TRANSITIONS AND GRIEF

We often associate grief with simply the loss of another person who was close to us.  But mental health workers also agree that we grieve many different things.   Our lives are full of losing things, generally in the form of transitions.  Whether from great changes or small ones, grief is a very natural response.  It’s just not acknowledged much by other people and may be unwelcome to the person feeling it.

Transitions can come in many forms.  They may be developmental points we meet, such as reaching midlife, adulthood, adolescence.  Alternately,  they may occur when we lose jobs and must seek work elsewhere, or when a chronic illness becomes active and takes us from our daily routines for a while.  In making the jump from one thing to another, we often grieve what we are leaving behind.   This is perfectly okay.  Changes ask us to take stock of our lives and we may not always be happy with what we see.

Self criticism frequently rears its head and we get a lot of self statements about how we should have acted.  Remember this transition is a time to hold the self gently.  If you have made mistakes in the past, then don’t beat yourself up about them; take stock and learn from them.  This is how we move from the transition into our futures.

Expect it to hurt a little bit as we grieve sudden shifts in our lives, and sometimes it will hurt a lot.  Finding a therapist to help you process these transitions is highly recommended.  This is because few people will recognize your transition for what it is, a time of loss.  Therapy works differently in this respect by honoring the loss and offering supportive care as you move from one stage to the next.

Tricia Ellis Christensen M.A, MFTI

 

AGE MAY BE A STATE OF MIND, BUT WHAT’S YOUR STATE OF MIND?

We often hear the first half of this comment made, but for many people middle aged and older, we’re trailing all the storm clouds and difficulties of the life we’ve lived.  We may even be living in conflict now and that conflict can make us feel older than we really are.  If you want to stay mentally young, it’s time to clean out your mental closet with some helpful therapy.

Therapy can give us a chance to assess who we are now.  We can decide if we need to start making changes in the way we think or the way we react.  We can also process all the life changes we have experienced and how that leads up to how we view ourselves now.  Often people will find themselves overly critical and disappointed in who they’ve become.  Therapy offers a chance to change this, as well.

For people of any age, the message is that you don’t have to be a person you don’t like.  Through the commitment to therapy you can feel clear about who  you want to be and goal-set with your therapist how to become that person.  Even small changes may have you feeling younger and more sure about yourself.  For if you want to feel not your age, you first have to become who you really would like to become.

 

Tricia Ellis Christensen

MAKE SURE TO CHECK YOUR MEDICATION REGIMEN WITH YOUR DOCTOR

Spring is here and many of us turn to various remedies to conquer our hay fever. In the past, many of the medications now available on the open market were prescription only. This made choosing a medication that would go with your behavioral meds much easier. Either the doctor or the pharmacist was likely to catch medications that conflicted with or acted on each other in some way.

If you’re taking behavioral medications, or any prescribed medications, it’s unwise to add prescription or over the counter medications to your regimen without seeking the advice of your physician. A physician can easily tell you which medications are safe to take and which ones you should avoid. Pharmacists can be a good resource too, as they have access to this information. This is especially the case if you fill all your medications at the same pharmacy.

People should not just heed this advice during the allergy months. They should also always check out how new prescription or over the counter drugs will interact with their behavioral medications.   Asking before you take a new drug is especially important and can help to prevent dangerous side effects or interactions.

 Tricia Ellis Christensen MFT

 

TRAGEDY IN THE ALPS DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN TRAGEDY FOR THE MENTALLY ILL

After the plane crash tragedy in the French Alps, there has been rampant speculation in the media about the copilot who crashed the plane and whether he was suffering a mental illness. Initially, the illness of Major Depressive Disorder was suspected and there are now suspicions of a personality disorder at work. These speculations create stigma for individuals living with a mental health disorder. This is especially true because reports imply mental illness as a cause, rather than viewing it as a correlation to the mass murder of over 100 people. In truth, we can’t know why the copilot chose to commit suicide while murdering others, and we probably never will.

