Spatial Distancing

Hello, I hope you are all fairing well and taking good care of yourselves through this pandemic.

It is an understatement to assert we are living through unprecedented and challenging times. Uncertainty, fear, anxiety and distrust abounds. How can we help in this time of crisis? Some people are in shelter or doing distancing alone and some are with large families that have never had to spend this much time in their homes. Many are working from home and school. There are so many issues going on in so many directions and every day it changes. Uncertainty seems to be the only thing we can count on at this time. It is important to remember even if you are lonely, you are never alone. Help is always a phone call away. We are still available and doing phone and video sessions that are going quite well.

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Reactions to the Pandemic

My wife and I are newly “empty-nesters”. A month ago, two of my kids were away at college and my oldest was in the process of moving from California to the East Coast. I was busy at work and planning a vacation in April.

Everything has changed: colleges are closed, CDC guidelines are in place, and stay-at-home orders issued. My three children returned home to shelter with us as their schools and jobs ended or switched to online. We have all had to adjust to living together again (and not just for a week over spring break!).

It has been good to be with my family. In a time when going out becomes a risk/benefit analysis and a series of trade-offs, having my family home helps me feel safer and better able to be present in the world.

I had been watching the news and following the coronavirus spread for several months but only as a spectator. I was taking precautions, washing my hands a lot, and social distancing but did not really understand what was happening. It came home for me when I learned of the death of a Boone County resident. The first death from Covid-19 in Missouri.

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Friday During a Pandemic

We made it to Friday — Friday during a pandemic. Feels a little more like this week was a week of Mondays on repeat. Nevertheless, here we are. 

I have had the words for this blog post in my head for a little over a week now, but to be honest, I’ve spent a lot of the past few weeks feeling paralyzed. Frozen. Stuck in one of those whirlpools that keeps you moving but you don’t even go anywhere. Maybe you can relate. 

When COVID-19 made its way to my area, so did a whole host of feelings. And you know my opinion about feelings … the more conflicting, the better 😉  Feeling conflicting emotions = reality. And there’s nothing that’ll bring us back to reality like an international pandemic. 

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Different Types of Group Therapy

After reviewing what group therapy (a.k.a. a counseling group) is and how it may be helpful to connect with others as we navigate our own journey, I want to take a few minutes to help familiarize us with different types of counseling groups and the purpose and benefits of them. Depending on where you live, some or all of the types of groups may be offered at varying times and a simple Google search may connect you with them and the counselors who lead them. 

Skills-Based Groups. A skills group commonly has a title that reads something like “8 Weeks of Group Guided Meditation.”  These groups encourage people who share a common interest to come together to learn and practice skills such as meditation, deep breathing, healthy communication or conflict management. Often, these groups are time-limited and structured in their content and homework. Skills groups are very common as many people find value in learning alongside their peers well after their “school days.”  

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What Is Group Therapy?

“Another counselor and I are starting a new group that will meet on Thursday evenings at 6:00 p.m. Are you interested in joining us? No? Are you sure? I haven’t even told you what it’s about yet.” 

You mean to tell me you don’t just jump at the bit to share all your deepest, darkest secrets with a group of strangers? Surely I’m not the only one who enjoys talking to people I hardly know and actually feel better after doing so…

Maybe you relate more to this cartoon:

What is group counseling anyway? Well, to be honest, sometimes it does mimic the cartoons. A group of people, sitting in a circle, hands clasped, deafening awkward silence; yep, your imagination is not leading you astray. Especially the first group therapy session, much of what keeps you at a distance actually does exist. But it doesn’t have to be and won’t always be like that. 

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Debunking the Myth: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

About a month ago, I polled many of you and asked if you’d rather learn more about Bipolar Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was really surprised to learn there was almost an exact tie. There was approximately one more person curious about OCD than Bipolar, so I sure hope that lucky person is reading this post!

Just to review, you’re reading a post in my current blog series called Debunking the Myth: Commonly Misused Mental Health Words. Click the following links to read previous posts on panic attack and trauma

OCD: probably one of the most thrown-around acronyms, at least in the circles in which I find myself. The way I hear the term used often sounds like, “She’s so OCD” or “I’m just OCD like that.” Typically, the user of the phrase is referring to engaging in repetitive behavior or feeling overly busy or frantic or trying to verbally make sense of feeling internal anxiety. To their (or your or my) credit, the description is not far from the actual definition of OCD. But, just like the other terms we’ve debunked, it will serve us well to learn the science behind Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in order to more fully accept each other and show kindness to those around us. My hope with this series is to educate in order to lessen stigma – and mental health is so easy to stigmatize. 

What we think OCD is. Similar to above, we tend to think OCD describes a person who folds each article of clothing in the exact same way. Or maybe you have to make sure the front door is locked at least three times before going to bed. Since we just said goodbye to the holiday season, “making the list and checking it twice” may have meant checking it excessively to make sure everything was in order by December 25th. In my mind, a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may look a little frazzled on the outside or may talk quickly or seem overly nervous in social situations. I share this stereotype I’m guilty of in order to let you in on a secret: we all do it. Our society loves to put us in boxes with labels in order to try and understand and make room for us. And like we’ve talked about, this is sometimes comforting for the person asking for help. But, when we call someone by their label, like, “He is so OCD,” we reduce that person to a set of characteristics that are mostly likely behaviors, not human identity.

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Debunking the Myth: Trauma – What it is and what it is not

“Trauma” is one of those buzz words these days. I remember about ten years ago, some of the only times I heard the word was on the television show ER. You remember, too? 

Does trauma only happen in a hospital emergency room? 

What we think it is. Doctors and nurses rush around, in and out of triage rooms separated by swinging sheets, beeping noises fill the background, and someone is usually crying. ER trauma, especially in real life, is just that – traumatic.  

What is NOT trauma is me saying to my kids, “Get off that tree branch!  You’re going to give me PTSD!” Or, “My hair is such a disaster, it’s traumatizing.” 

Similar to my last post about panic attacks, these mental health buzzwords are complicated. They rarely mean what we think they mean and they are rarely used as intended. Most of the time, we use “trauma” and “PTSD” interchangeably, when in fact, they are different from each other. Sure, there are crossover components, and yes, someone who has the diagnosed condition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has experienced a trauma (or multiple). But for our purposes of learning in order to understand, validate, and accept each other more fully, “trauma” does not just mean “scared” and some people suffer from debilitating PTSD on a daily basis. 

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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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