When people come to me for counseling, we focus on making internal changes, as well as environmental changes, to improve mental health and quality of life. For example, a child who is bringing home poor grades and described as not paying attention may need to sit away from their friends or get glasses for vision problems. Environment changes are not always the entire solution, but many times they can make a difference. Read more
I can’t say enough about the importance of support systems in our lives. Whether your are a new mother and connecting with other new moms online, parenting a child diagnosed with a disability seeking resources, or on the road to recovering from addiction and attending regular support groups, connecting with others is vital to your success in overcoming the challenges of your circumstance.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jami Edwards last week at Kingwood Pines Hospital for a continuing education hour on nutrition and mental health, who works with DBSA, Depression and Bipoar Support Alliance. This organization offers free support groups in and around the Houston, Texas area.
She provided me this list (below) of Open Support Groups for individuals and families dealing with Depression and Bipolar Disorder. I encourage you the check their website regularly for an updated list as well.
Given that I live and work in the Houston, Texas area, I would love to hear if you have resources and information on support groups in mental and behavioral health. Please feel free to pass along!
I get this question fairly often, mostly from new counseling graduates or from my clients.
For me, being a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is an honor and a challenge.
To fully answer the question of why I became a counselor, I would have to start by talking briefly about what I do as an LPC.
My “Job” as an LPC
I put the word “job” in quotation marks because I often don’t feel as if this is a job. I am in the profession of helping people through a wide variety of problems.
Here are a few things I get to do as an LPC:
- Listen: I listen to what my clients have to say. Many times, people feel they talk but they are not heard. They feel as if they share their feelings, but the underlying meaning of why they are feeling that way is not brought to light. So I listen for what is being said, but also to what is not being said.
- Recognize: I am training to recognize many things as an LPC. Some of these include signs of unhealthy boundaries, indications of a mental illness, patterns of behavior, and structural patterns in relationships.
- Validate: This cannot be underestimated in my role. People often need validation and empathy in order to fully heal.
- Plan: I establish a plan to help my clients with the issues they bring to me. This includes coming up with goals and ways to reach those goals.
- Encourage: I encourage my clients in reaching their goals, making progress in their lives, and reaching healthy milestones.
- Advise: I advise clients in handling certain situations, such as handling a child’s visitation after divorce or talking with doctors and teachers about what is going on.
- Play: As a play therapist, engaging children during therapeutic play is one of my roles, and definitely one of my favorites.
The Reason I Chose Counseling (A Rare Moment of Personal Disclosure)
I am an only child and grew up in a two-parent home. I can say confidently and thankfully that I am loved by both of my parents and a small extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had a happy childhood. However, starting around middle school, I began to experience the challenges that I believe most adolescents experience. I started a new school as well, which added to some of the social challenges of the time. Making friends was difficult for me, and I found myself being bullied pretty regularly. It was mostly the relational aggression bullying that we see among girls. I remember feeling confused and lonely. I did not have siblings or friends to talk to, and I don’t remember my school having a counselor, either. I began surrounding myself with anyone who would be my friend, whether they were a good influence or not.
I finally made my way to high school. My grades were good and I was making a few more friends. But then I got the dreaded boyfriend. You know the one that every mother and father despises and wants to keep far from their daughters. I will skip the details of this time in my life, but I’m sure you can fill in the blanks with your own experience, or the experience of someone you know. The bottom line is that I again felt lonely and confused. I actually wanted OUT of the relationship with this boy, but I felt trapped and scared. If only I had someone to talk to and help me sort it all out in a healthy and safe way.
Why didn’t I talk to my parents?
This is where my career choice will begin to make sense to you. I didn’t tell my parents how scared and lonely I felt for many reasons (that I can only now finally to put into words):
- Embarrassment: I was embarrassed to admit I had made mistakes and needed help.
- Fear: I was afraid of what would happen if they intervened.
- Disappointment: I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, especially because I was an only child.
- Pride: As a teenager, you are trying to prove yourself as an adult and admitting mistakes doesn’t help your case.