It’s understandable that people want answers. Yet it’s harmful to simply grab onto mental illness and make it the cause. Those of us who work in mental health all know people with varying degrees of illness and we don’t consider them potential mass murderers.   We treat them and work with them, and they are often as active or more active in their care than anyone else. They do not pose a danger to society, and when free of symptoms, can lead busy purposeful lives.

Such tragedies, as occurred last week, can cause great anxiety to people who think they may have a mental illness. They may discourage treatment due to the fear of the stigma of being diagnosed. Instead, this tragedy should shine a light on stigma and should bring more people to treatment to get help in managing their illnesses. The confidential nature of therapy assures that people may disclose to family, friends or in the workplace when they choose.   We know that treatment is of significant help to many and that many of the mental illnesses become manageable through it.

This tragedy should also direct individuals to clinics like SOS Community Counseling, where they can find affordable care with skilled therapists. There are clinics like ours in many places, and we urge the public to use them to take control of their mental illnesses, and thus, their lives. Let us especially not label Major Depressive Disorder as a homicidal illness.   In the majority of cases, attempted suicides of individuals with this disorder do not involve harm to others. Also, treatment can help intervene if a suicidal impulse is present, so that no one is harmed.

 Tricia Ellis Christensen, MFTi

 

DO I NEED COUPLES THERAPY?

Couples therapy is when a therapist works together with a couple to resolve or anticipate problems in the relationship. Unlike individual therapy, where a person works alone with a therapist, couples therapy is interested in the couple and how things work and don’t work in the relationship.   There are many schools of thought on the best approach to this type of counseling, but they all have as a goal a satisfactory outcome for the couple members.

People seek couples therapy for a variety of reasons.   Some couples opt for pre-marital counseling to better get to know each other before they get married. Probably the main reason that people want couples therapy is to fix problems they have in relationship to each other, which are interfering with the steady flow of their being together.

In couples therapy, people can learn many things about how to address their problems. Some of the topics addressed include:

  • Communication
  • Anger Management
  • How to Fight Fairly
  • Appreciation for Each Other
  • Perpetual Arguments

As well, therapists work with the couple to define their major problems, set measurable goals for working things out, and help each couple member be heard and respected in the counseling setting.

If you think your relationship could benefit from couples therapy, talk the matter over with your significant other. This therapy really relies on both members of the couple being equally interested in working to improve their relationship. When you’re ready, please feel free to contact us at SOS Community Counseling. We have many therapists skilled in this form of therapy.

 Tricia Ellis Christensen MFTI

 

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Many of us look at the new year as a time to change undesirable behaviors or otherwise transform our lives. Unfortunately, most people are unable to keep their resolutions for more than a month or two. The reasons for this are many, but one reason that may be in place is inadequate support in your life for making the changes you want.   Real and substantive change can take planning, learning, and practicing in order to truly transform you.

This is why at SOS counseling, our therapists hope the new year will bring clients to our door.   We want to support you in making the changes in your life you want to see. We also have the knowledge and tools to help you be successful and to plan with you along the way when you encounter obstacles.

Our therapists are skilled at:

  • Improving Relationships
  • Treating and Supporting Those with Mental Illness
  • Addressing Addiction/Substance Abuse
  • Promoting Self Esteem/ Self Development
  • Treating Trauma and Phobias

And these are just a few of our areas of expertise.   This year consider making a change in your resolutions. Instead of going it alone think of the possibility of using a trained counselor to help you meet and fulfill your hopes for yourself. Contact us at 707-284-3444 for more information on how to get started.

Tricia Christensen MFTi

 

Safe Consumption of Alcohol

‘Tis the season when many people are attending parties regularly that involve alcohol. While imbibing occasionally is okay, many people wonder what is considered safe or moderate drinking and want to make sure they don’t exceed this limit. There are several ways to express what moderate drinking is.   The Centers for Disease Control list moderate drinking as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. Excessive drinking is defined as 15 drinks in a week for men and 8 drinks for women. Some other agencies set the bar lower and suggest that women should have no more than 4 drinks in a week, while men should limit their intake to 7.

