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


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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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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