How to choose the right therapist for you

Ashley Womack

When entering a therapeutic relationship, it is in fact the relationship that is of the utmost importance. The alliance that forms between you and your therapist is critical to your progress and ultimate success in therapy. Many studies have shown that the quality of the relationship client is often the strongest predictor of success. No one therapist is right for everyone, just like no one pair of shoes would be a good fit for everyone. Finding a therapist that is competent and a good fit for you is important and no easy task. The following are tips to help you on your journey.1. First spend some considering what you want from therapy. This is an important first step. You need to know what you are looking for in a therapist. Do some research, talk to friends and family members that have gone through therapy. Ask them what they liked and did not like about the therapist and the process.

2.  Find out if the therapist has the proper training? Wisdom, empathy, compassion and character are all attributes you will want your therapist to have, but they aren’t enough. Knowledge and good professional training are essential. You will want a therapist who has acquired all of the following:

Intensive academic study in a field of mental health.

A good, competent therapist starts with a master’s or a doctorate in a field of mental health (e.g., MA, MS, MSW, PhD, PsyD, MD).

Licensure.

Licensure implies that a counselor has engaged in extensive postgraduate counseling experience which, depending on the state of licensure, may include up to 3,000 hours of required supervised experience. It also means the counselor has passed a licensing exam.

3. Look for specialized training to fit your needs. Does the therapist have experience helping others with the particular issues for which you are seeking therapy? The more experience therapists have addressing a particular issue, concern, or problem area, the more expertise they have developed.

4. Find out if the therapist theoretical approach matches your beliefs. There are many different schools of thought concerning helping and helping relationships. Some things to discover include: What’s the counselor’s general philosophy and approach to helping? What theory does the counselor pull from? Does your counselor approach human beings in a compassionate and optimistic way? Does he or she believe humans are born loving and lovable, or does the counselor believe people are genetically deficient?

5. Discover if the therapist can clearly define how he or she can help you to solve whatever issue or concern has brought you to therapy? Experienced counselors explain how they can help, are able to give you a basic “road map,” to their approach, and can even give an indication of how you will know when therapy is finished.

6. It is important that the therapist is likable. Simple, but true. Much of building a therapeutic, or any relationship for that matter, is a “gut” reaction to a person. You have to feel comfortable around the counselor to feel safe and you have to feel safe to grow.  Not all of therapy is comfortable; in fact, growth often comes from the hard parts. However; you must feel safe and be able to work toward trust with your therapist to get to the hard stuff. Some questions to ask yourself: What does it feel like for you to sit with the therapist? Do you feel safe and comfortable? Is it easy to make small talk? Is the person down to earth and easy to relate to or does he or she feel cold and emotionally removed? Is the counselor “stuck in her head,” or overly emotional and empathic? Is the therapist a “know it all” or arrogant?

7. It is also important that the therapist is intelligent. Never continue to see a therapist whom you feel is not sufficiently intelligent. If you have any sense that the therapist is perhaps competent, but not that “with it,” you should look further. Just because someone has the proper training does not always mean they are up for the job. The unconscious mind is very tricky; it takes an equally crafty therapist to travel the therapeutic journey with you.

8.  Learn about your therapist lifestyle. There are no clear cut guidelines about how to pick a therapist whose lifestyle is consistent with your own, or who can at least value and appreciate your lifestyle. Finding a comfort level with a therapist’s lifestyle is a subjective experience, but the bottom line is that you must experience the therapist as being able to be supportive of your lifestyle, and knowledgeable enough, in an experiential way, to help you find the kind of solutions you seek.

9. It is important that you interview the potential therapist. The initial session with a therapist is not just about you telling your story; it is also a time to decide if you can work with this person. Think of this the same way you would in deciding on any other service. You would never leave your kids with a babysitter that you did not first interview. This is no different. Remember you are looking for someone who: can challenge you and teach you things about yourself, you feel emotionally comfortable with and you can communicate with easily.

10. Last but not least don’t settle! Meeting with a therapist can be intimidating and can lead many to doubt their own perceptions. Therapists are just people too, with their own set of personality traits, beliefs, and views. You may not be a good fit and you may have to meet with more than one therapist, but keep looking! It is important to always remember that the foundation of good therapy is the relationship between therapist and client. It is essential that you find someone with whom you can forge a comfortable connection, someone that makes you feel heard, understood, and safe. Choose wisely as therapy has the potential to be a life-changing and life-enhancing experience!