If drinking more alcohol seems tempting there are ways to stay on track. First, drink plenty of water. Also indulge in non-alcoholic drinks after your first alcoholic one. A splash of cranberry juice in sparkling water makes a nice change. Non-alcoholic ciders can leave the tastebuds pretty satisfied, too. A Shirley Temple can be just as satisfying now as when you had it as a child. Hosts to parties should keep plenty of non-alcoholic choices on their menu to aid people in making safe drinking choices.

Some people struggle with moderate drinking and tend to drink to excess, not just around the holidays but year round. There is support for you if you fall into this class. A.A. meetings can give you the strength to quit or work with a therapist may help lead you to sobriety or harm reduction.   Getting help to end this habit is generally more effective than attempting to reduce or stop alone.

 

Tricia Ellis Christensen MFTi

 

Awareness for bullying

Awareness for bullying

Bullying and Cyber Bullying

 

What: Bullying can happen in any arena: at school, in public, or electronically: e-mails, social media, cellphones, and text messages.  Excessive teasing, insults, inappropriate or embarrassing content, rumors, intimidation, threats and physical violence are all forms of bullying.  Bullying hurts and leaves lasting impacts.

Signs a student is being bullied:

  • Unexplainable injuries, lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry.
  • Somatic complaints (headaches, stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness).
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school.
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations.
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem.
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.

Cyber Bullying:

  • Any communication via electronic device (computer, cell phone, text, etc) with the intent to hurt, tease, or intimidate, including rumors, embarrassing photos, or fake profiles.
  • Cyber bullying can happen 24 hours a day, can be sent anonymously, and can reach a wide audience instantaneously, making the effects more far reaching and devastating.
  • Students who are cyber-bullied are more likely to use substances, skip school, have lower self esteem, have more health problems, and experience in person bullying.

What you can do to help:

  • Talk about it, model a culture of respect, hold students accountable for inappropriate behaviors.
  • Seek therapy with an SOS counselor to process the difficult feelings bullying may cause.

Online Safety Tips

  • Only accept or add “friends” you actually know.
  • Keep your profile private so only those you invite can see your info & photos.
  • Don’t use your last name, use just the initial or a pseudonym (people who know you can still find you by your first name and last name initial)
  • DO NOT post your address, phone number, or other revealing details.
  • Be careful not to post details on other’s pages that reveal their info either!

 

If You Are Being Bullied

In School Bullying:

  • Talk to your parent or guardian, a teacher, school counselor, SOS therapist, or principal.
  • Bullying based on race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or religion– can be reported to any of the above, or your superintendent or the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.

Cyber Bullying:

  • Ignore the messages!  Do not engage with the person, that only encourages it, and can get you into trouble as well.
  • Keep evidence.  Record dates, times, and descriptions by saving, printing, taking a screen shot, or photographing texts, media posts, e-mails, etc.
  • Block the person (contact the provider for help).
  • Change your phone number, e-mail account, or social media profile.

Sexting– Remember:

  • Any naked or sexual pictures of someone under 18 are considered child pornography.  Possession of or sharing these is illegal, even if sent willingly.
  • Though you may trust the person you are sending pictures too now, there is no guarantee that they won’t share them later.

Report any of the following to law enforcement, especially if you feel unsafe:

  • Threats of violence, stalking, or hate crimes.
  • Sexually explicit messages or photos.
  • Posting a photo/video of a person where they would expect privacy.

 

Julie Waters MFTi

 

What is the Difference Between Bipolar and Depression?

The name Bipolar helps to make clear the differences between these two conditions. First off the similarities are that both conditions have recurring depressive episodes that can last from several weeks to several months.   The biggest difference is that people with Bipolar also have mood swings to the other pole. In other words, they have periods of markedly heightened mood, called mania or hypomania, depending on the severity.   During these elevated periods, people may speak more quickly, have very euphoric or irritable mood, feel their thoughts are racing, experience high distraction levels, have a hard time remaining still, and when mania worsens they may make risky choices involving sex, finance, or other areas, which can lead to great difficulty in daily living and in relationships. Sleep can be disrupted in mania, too, leading to people feeling like they can get by on very little sleep.

Both Bipolar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder do have cycles, which are generally unpredictable in length and frequency.   People with these disorders also have periods of normal mood, called euthymia. So they are not constantly depressed or constantly manic.   Bipolar also comes in two major types. Bipolar I has mood swings from depressive to manic. In contrast, Bipolar II has mood swings from depressive to hypomanic states.

Depressive and Bipolar illnesses are both recurring.   One of the mistakes that can be made is that a person will go off their medication when they feel euthymic. The problem with this approach is that the disorder will come back and some medications may lose their effectiveness if not taken regularly. Regular medication also usually helps to lengthen the time between episodes.   So it is of benefit to see a psychiatrist on a regular basis and remain on meds.

These diseases are clearly related, and some people with depression will progress to Bipolar Disorder. Such a change necessitates different medication. People may switch from antidepressants to medications called mood stabilizers. However, medication for Bipolar and Depression is very individualized.

The important thing to remember about both of these conditions is that regular therapy and psychiatric visits aim to help the person cope with the difficult moods they encounter. They are considered the gold start treatment for these conditions. Counseling is particularly good for developing coping skills around having one of these disorders, so that the person can live a more meaningful life.

 Tricia Ellis Christensen MFTi

 

Negotiating the Holidays

All the commercials and much of other media paint the holidays as a joyous time of togetherness and familial love. While some people may have this type of holiday, it isn’t always the case for others. Family relationships may be in disrepair, or other common events like strained finances, can make the holidays seem like something to survive rather than enjoy.   Here are some suggestions for making it through the holiday gauntlet.

  • Consider a small celebration with just immediate family or friends.   This can help deescalate the tension that larger gatherings can hold and it eliminates traveling to an event, which may be a relief for small children (and their parents!).
  • If a large family event is likely to be contentious, avoid triggering conversations. Areas where you and your family disagree are best left for other times. Subjects like religion, politics, or life choices can blow up into large arguments that leave everyone uncomfortable.   Visit these subjects at other times of the year if they are a source of constant stress, perhaps getting help with an SOS therapist to deal with difficult family divides.
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption or host a nonalcoholic event. Drinking can magnify problems with family dynamics tremendously, leading to upset feelings, or downright arguments. Plus, what may at first relax you can end up making you more tense or more depressed. By avoiding drinking and other drug use, you may avoid unnecessary tension or family discord.
  • For families, try to preserve young children’s schedules.   Holidays may be rendered difficult if children are cranky and tired, or if they’re hungry and agitated. Prearrange with the host if there is a quiet room where kids can nap, and bring plenty of nutritious snacks in case regular meal times are delayed. If you’re traveling to an event that involves driving or flying, consider arriving a day early to let the kids decompress from the trip.
  • If you’re alone, find something to do that makes the day meaningful for you. Rent or download a great movie. Take a walk in the fall foliage. Improve your meditation practice. Volunteer to serve others who are less fortunate. Spend all day in your pajamas or have a nice soak in an aromatherapy bath. These are just some of many things you can try to celebrate yourself and your essential goodness in the world, and any number of these self-care ideas can reduce the focus on feeling lonely.
  • Lastly, remind yourself that the holidays don’t last forever. Whether it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving, the eight days of Chanukah or the seven days of Kwanzaa, holidays do end. They exist in a finite period of time and it can be helpful to remind yourself that they will eventually be over. Time passes and the hustle and bustle of these holidays go away.   If they seem interminable, focus on your breathing. Tell yourself that with each deep breath you are getting closer to the finish line.

Tricia Ellis Christensen MFTi

 

What are Eating Disorders?