Putting It All Together
So that’s my personal story of some difficult times when I really needed a counselor as an adolescent. I’m confident the outcome could have been different, as well as saving myself and my family some grief. However, like most challenges and triumphs in our lives, those experiences made me who I am today! I am in the business of helping people who are lonely, need answers, feel depressed, or don’t know the healthiest way to handle their circumstances.
I have mentioned in other posts the importance of finding a mentor for your teenager, and it’s for the reasons I stated above that I believe this is so important. With the rise of depression in teens, divorce, autism, and so much more, I don’t ever want a teenager, child, adult, or parent to feel they are alone and don’t have someone to talk to who will help them.
There are many professionals in the helping professions who follow this blog. I would love to hear how you decided this was the career for you.
Men are often overlooked when it comes to the discussion of depression. As a wife, daughter, and therapist, it’s important to me that I am aware of the signs of depression in men and to spread education on the topic to my readers.
It’s a common belief that more women suffer from depression than men, but this is actually not the case. In fact, men commit suicide in far greater numbers than women.
Why? Men often do not receive help for their depression and there are several possible reasons.
- Failure to Recognize Symptoms: Men may exhibit some symptoms of depression differently than women, making it less recognizable to family, friends, and even doctors.
- Men Are Less Likely To Seek Help: There is still reluctance by many men to seek help for depression. This could be because they see it as a weakness, they are hesitant to admit they need help, or maybe they are reluctant to make the financial or time sacrifices it takes to commit to therapy.
- Less Awareness: As I mentioned above, most people think of depression as a female problem and we are not educated on the symptoms and statistics of male depression.
So now that we’ve established that there is a lack of awareness about male depression, what are the symptoms of depression in men?
Men will often exhibit inappropriate anger, an increase in substance use, and will often spend a great deal of time away from home and family (escapist behaviors).
The Uplift Program has a comparison of the male and female symptoms of depression:
SYMPTOMS IN MEN SYMPTOMS IN WOMEN Blames others Tendency to self-blame Anger, irritability, ego inflation Feels sad, apathetic, worthless Feels suspicious, guarded Feels anxious, frightened Creates conflict Avoids conflict Restlessness and agitation Slows down, nervousness Compulsiveness Procrastination Sleeps too little Sleeps too much Becomes controlling Difficulty maintaining boundaries Shame (eg. sex performance) Guilt Fear of failure Problems with success Becomes over status-conscious Assumes low status Self-medicates through alcohol Self-medicates through food Over use of Internet/TV/email Withdrawal
How To Help
So what you do if you believe you are depressed (men and women)?
- Talk to your doctor. I always, always recommend talking to your doctor as soon as possible. Tell them your symptoms, how long you have had them, and how severe they are and have become.
- Exercise. Physical activity releases endorphins that improve mood and increase self-confidence. See how in this article.
- Eat well. Believe it or not, food plays a role in mood. It will not cure depression, but every positive life change helps!
- Seek counseling. Even if your doctor prescribes medication, studies show that medication combined with therapy will give the best results.
- Seek support from loved ones. When you are depressed, you can feel very much alone, defeated, hopeless, and fatigued, so having a support system in place is key.
I woke up this morning feeling great and having more energy than lately. This is surprising since I am still up every couple of hours with a newborn. So, I started thinking about possible reasons for this improved mood and increase in energy. The answer? My diet! During my third trimester of pregnancy, I “indulged” myself with sweets and fats and carbs. Now that I’m out of excuses for eating all that junk food, I am making an effort to eat better and feed my family more healthful foods.
What To Eat
I decided to do a little research into what specific foods improve mood and energy and here’s what I found.
TodayHealth.com has a great article describing foods that improve your mood and mention that foods with these nutrients are important to look for in your meal choices:
Three specific nutrients to incorporate
Omega-3 fats Significant work is being conducted in the area of omega-3 fatty acids on mental performance. omega-3 fatty acids are present in the brain at higher levels than any other part of the body, and although this area has not been thoroughly researched, several review papers fully support the omega-3 use in psychiatry. Of particular interest is the ability of omega-3 fats to be mood lifting and to help possibly alleviate depression. Certainly a nutrient worth considering, but always speak with your physician before starting with supplements.