Ashley Womack has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in counseling and is currently a doctoral student at Texas A&M University-Commerce. She is a licensed professional counselor intern and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Ashley has worked in community mental health for several years and is now a therapist at Insight Counseling of Paris www.insightcounselinggroup.com . Her specialty areas include substance abuse counseling and child-centered play therapy. She is also teaches counseling classes at A&M University-Commerce.

Are Our Children Over-Scheduled?

 

Ashley Womack

Baseball season is in full swing! As I was driving my kids to one of their many practices, it dawned on me that I spend more time driving my kids places than I actually do just hanging out with them. Between baseball, cub scouts, gymnastics, music lessons, and soccer many of us start to feel more like chauffeur’s than parents!  This week, between my two baseball players we have five games and a practice!  Last week my son said “Mom can we skip the game? I want to go home and play.” 

I know I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed with my kid’s schedules.  More than one parent at a game or practice has lamented at the fact that they were wore out from all their children’s activities. Why has parenting become such a full contact competitive adult sport? Hyper-parenting is a term coined to describe a child-rearing style that is now prevalent in many middle and upper middle class homes.  In these families, parents are oven-involved in every detail of their kid’s academic, athletic and social lives.  Today’s parents feel that it is never too early to expose their children to enrichment, whether it is to sports, music or academics.  This leads to over-scheduling, leaving children and parents frazzled.

This rather new and overzealous parenting style has changed the face of American families.  According to Alvin Rosenfeld, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, in the past 20 years, structured sports time has doubled, unstructured children’s activities have declined by 50%, household conversation has become far less frequent, family dinners have declined 33% and family vacation has decreased by 28%.  What is really lost in all of this over-scheduling? Kid’s right and ability to just play!  Many adults put so much value on organized activities that kids are not given the freedom to be kids. The over-scheduled kids of today may not even have time to invent back yard games or hang out with friends.

According to Dr. Rosenfeld, parents become like cruise ship activity directors keeping boredom at bay.  Boredom can actually be a good thing, as it can stimulate kids to think and create.  This also gives them time away from the pressures and helps them feel centered.  As activity directors, aka parents, we feel compelled to provide a perfect upbringing for our children from conception to college. Dr. Rosenfeld reports that this is all quantified by “achievements” like speaking early, qualifying for a gifted and talented program or earning admission to an elite university.  Parents shy away from cutting back on their child’s activity, in fear that it might harm their child’s future.

Many parents feel insecure, often doubting their ability to raise their kids well.  Many turn to experts, coaches and tutors to give their children a “leg up”.  This comes from a very loving and genuine place.  We all want our children to be the best they can and we want to provide them every opportunity to succeed. What children really need is unstructured and unpressured time with their parents.  The best gift you can give your child is your time and with that comes the message that they don’t have to perform for us to love and cherish them.

What can we do as parents? Dr. Rosenfeld suggests cutting back at least 10% in scheduled activities.  He also suggests that parent’s start to enjoy their adulthood, which will make for a more attractive model for our children. Learn to be unproductive together! This sends the message to our kids that we like them just the way they are. Children, and parents alike, ought to enjoy hobbies and passions and not work at them like a part-time job! 

Ashley Womack has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in counseling and is currently a doctoral student at Texas A&M University-Commerce. She is a licensed professional counselor intern and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Ashley has worked in community mental health for several years and is now a therapist at Insight Counseling of Paris www.insightcounselinggroup.com . Her specialty areas include substance abuse counseling and child-centered play therapy. She is also teaches counseling classes at A&M University-Commerce.

You Really Do Need Better Sleep

Talor Trenchard

It seems like there is a national health “awareness month” for almost everything now, so I was not all that surprised when I learned a few days ago that May is the national “Get Better Sleep” awareness month.  And though I must admit, the concept of having an awareness month for sleep seemed a bit ridiculous to me at first, I do think that the importance of sleep in our overall physical and mental health cannot be overstated.  The effects and dangers of sleep deprivation have been well documented.  And let’s face it, we do not exactly need empirical research to tell us how much we suffer when we fell to get sufficient sleep. But even though we are well aware of how precious our zzz’s are to us, most adults in our country still fail to get enough quality sleep.  We tend to think that if we lay in a bed for 7 to 8 hours, we should be rested.  In response to this notion I just have one question: How’s that working for you?