 

EDs are serious conditions where a person becomes so preoccupied with food and weight that it becomes an uncontrollable compulsion.  People with EDs often struggle with low self-esteem and image distortion, impulse control and issues relating to a need for control, often in response to lack of control in some area of life.  People with ED often highly value achievement or perfectionism, and frequently have troubled relationships (lack of support or adequate empathy). Eating disorders can cause serious physical and psychological problems and, at their most severe, can even be life threatening.

Facts:

  • ED is reported in about 4-10% of especially high school and college students, most often females.
  • Anorexia Nervosa:  Excessive weight loss, refusal to maintain minimally normal body weight, fear of weight gain.
  • Bulimia:  Secretive cycle of binge eating followed by purging.

Signs:

  • Pre-occupation with image and body weight.
  • Frequent dieting or a change in eating habits such as, abnormal eating patterns, low or extremely limited intake of food, overeating or binging.
  • Leaving for the bathroom frequently after eating.
  • Compulsive exercise, especially for someone who has not worked out a lot in the past.
  • Overly simple thinking and rationalization around food
  • Mood swings (depression, anxiety, irritability, and denying their own feelings or needs).

Consequences:

  • Eating disorders can be extremely dangerous.
  • They can rupture the stomach or esophagus, imbalance electrolytes, and stain and/or decay teeth.
  •  It is a myth that EDs cause effective weight loss.
  • Vomiting rids the body of nutrients and so the body thinks it is starving so it slows metabolism down to preserve what nutrients it has.
  • Bulimic clients may be slightly overweight.

What to do to Help:

  • Express your concern and ask the person about his/her eating (i.e.., if he/she is eating enough, if he/she is worried about eating).
  • Focus on the client’s feelings rather than their behaviors.
  • Make a referral for counseling and also refer to the client’s support network (spouse, parents) and to a physician.
  • Treatments for eating disorders usually involve psychotherapy, nutrition education, family counseling, medications, and hospitalization when needed.

Julie Waters MFTi

 

 

Coping with Depression

Depression can last for short periods or a longer time and it can make us feel helpless. The thought that we will never get any better can drive despairing thoughts and worsen how we feel.   But there are ways to better cope with depression and gain back some control of the situation. While these may not fully alleviate our feelings at first, they can be a help:

  •  Ideally, seek counseling during a depressive episode to gain support and help you talk out your difficulties.   Talk therapy has definitely been proven to shorten depressive episodes. See the rest of the SOS website for information on how to get a counselor.
  • You should also consider talking to a psychiatrist if depression is long lasting. There are many antidepressants that can be helpful in treating this disorder.
  • Get out for at least a 30-minute walk each day, even if you don’t feel like doing it.
  • Avoid the tendency to isolate yourself from others, as this will add to your feeling of being alone with this illness.
  • Talk to sympathetic friends about what you are going through. Not only will this ease your sense of isolation, but it gives you needed support.
  • Avoid the advice of those who just tell you you need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and carry on.   This advice is unhelpful and not easy to follow when you’re depressed.
  • Work on getting at least eight hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation worsens depression. On the other hand, if you are oversleeping or sleeping most of the day, try to cut this down.
  • Try to maintain normal grooming rituals, like grabbing a shower each day, and getting dressed.

It takes time and effort to get over depression, and we’re aware these suggestions may not always be easy. When you can’t follow a suggestion, try hard not to beat up on yourself.   There is always tomorrow to try again and you will beat these difficult feelings eventually, as you try to take care of yourself.

Tricia Ellis Christensen

What Am I Supposed to Say in a Therapy Session?

Some people initially find it difficult to decide what to talk about when they enter therapy, and that is perfectly okay.   The therapist may ask some leading questions to help you get going or she or he may wait until you feel like talking. This reticence to talk at first may come from a sense that you don’t know how confidential the session will be.   At SOS, your thoughts and reflections are between you and the therapist, although occasionally the therapist might discuss a case with his or her supervisor. That communication is also private. So you can be assured that what you say will remain confidential, unless there is suspected child abuse, you threaten to harm yourself or you threaten to harm someone else. These exceptions do need to be reported for your safety and the safety of all. If you still feel tongue-tied, here are some suggestions for things that you can talk about in therapy:

  • You can talk about the problems that bring you to therapy
  • You can talk about your relationships to friends, spouses, lovers, or family
  • You can ask the therapist questions that were inspired from a previous session
  • You can report on how things are going in your life right now
  • If you have any homework, you can go over it with the therapist
  • Previous sessions are also rich for conversation because ideas seldom get finished in a single session
  • Another thing you can talk about is the therapy itself. How is it going for you and what is your experience like working with this therapist?

With all these ideas, remember that your therapist really wants to hear what you have to say.   It is in beginning and sustaining a conversation together that makes therapy successful.

 Tricia Ellis Christensen MFTi

 

When Should I Consider Going to Counseling?

There are lots of reasons why therapy may be right for you, and people often wonder what those reasons are.   While this is by no means an exhaustive list of reasons, it can give you some idea of when counseling may be the right choice for you:

  • You find yourself feeling sad, depressed or hopeless some of the time and the situation does not seem to be improving.
  • You are anxious a lot or have suffered panic attacks or you generally worry a lot of the time.
  • You have serious mood swings that make you very exuberant at times or that make you very sad at other times.
  • You hear, see, or touch things that are not there and that other people can’t hear, see or touch.
  • Your relationship with a significant other or with your children is suffering and you can’t seem to find solutions.
  • You have suffered a trauma that keeps coming back to you.
  • In life you feel stuck or you are having difficulty making decisions about what you should do next.
  • Domestic abuse or other types of abuse have happened to you and you need help working it out.
  • You are experiencing major life changes and are not sure how to handle the transition.
  • You have a habit you wish to break but you are not able to do it alone.
  • Your self esteem is low and you want to learn to like yourself more.
  • You have trouble with anger and can’t seem to manage it.

As mentioned, these are a few reasons why people come to counseling. They don’t have to be so succinct; you may just feel perplexed about the direction of your life and want to talk it out with a sympathetic listener. Counseling can also be a source of support for people who are isolated and need to talk over their thoughts with another. At SOS counseling, we tackle these problems and more, and sometimes the best way to determine if you require counseling is to visit one of our counselors and get a feel for the therapy process. In other words, make an appointment and find out if counseling can fulfill your needs.

 Tricia Ellis Christensen M. A. MFTi

 

Why Do Some Counselors Want Me to Talk About My Childhood?

Childhood is important because it’s where we began to form as adults. The experiences of that time can give you vital information about who you are now. It can also help to talk about childhood, particularly if it was difficult, because you can revisit past wounds and griefs, and grieve for them now in a much fuller way. Additionally, you have a new vantage point, for as an adult, you can see past recollections in a new and more complex way.

Interestingly, there are some schools of psychological thought where what is happening in the present is much more important.   Such schools, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, spend most of the time dealing with thoughts and feelings the person is having now.   However, if a childhood was particularly traumatic, then people may respond better to a therapy that includes discussion of it.

For example, if your childhood included witnessing domestic abuse or if you were a victim of sexual or physical abuse, these matters really require processing. It is likely you are still carrying this trauma and need a gentle therapist to help you through re-experiencing these memories. On the other hand, if you are suffering from social anxiety in the present, a method like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy could better address your symptoms and the negative thoughts that are driving your anxiety. There is no one best way in therapy, but instead a variety of choices for therapies based on need.   Moreover, none of these therapies are particularly effective without a trusting relationship between counselor and client.

Tricia Ellis Christensen M. A.  MFTi

 

What Will My First Visit to an SOS Counselor Be Like?

Getting counseling can seem intimidating or daunting for some people, and it helps to know what to expect. At SOS Counseling Services each therapist tends to have a similar approach to the first visit. Being familiar with this approach may make you feel more comfortable about the process.