Foods rich in omega-3 fats include: oily fish (salmon, mackerel and sardines), ground flaxseeds, canola oil, walnuts and omega-3 fortified eggs.
Folic acid and B12 Two B vitamins — folate and vitamin B12 — seem to be important for mood. Studies have shown that low blood levels of these vitamins are sometimes related to depression, although no one is exactly sure why. Some scientists believe that these vitamins are used by the body to create seratonin, one of the key neurotransmitters that help normalize mood.
If you suffer from a mood disorder, it is important to continue to follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations, but you may want to consider taking a multivitamin with appropriate amounts of folate and B12, in addition to your antidepressant medications. Of course, eating a diet rich in these nutrients is important for maintaining mood, even if you are not clinically depressed.
Foods rich in folate: fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals, lentils, black-eyed peas, soybeans, oatmeal, mustard greens, beets, broccoli, sunflower seeds, wheat germ and oranges.
Foods rich in vitamin B12: shellfish (clams, oysters, crab), wild salmon (fresh or canned), fortified whole-grain breakfast cereal, lean beef, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, milk (skim, skim plus, 1% reduced-fat) and eggs.
Vitamin D In the past few years, research has suggested that vitamin D might help relieve mood disorders because it seems to increase the amounts of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for mood. In particular, vitamin D seems to help the type of depression called “seasonal affective disorder (SAD),” or the winter blues.
Foods rich in vitamin D: fish with bones, fat free and low-fat milk, fortified soy milk and egg yolks. Because vitamin D-rich foods are so limited, it’s often beneficial to take a daily multivitamin which provides 400 IU.
WebMD also turned out to be a good resource, using a slideshow to present foods that boost energy levels. Foods mentioned in this slideshow include apples, whole grains and brown rice, almonds, lean meats, leafy greens, salmon, fiber, water, and fresh fruits!
Recent Recipes I Loved
I love seafood and last night I tried two new recipes that turned out to be wonderfully tasty. I had 3 servings!! But they are so healthful that it was guilt-free!
Shrimp and Spinach Salad from CookingLight.com
**Good source of Omega 3, B12, and Iron
The dressing for this salad was what really made it so wonderful. The salad was a bit skimpy for my taste, so I added raw sliced almonds and bits of turkey bacon. So delicious!
Crab, Corn, and Tomato Salad with Lemon-Basil Dressing ,
also by CookingLight.com
Also an absolutely delicious recipe! I didn’t have the red bell pepper, but it still turned out really tasty.
Black Beans by Melissa d’Arabian
I used these black beans for a healthy taco salad dinner. You can get creative with your taco salads and even make it with healthier ingredients than I did, but this is what I had on hand. I included lean ground beef cooked with chopped onion and garlic, plain greek yogurt (sour cream substitute), chopped tomato, black olives, fresh jalapenos slices, lettuce, green onion, shredded cheese, and multigrain chips.
I didn’t have to follow a recipe for this one, but we have been eating this for breakfast lately. I cook the oatmeal with milk and serve with some kind of fruit. The most popular is blueberries, but I love adding strawberries to my oatmeal. Try to keep away from too much sugar or butter though. The fruit should add plenty of sweetness and flavor!
I’ve never posted recipes on this blog before, but there is a first time for everything, and I am a stong believer that diet, exercise, and sleep play a role in our psychological health! If you have a recipe or related link to share, please do!
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APATHY AS A PRETENSE. “I don’t care if you don’t like how I’m changing!” an eleven-year-old explodes as parents censor the new tough talk he has learned testing young manliness with male peers. But the parents stick to their standards: “How you talk with friends on the playground is your business; but how you talk at home is ours. None of that language here!”It’s hard to be an early adolescent because what gains you points with peers can earn you demerits with parents. He still wants his parents’ good opinion, but to save face he pretends it doesn’t matter. His statement of apathy in this situation is really bravado speaking. What he actually feels is, “I care too much about what you think of the new me to let my caring show.”Parents need to see the “I don’t care what you think” statement for what it is, and avoid strong statements of disapproval at this vulnerable age. Disagree with the young person’s choices when they feel they must, but don’t criticize his character when doing so.APATHY AS BOREDOM. “There’s nothing I care to do!” moans the early adolescent (around ages 9 – 13) at a loss of how she can occupy herself. Having discarded childhood hobbies and possessions because she no longer wants to be defined and treated as a child, she doesn’t yet have older likes, interests, and activities to replace those that have been let go. When it comes to knowing how to meaningfully engage herself, for a while she is riding on empty.While parents are often inclined to trivialize boredom in their adolescent, it is actually a very painful emotion. It is an expression of loneliness. The young person can’t find a satisfying way to connect with herself, other people, or the world. She feels disconnected, at loose ends. Although short term boredom creates the opportunity for the adolescent to develop her own resources and entertain herself, long term boredom should catch parental attention because it is often a staging area for impulse. The young person is willing to do something, anything, with friends to escape the emptiness they share. This is a time when parents need to keep their adolescent adequately busy so impulsiverisk-taking to cope with long term boredom is not allowed to rule.APATHY AS DEFIANCE. “Who cares about grades?” protests the middle school student to parents, as academic performance falls from failing effort. “It should be good enough to just get by.” The formerly high performing young man is rejecting the importance of school achievement to which he was committed as a child and that his parents still are. By this expression of apathy he intends to show the adult world he is no longer wants to be wed to the values of childhood. Not caring about what mattered to the child and what matters to parents feels like an expression of adolescent independence.But for his future sake at this disaffected time, the parents insist that all school work will be done, and apply their oversight to make it so. “Although we understand how school performance matters less to you at the moment, we still expect you to pay attention in class, complete all the homework, study for all the tests, and if you can’t make yourself do all this, we will give you our support of our supervision, even if that means showing up at school to help you take care of studies there.”APATHY AS A DEFENSE. “I don’t care about serious dating anymore,” declares the high school junior who has just been jilted by her boyfriend of two years, with whom she had fallen in love, but who it turned out hadn’t been in lasting love with her. Now she discovers some painful lessons about love: love is not guaranteed to be forever; the one we love the most can hurt us the worst; our love for someone is not always the best measure of their love for us.‘Caring takes daring’ is the lesson the young person has learned because when it comes to love, the risk of hurt is always there. Apathy at this juncture doesn’t heal the suffering, but it does defend against becoming enamored again anytime soon. Respecting this decision, parents can also help the young person appreciate good aspects of this last relationship that can strengthen the next loving attachment when she feels ready to try again.APATHY AS INDIFFERENCE. Adolescence can be a very self-centered and socially limiting experience, in the extreme causing young people to lose empathy for others in their preoccupation with self-interest and confinement to their own small social circle of friends. In the first case, concern for others is sacrificed to caring only for self, ignoring the needs of those they live with. This is when parents complain: “He only thinks of himself!” In the second case, the high school student may be so committed to a social clique and sticking to her own kind that there is insensitivity and indifference to the welfare of others outside of her immediate associations. This is when the young person seems to think: “Who cares about them?”Because healthy personal relationships must work two ways and not just one (the adolescent’s way), and because after leaving school the young person must be prepared to function in a larger and more diverse world, lack of empathy and range in personal relationships will not serve the growing adolescent well. Therefore parents need to insist on mutuality with them and do all they can to broaden experience and enlarge sense of social affiliation while she is still living at home.APATHY ASCYNICISM. Fresh out on one’s own and facing a large impersonal world and job market that is inhospitable, the last stage adolescent finally secures an entry level job, earning just enough to move in with two similarly situated friends who need a third roommate to make rent