My guess is that for most you, it just isn’t cutting it; you are probably still a bit tired when you wake up and near exhaustion around mid afternoon.  That’s why products that claim to get rid of “that 2:30 feeling” are flooding the market.  Now, there could be a number of variables contributing to your feelings of fatigue, and a good physical examination by your medical doctor is ALWAYS a good first step.  Assuming that you do not have a general medical condition or nutritional deficiency that is causing the fatigue, one simple solution may be that you are just not getting the sleep you need.  As I mentioned earlier, a commonly held misconception is that as long as we sleep for about 7 to 8 hours, it should be sufficient.  This is wrong for two reasons:

  1. Most adults require more than 8 hours of sleep.

Studies have found that when all cues to time of day are removed, most adults will sleep for an average of 10.3 hours out of every 24.  Before the invention of artificial lights, people slept longer.

  1.  Quality counts

The truth is, even 10 plus hours may not be sufficient if it is not quality sleep.  I think intrinsically, we all know this to be true; after all, we usually say we need a “GOOD night’s sleep”, not necessarily a “long night’s sleep.”  Quality sleep generally means uninterrupted sleep. We need to be able to complete several sleep cycles each night.  Sleep cycles vary in length for each person and among individuals, but one cycle typically last between 60 and 90 minutes.

I think I probably speak for a lot of people, especially parents of young children, when I say that I would gladly get more sleep if I could! I for one feel thrilled when I get a full eight hours of sleep. Fortunately, though we may not be able to get more sleep, we can address the other half of the sleep equation; we can BETTER sleep. Below I have outlined a few tips to improve the quality of your sleep.  I challenge you to employ these suggestions for a couple of weeks, and see if you feel more rested.

  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine for at least four hours before bedtime
  • Allow about one hour after each alcoholic drink before falling asleep.
  • Eat an earlier or lighter dinner, as overeating can shorten the REM phase of sleep
  • Exercise in the mornings
  • Develop a bedtime routine (maybe include a warm bath)
  • Enjoy a cup of chamomile tea (though on this one, check with your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking prescription medications)
  • Cookies & milk…. This combo really does help with almost any problem in life, and sleep is no exception!!  A snack of fats and/or carbs can boost serotonin, which promotes sleep!
  • Turn off all possible stimulants, such as television, radio, and lights

I do want to emphasize that the suggestions above are for otherwise healthy adults who occasionally feel tired even after 7 to 8 hours of sleep.  If you consistently feel tired, are unable to sleep, snore, stop breathing during sleep, or have any sleep problems that consistently interfere with your daily activities you should consult your medical doctor.

Talor Trenchard, a Paris, Texas native and happily married mother of two, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in applied psychology. She works as a licensed psychological associate therapist at The Child and Family Guidance Center of Texoma (www.cfgcenter.org) in Sherman, Texas. Talor is trained in psychological and neuropsychological evaluations and assessments and specializes in cognitive, achievement, and personality assessments. She has experience diagnosing and working with individuals with a variety of psychological conditions including but not limited to, ADHD, dyslexia, mental retardation, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia.

The Truth about Stepmothers

Ashley Womack

We have all heard tales about wicked stepmothers, from Snow White to Cinderella; stories abound with the horrors that are stepmothers.  We have all likely judged a stepmother at some point, but what makes stepmothers so wicked?  The statistics say that half of all adult women in the United States are likely to marry a man with children and that 70% of these marriages will fail.  In fact, divorce rates are 50% more likely to fail in remarriages with children than without.  The greatest predictor of divorce in a second marriage is the mere presence of children from a previous marriage or relationship. 

These statistics are not promising. Why, you might be asking am I just focusing on stepmothers?  Stepfathers don’t seem to incite as much emotion as that of stepmothers.  We don’t typically hear of wicked stepfathers.  E. Mavis Hertherington, a psychologist and author of a three-decade study of families that divorced and remarried, notes that children often come to appreciate having a stepfather, but the relationship with stepmothers is more difficult. 

Why is this?!? What is it about the stepmother-stepchildren dynamic that makes it so hard on everyone?  There are roughly 13 million stepmothers in the United States, can they all be wicked? The answer to the latter question is of course, no, the first question is not so cut and dry.  Stepmothers are a unique breed. They tend to be expected to take on a more active role in the lives of their stepchildren than stepfathers do.  It seems to be a more natural fit for a man to take on the role of “friend” to the child.  Stepmothers, however; are expected to be nurturers and much more active in the child’s lives.  Some of the typical problems faced by stepmothers include: stress over relating to the bio-mom, disciplining children, handling difficult feelings toward stepchildren, confusion regarding their role, feelings of exhaustion, helplessness, and ineffectiveness. 

In her book, Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do, Wednesday Martin, points out that women are often expected to be nurturers to already difficult and suspicious children and to impose some kind of order on the household, which is angrily and bitterly resented by many stepchildren. Stepchildren are incredibly powerful in the remarriage dynamic and can create divisiveness between spouses.  The children are not to blame, but acknowledging the fact that they do and can affect a remarriage can help us to understand, as Martin calls it, stepmother reality. 

This article is not intended to scare or dissuade women from marrying men with children, it is however; to inform and educate.  I became a stepmother at the age of 27 and I had no idea what I was in for.  The journey has been equal parts rewarding and challenging. The majority of the research regarding stepfamilies focuses on the children and this is important.  Children don’t pick their stepparents and their welfare is paramount.  What is missing from the stepfamily literature is the point of view of the stepmother.  It is important to not only validate how difficult the journey is for stepmothers, but also to educate on ways to make it easier for all parties involved.  Below are tips to help stepmothers on their quest to move away from the stereotype of wicked stepmonster into a much more comfortable and likeable role.

  • Plan one-on-one activities with your stepchildren (Get to know the kids with fun activities that they chose.)
  • Don’t take on the role as disciplinarian (This may come later, but must never come at the beginning.)
  • Know the limits and boundaries of your role (This is a conversation that must take place with your significant other from the very beginning.)
  • Make time for the couple (This is a must! Date night should be regularly scheduled.)
  • Work at building a relationship with the bio mom (This may not be easy, but will make a huge difference for the children. It can really cut back on the problem of divided loyalties.)
  • Never criticize bio mom in front of the children or allow the children to criticize bio mom (Maintaining integrity at all times is a must. We model for our stepchildren the type of behavior we hope to see in them.)
  • Communicate clearly with your significant other about your fears, concerns, and feelings (Stuffing these will just lead to resentment.)
  • Make time for yourself (You time must still be a priority. Don’t lose yourself in the process.  The happier you are, the better equipped you are to handle tough situations.)
  • Never lash out in anger (Take a timeout and cool off before handling the really tough stuff.)
  • Work as a team (The children must never see you disagree about them in front of them. These conversations are to be private and quiet. If not they will divide and conquer.)
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help (Seeking help from a professional, sooner rather than later, can make all the difference in a marriage.  Know that every stepfamily has trouble and it is no reflection of you or your character to admit that you need help.)

Ashley Womack has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in counseling and is currently a doctoral student at Texas A&M University-Commerce. She is a licensed professional counselor intern and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. Ashley has worked in community mental health for several years and is now a therapist at Insight Counseling of Paris www.insightcounselinggroup.com . Her specialty areas include substance abuse counseling and child-centered play therapy. She is also teaches counseling classes at A&M University-Commerce.

The Real Hunger Games

I admit it, I have not read “The Hunger Games,” but between the title and its immense popularity with young teenage girls, I could not help but think of the millions of young people who struggle in real-life hunger games: eating disorders.  According to the National Institute for Mental Health, approximately 2.7 percent of all 13 to 18 year olds suffer from a severe eating disorder.  Individuals battling these destructive disorders are literally dying to be thin and are affected  across many aspects of functioning: physical, social, emotional, occupational, and school, and are these disorders are often fatal. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association (2008), eating disorders include two specific diagnoses, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th ed., Text Revision, p. 583). But then, you probably already knew this, and you probably also know that anorexia nervosa is characterized by the refusal to maintain a minimally healthy body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and significant disturbances in the perception of the shape or size of his or her body.  You also are probably already aware that bulimia nervosa, is characterized by binge eating and inappropriate compensatory methods to prevent weight gain. 

However, here are some scary truths you may not know about these deadly disorders:

  • Girls are more than twice as likely as boys to develop an eating disorder
  • Refusal to eat and maintain a healthy weight can lead to severe starvation and weakening of the heart muscles, causing cardiac arrhythmias
  • Hospitalizations for eating disorders increased by 40% in the last decade
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
  •  In particular, anorexia nervosa has a higher mortality rate than any other cause of death among females between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

 

  • Binge eating followed by purging, either by vomiting or by using laxatives, can lead to severe dehydration and gastrointestinal problems. 
  • Self-induced vomiting, other purging methods, and extreme dieting can also cause low potassium levels, leading to abnormal heart rhythms, including sudden arrhythmia death syndrome (regardless of current weight).

A commonly held, but deadly, misconception about eating disorders is that you have to be extremely underweight to have an eating disorder or to be in danger.  This is untrue, and I call it a deadly misconception for two reasons: 

1. As outline above, many of the dangers associated with eating disorders have nothing to do with current body weight.

 2.  Eating disorders are psychiatric disorders that ALWAYS warrant intervention, and it is NEVER healthy (physically or psychologically) to employ such methods to control weight – even if the individual is overweight.  Once these behaviors begin, individuals do immediate harm to their bodies and also risk forming addictive habits.  

The sad truth is that many individuals who develop eating disorders in adolescence and young adulthood will continue on a chronic and destructive path for years, if not the rest of their lives, however shortened they may become. 

To combat eating disorders in our children, we must employ two major strategies: prevention and immediate intervention.   We can prevent or at least decrease the likelihood that our children will develop an eating disorder by promoting within them, a healthy self-esteem and body image and good eating habits from an early age.  I know, I know, easier said than done!  A healthy self/body image is not an easy thing to foster within our children, especially in a world where idealized images flood the media.  As parents, we must be defensive and proactive; here are a few tips for promoting healthy body image and eating habits:

  • Avoid exposing your child to idealized images of men and women on television and in magazines.  Research has shown time and again that seeing super-skinny super models (for girls) and abnormally muscular men (for boys) is damaging to one’s self-esteem and body perception.  Since, sadly, you will most likely not be able to completely shelter your child from such destructive images, be sure to tell them the truth about what they are seeing.  They are not real, those images are airbrushed and edited. 
  • Encourage them to see their worth in terms outside of physical attractiveness.  Many parents think that they are helping their child’s self-image with constant compliments, such as “you are so pretty/handsome.”  While such comments are good occasionally, when overused or used in the absence of compliments about inner traits of your child, they may actually be harmful.  This is because they may give your child the idea that his/her worth is dependant upon their physical attractiveness.
  • Practice what you preach.  The best way to teach good behaviors and healthy habits to your child is to model it yourself!  How can your teenage daughter learn to be happy with how she looks and form healthy eating habits if mom is overly concerned or unhappy with her own appearance and constantly dieting?
  • Teach your child to eat foods that provide good nutrition and are good for their hearts, bones, and brains.  Chances are when you eat like that and maintain an adequately active lifestyle, there will be no need to diet!  And again, modeling this yourself is CRUCIAL!!

Unfortunately, prevention strategies are not always effective.  In these cases, we have to turn to the next best thing: immediate intervention.  The moment you notice behaviors suggestive of negative body image or eating disorders in your child, you should step in.  Below are some behaviors to watch for:

  • Symptoms of depression and/or anxiety (eating disorders are often associated with individuals with depressive/anxious personalities).
  • Negative comments about self or body size/shape
  • Preoccupation with weight/size (i.e. weighing or measuring everyday)
  • Sudden weight loss (in young teens and children you may see a failure to make expected weight gains rather than actual weight loss)
  • Decrease in food intake
  • Rigorous exercising
  • Desires for “perfection” in a variety of areas

Should you observe the above behaviors in your child, the time to act is now.  Confront your child with love and understanding.  Treatment of eating disorders almost always requires professional intervention to ensure physical and psychological health. To determine a treatment plan you may first want to consult with your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician for a complete physical check-up, and then he/she will probably be able to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further treatment. 

Talor Trenchard, a Paris, Texas native and happily married mother of two, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in applied psychology. She works as a licensed psychological associate therapist at The Child and Family Guidance Center of Texoma (www.cfgcenter.org) in Sherman, Texas. Talor is trained in psychological and neuropsychological evaluations and assessments and specializes in cognitive, achievement, and personality assessments. She has experience diagnosing and working with individuals with a variety of psychological conditions including but not limited to, ADHD, dyslexia, mental retardation, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia.