceptance:  This is when you can finally feel the air fill your lungs and it doesn’t hurt anymore.  This is when you can get out of bed in the morning and say, “I think I can do today.”  This is when you feel like there is a life out there beyond the dark muck of divorce.  You can see a future, you can even see the present without the theme of divorce running your day.  You know there will be challenges, but you no longer feel unable to handle them.  You’ve got this. 

What you really need to know is that this is not a linear process.  It’s more circular, or spiral, or something along those lines.  You might start with anger, then get depressed, then be in acceptance for a while, and then go into denial.  You will visit each stage more than once.  Hopefully after the first couple of rounds with the stages each will get less intense, and will be less difficult to move through.  There is no right way to do this.  Everyone’s process is different and yours will be unique to you.  Settle in and let the process unfold as it needs to.  The less you resist, the less it will persist.  Be gentle and patient with yourself.  You will make it, and you will find the other side.


Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC