Debunking the Myth: Panic Attack

I know I’ve heard it and I know I’ve said it: “Oh my goodness, I’m so stressed out, I’m going to have a panic attack.” Or, to one of my kids, “Get down from that ladder!  You’re going to give me a panic attack!” 

Hey, I’m just going to be honest.  Until a few years ago, I was mostly unaware of the effect my mental-illness-phrase-ignorance had on the people around me, and even more consequently, on myself.  As time ticks on, I learn a little more each day and realize again –  words matter.  The way I use words matters. The way we – as a society – use words matters – especially in the field of mental health counseling.

Some people appreciate a “label” as it helps them understand what’s going on behind the scenes mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Others run as far away from a label as they can; they may feel isolated and alone, like no one else in the world knows or understands their struggle.  We all just want to fit in with the rest of the world, to be included, to be known and loved for who we are, not just for what we do. Labels either help us toward that desire or harm us in the process, depending on each individual’s experiences.

In this blog series, my aim is to debunk some commonly misused terms as they pertain to mental health and awareness.  In the process, I’m reminding myself of the importance of seeing the people around me, really seeing them. Today, let’s learn about the truth behind the term panic attack.

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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Here we are!  It’s the last week of October, the leaves are rapidly changing colors and falling to the ground.  The weather in mid-Missouri is per usual — unpredictable and indecisive as to which season it is.  A snow dusting is predicted on Halloween!  The Daylight Savings time change is in the near-future, and if you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with all of the above.

Brief history lesson: Several decades ago a gentleman by the name of Dr. Norman Rosenthal found himself feeling symptoms of depression throughout the fall and winter months.  His hypothesis was that because there were fewer hours of daylight, perhaps his mood was affected.  After Research Engineer Herb Kern treated his own similar symptoms with light therapy, the hypothesis struck a chord with professionals at the National Institute of Mental Health.  In the 1980’s, SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, was coined.  Even the most recent version of the DSM-5, Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, categorizes SAD under the category of Depressive Disorders with the specificity of “with seasonal pattern.”

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Finding Help

Stig·ma
/ˈstiɡmə/

noun
a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

It is no secret…the word “addiction” itself carries a significant stigma that has been present for decades.  Treatment options for those struggling to control substance use or behavioral addiction are abundant; yet, many do not receive the help they need.  According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, only 2.5 million people received specialized treatment for substance use; 2.5 million out of 21.5 million Americans age 12 and older who were diagnosed with substance use disorder.

Perhaps you realize you are struggling more than you thought with substance use and/or an unwanted behavioral pattern.  On the other hand, maybe you have a loved one who is struggling; you’re not sure what to say, you want to suggest help but just do not know where to begin.  Options for help are actually best visualized on a continuum – being able to get on or off the train at any station at any given point brings a lot of flexibility and freedom when choosing what is the best next course of action.

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Behavioral-Addiction Cycle

You know that little red bubble that appears next to your apps on your phone?  It tells you that you have a new email (or 127 new emails) or that someone liked your Facebook photo or that you haven’t logged into Clash of Clans for at least 24 hours.  Who knew something so little and seemingly “cute” could be so powerful?

In this post, I will discuss another facet of recovery from what some call process addictions.  Other names for this category of reward-seeking tendencies may include compulsions, repetitive patterns, and problematic behaviors.  Some of the most common activities that are recognized by any or all of the above names are: 

  • Gambling
  • Gaming (video games and/or app-based games) 
  • Internet and/or social media 
  • Shopping
  • Eating
  • Sexual acting out and/or pornography 
  • Workaholism

What categorizes these behaviors as addictive or compulsive?  Most often, what happens before the behavior begins can be a tell-tale sign that someone you love might be struggling to regain control over their shopping habit or restrictive eating.  Let’s take a look at another variation of the cycle of addiction we briefly touched on in the last blog post.  

 

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Addiction

September is National Recovery Month, and let’s be honest; addiction and recovery are taboo topics.  We don’t know what to say when we suspect someone we love may be struggling with repetitive behaviors and the last thing we want for ourselves is a negative label.  Throughout the month, we’re going to address questions such as:

  • What is addiction?
  • What does recovery mean?
  • How do I help my loved one who is struggling to stop drinking?
  • Do I need inpatient treatment?
  • Why am I so attached to my cell phone?

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Is Counseling For Me? Pt. 3

You are reading the final part of a 3-part blog series.  If you’re new here, you can catch up by reading Part 1 and Part 2.

Welcome back!  You’ve decided counseling might be for you.  That realization is a big step!  Whether you have no idea where to begin or you haven’t seen a counselor in a while, this post is designed to answer some of the most common questions you might have as you start or continue your search.

How do I find a counselor? 

There are several ways to go about finding a counselor in your area.  Maybe you have a friend or family member who sees a counselor.  I suggest you have a conversation with that person and find out what they like about their counselor.  Ask questions like, “How has counseling helped you?”  “What do you do in your sessions?”  “What should I look for when trying to find a counselor?”  Chances are, if you’re talking to someone you trust, you’ll be able to grab hold of something they say and take the next step to find the best counselor for you.  You can visit websites like Psychology Today, Thumbtack, and Theravive, or you can do a general Google search for counselors in your area.

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Is Counseling For Me? Pt. 2

Where did we leave off?  Oh, right.  We’re talking about how it’s hard to ask for help and sit across from a stranger just talking into thin air.  But we’re also talking about how we struggle to just listen to each other and so sometimes, we need to call a counselor.  We need a person.

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Is Counseling For Me?

Not too long ago, I spent a week power washing my back deck.  Yes, it was July in Missouri.  So, yes, it was hot and sticky and the mosquitos were swarming.  Why did it take a week?  Well, after hour number one, I realized the maximum amount of time I could run the power washer was about 90 minutes.  At that point, I was sore, tired, and splattered with mud.  Five days of early-morning, 90-minute sessions taught me a lot about why I had never picked up a power washer wand before that week and also reminded me that counseling and power washing have more in common than we might think.

At first glance, my deck appeared just fine.  I mean, I had looked at it for nine years and there was some age-related wear and tear, but obviously, nothing too hideous to cause me to do something about it.  Around hour number five of managing that powerful power washer wand, I began to see the toll the weather and scurrying animals and little human feet and Missouri sun had had on the once-clean and smooth wood.  Yikes!

Isn’t this how life is sometimes?  We’re just going about our day-to-day, noticing that some things that used to be easy are a little more difficult, a couple relationships have fizzled, our job is just the job that pays the bills, and we feel tired.  (Not the 11:59 p.m. tired, but the 7:45 p.m. is-it-bedtime-yet tired).

So we do some things to ease the tension and return to our former level of comfortable living.  We read the latest and greatest self-help book, we increase our dose of daily Vitamin D supplements, we add a Body Pump class to our gym routine, and we turn our electronic devices off an hour before our head hits the pillow.  All great things!  We feel the relief…for a few days.  And then it’s back; that nagging, “something isn’t right” feeling and “I don’t know what to do next” thought.

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Clinical Management of Drug & Alcohol Testing

When discussing best practices in helping people with substance use disorders, the subject of drug testing is seldom discussed beyond noting its importance. However, managing drug testing within a clinical environment can be tricky. A thoughtful approach to managing drug testing is crucial because if it is handled well, it can enhance treatment process and outcomes, but if it is handled poorly, it can get in the way of effective interventions. In this article I will discuss the pros and cons of drug testing and detail some local resources useful for integrating drug testing into your clinical practice.

The primary barrier to the effective use of drug testing in counseling is the perception that it is punitive.  Indeed, in many environments the person being testing has nothing to gain and everything to lose. In the criminal justice system, workplaces, and even some treatment programs a positive result on a drug test can mean incarceration, a lost job, or an unsuccessful discharge from treatment. Chief concerns in these situations are that the person being tested has a loss of privacy and loss of control over the use of the test results. Furthermore, these uses color people’s ideas of the purpose of drug testing. Therefore, clinicians using drug testing need to specifically address this perception and correct any misunderstandings about the use of test results.

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Acceptance & Commitment Therapy for Anxiety

People rightly come to the therapist because they have become inwardly enslaved
and they yearn to be set free.  The crucial question is: how is that freedom to be attained? 

– Rollo May, Freedom and Destiny

At a four-day “Boot Camp” for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in Reno this February, I aspired to actively participate in the training rather than sitting back passively. The latter is certainly the easier route, and it’s the option I sometimes take in life, but it leaves me feeling a bit lifeless. On the other hand, while raising my hand and speaking in front of 150 other attendees invigorates me, the thought of doing so also brings in its wake a swell of fear and trembling that seems to pin me down into a state of passivity. Read More »