We will probably ask you to come early to fill out some paperwork. The paperwork is of two kinds. You’ll read and fill out a “Consent to Treatment,” which the therapist will probably go over with you.   The second type of paperwork is our intake form, where you’ll write down your address and other locating information, an emergency contact, and some information about your family, such as if you are married or have children. The intake form also has space to write about your reasons for seeking therapy. Sometimes the therapist will ask you to partially fill out the form and go over your reasons for counseling and goals in the session.

Part of the focus is on getting to know you. After we escort you into our office we’ll look over your paperwork and may ask for clarifications. But we also want to get a sense of who you are and how you are feeling.   We may inquire a little about your family, how to properly pronounce your name, or whether we can leave a message for you on the phone.   We’ll also take time to make sure you understand the “Consent to Treatment” form, so that you will know the level of confidentiality our therapy provides, as well as some basic guidelines for canceling an appointment.

Your reasons for treatment and goals are very important to us. Most of the session will probably be spent getting a sense of the problems with which you want help.   We’ll ask you to expand on the issues that are bringing you to therapy and assess how we might be able to help you reach your goals. SOS counselors bring a lot of empathy to this process, which may make it easier for you to talk about the things that are bothering you.

Setting up the next appointment is important. The first session is only the beginning of the work you and an SOS therapist will do together. Usually, the therapist will make certain that a given time works for you and will schedule that on his or her calendar.

You should leave having some sense of what the counselor is like. It’s important to pay attention to your impressions of the counselor. Can you understand him/her? Do they seem to get you and your concerns? If anything has bothered you in the session, feel free to bring it up in the next session, so the therapist can adjust his/her approach to better meet your needs.

Tricia Ellis Christensen M.A. MFTi

 

What is Major Depressive Disorder (Depression)?

Depression is a condition that has a specific set of symptoms. It’s not just feeling blue sometimes or occasionally having a bad day. We all get those symptoms and most of us are not, what is called, clinically depressed.   It can help to know what the symptoms of Major Depression are, if you are wondering whether you may have it.  If it seems likely, you can take your findings to an SOS counselor for assistance in managing the illness.

These symptoms are adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th ed, which diagnoses psychological disordersIn order to be depressed, you must have one or both of the following symptoms: a depressed mood most of the time and most days and/or a significant lack of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities (also called anhedonia).   In addition, you must have four of the following symptoms:

  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Either an increase or decrease in activity
  • A feeling of low to no energy
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or thoughts of suicide with or without a plan

Furthermore, these symptoms have to be causing a lot of distress. Depression may have no seeming cause. However, it can sometimes be caused by illness or substance use. Also, to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, a person has had more than one depressive episode.

It’s very important to be able to spot the symptoms of Depression in yourself or a loved one.   Since the disorder can lead to much suffering and can dangerously lead to suicidal behavior, it is really vital that you get help dealing with the disease. There are several therapies that can help with Depression and there are also medications a doctor can prescribe that often assist in alleviating symptoms. A combination of medication and therapy is the gold standard for treatment of this difficult illness.

Tricia Ellis Christensen M.A. MFTi

 

What Is The Therapeutic Alliance?

It has been stated often that the therapeutic alliance is the most important factor in determining the success of treatment.   But what is the therapeutic alliance, exactly? Essentially, it is the relationship formed between therapist and client and their mutual efforts to work on problem solving. It’s also the way you feel about your therapist and how your therapist feels about you. In order for therapy to be effective, it’s important to build a strong, caring team.

Sometimes the therapeutic relationship doesn’t meet this criteria, and this is when both clients and therapists can get involved to improve the relationship. Clients are encouraged to comment on their therapy and the level of trust they feel with their therapist. Therapists should comment when they feel the therapy is not working. Quite often, clients don’t take this step because they want to avoid conflict. Therapists, on the other hand, must take this step as part of their due diligence. Actually, being open to this conflict can be vital to building a stronger team together because the therapist can adjust the way he or she is caring for you so that you feel more comfortable.

It’s also of value in the early days of a therapeutic relationship to take stock of what is working and what is not. Clients who do this and discuss it with their therapist are better able to grow the relationship with their therapist. Sometimes, despite these discussions, the therapist/client relationship is simply not a good fit. At this point asking for a referral to another therapist is a wise choice. Fortunately, at SOS Community Counseling we have a variety of therapists, each with their own gifts, so a referral can usually be made to another counselor with relative ease.

It may help to remember that therapy should take place in an environment of trust and mutual respect. The client should feel comfortable discussing his or her issues with the therapist. There should be good rapport and an easy flow of ideas back and forth.   If any of this is missing, consider bringing it up in therapy so the therapist has the opportunity to tailor his or her approach to better meet your needs.

Tricia Ellis Christensen M.A. MFTi

Getting Healthy Sleep

Sleep is a wonderful way to restore our bodies and help us start each new day on the right track.   In fact, getting a good night’s sleep (an average of eight hours for most adults) is essential.  Poor sleep is a predictor for both diabetes and depression.  Most of us know what it feels like when we’re not getting adequate rest.  We’re slower, feel tired, and frequently have less motivation.  While an occasional poor night’s sleep is generally not problematic, regular inadequate rest needs to be addressed.

One of the first things you can do to improve your sleep is to work on what is called sleep hygiene.  These are the rituals associated with going to sleep at night.  Doctors advise having minimal distractions in your sleeping space, like cellphones, computers or a television.   It’s also important to set a time each night to go to sleep.  Avoiding a lot of stimulation before going to bed can be valuable, too.

Instead of watching a murder mystery on TV or engaging in strenuous exercise a couple of hours before bedtime, think of calming activities to do like reading, meditating or taking a relaxing bath.  As well, not drinking caffeinated beverages for 8-10 hours before bedtime may be very helpful.  Substitute decaf drinks like chamomile tea. Further, while exercise before bedtime is generally not recommended, it’s a good idea to get exercise earlier in the day.  Even 30 minutes of walking each day may help you improve sleep.

If improving your sleep hygiene does not lead to better sleep, it’s important to discuss this matter with your doctor.   Conditions like sleep apnea may be interfering with your ability to sleep.  People with bipolar disorder may also have manic periods where they get very little sleep.   These conditions can be treated, gradually leading you to more restful nights.

It can be frustrating to deal with life when sleep is poor.  In addition to working with a doctor, supportive work with a therapist, particularly if depression or bipolar are present can help you in your quest for better sleep.  SOS counselors are skilled in tackling this issue.

Tricia Ellis Christensen M.A. MFTi

 

Tips to De-Stress
We live busy lives that can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Here’s a short list of things you can do to help with anxiety and promote inner calm.

Think narrowly, not globally. Instead of surveying (and worrying about) all that must be done, break work or obligations into simple steps, completing them day by day. This can bring a sense of accomplishment and also make the workload ahead less daunting.

Reward yourself with a walk. Even 30 minutes a day has been found to reduce both anxiety and depression. If it’s difficult to get 30 minutes, take two or three short walks a day instead. This will still accrue benefits.

Breathe. A simple meditation is to breathe regularly and stay focused on the path of your breath. A few moments of paying attention to breathing, while keeping your mind clear of excess thoughts, can help bring down anxiety levels.

Watch your alcohol intake. While alcohol normally can make us feel relaxed at first, excessive drinking can do the opposite and make us feel more anxious or depressed. Limit yourself to the recommended four drinks for women for the week or seven drinks for men.

Schedule unstructured time in your life. We all need some moments to ourselves. This is proving especially important for children too, that they have moments of unscheduled play. Consider reducing an activity or two to help get this time for you and your family. Learn to say no.

Often we take on too much out of a sense of obligation to work or social environments. While participating in many activities is great, it can be a problem when we overschedule ourselves.  One rule that may work is to say no twice for every yes.  It’s important that we have some down time.

If you still feel anxious after following these tips, this is when it may be a good idea to talk to a counselor. The therapists at  SOS  are well-equipped to work with you on this or any other issue that is causing problems in your life.

Tricia Ellis Christensen M.A. MFTi