on the one bedroom apartment they now all share. What a come-down from the comforts of living at home!Because the present is discouraging and the future looks unpromising it’s tough to care about life when life doesn’t appear to care much about you. If you just graduated from college and there are not the opportunities you thought awaited someone with your advanced education, life can feel unfair. Add pessimism to apathy and cynicism can result, creating an outlook with little hope and a lot of disappointment and anger. True independence is a letdown when the world is revealed as the hard, impersonal place it is. Now the work of making one’s way begins.Because cynicism makes it difficult to stay motivated, it can be the enemy of effort at a time when summoning the will to keep trying, to try even harder, is what is needed. Although parents should not spare the older adolescent this time of struggle, they can offer encouragement and also provide perspective by relating some of the trials they went through starting out in life many years ago.APATHY FROM SUBSTANCE USE. At any stage of adolescence, when life gets hard to engage with, it’s tempting to escape from these demands, which is where a lot of substance use comes in. The escape is about freedom – freedom from worrisome or painful cares, freedom for unrestricted and uninhibited pleasure. The effect of substance use is an altered psychological state.Depending on the dose and frequency, substance use can take the user from sober caring, to less caring, to acting carelessly, to becoming care-free, to not caring at all if intoxication or getting wasted occurs. When regular use of alcohol, marijuana, or other psychoactive drugs becomes established, a loss of normal caring can disable effort. Now apathy erodes ambition, motivation falls away, and healthy functioning is harder to maintain. Another impact of substance use on apathy is not caring about consequences and engaging in dangerous risk taking. In either case, parents should push for an assessment of use, and if advised see about getting substance use counseling, treatment, or support group help.APATHY FROMDEPRESSION. “What differences does anything make?” exploded the high school senior. She just lost her best friend to a fatal car accident a month ago. “Nothing matters anymore!” That’s what her parents report in counseling, explaining how “our daughter’s just feeling really sad, but she’ll get past it. We just need to give time.” However, based on other data that they share, I disagree. “She’s showing signs that she needs help. She’s no longer striving on her own behalf. She doesn’t care about the future. She looks downcast all the time. She’s stopped socializing with friends and just stays by herself. She’s given up working out. She’s not interested in communicating and gets angry when you want to talk with her. I think she’s becoming seriously depressed. Significant loss of any kind always carries the risk of a depressive response.
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The birth of a baby is no small event and can trigger significant and sometimes long-lasting mood changes, in both the mother and father. I think everyone has heard of postpartum depression at one time or another. Millions of new mommies experience deep feelings of sadness or persistent anxiety after the birth of their baby, which medical explanations attribute to the rapid decline in hormone levels after the baby is born. Fathers can also experience significant mood changes, including depression and anxiety. After all, his life has undergone drastic changes as well.
With a little one soon to arrive and a toddler at my feet, I easily recall those weeks and months after my first child was born. I remember the powerful wave of emotions that flooded my body and mind. In fact, even with all I knew about the postpartum mood changes, I was shocked at how powerful they could be that first week. The birth of a child, and especially the first, is supposed to be joyous. So how is it that I could feel even the slightest bit of sadness?
There are many factors that can lead to the postpartum blues:
* Hormones: This goes for mom and dad! Yes, even dad experiences changes in testosterone levels after a baby is born. Here is a link that may interest you.
* Fatigue: In case you didn’t know yet, new babies are exhausting! They feed every 2-3 hours and may even wake up between that time for a multitude of other needs.
* New Responsibility: Holding your new baby brings up floods of joy, as well as an “Oh my goodness, this is a big responsibility” kind of feeling.
* Financial Strains: Babies are expensive… and so are kids and teens and college students. The financial burdens of a new child are significant and long-term. This places a lot of stress on new parents.
* Social Changes: The days of care-free living are over and new parents often have to find new social circles to join. In addition, at least one of the parents may be making changes in their job status or putting off career aspirations.
* New Identity: Having a baby also means being called “mom” or “dad” and owning this new identity, and all that comes with it, can take some time to adjust.
* Relationship Changes: A couple will need to make some adjustments to their relationship. With so much time and energy going to a baby, it will be important that they find creative ways to maintain a healthy relationship and find time to spend together.
With all these factor in place, it’s natural for new parents to experience changes in their emotions, from the good to the bad. No person is the same, so they can even come at varying times and in varying forms and severity.
So how do you deal with these emotional changes and when do you seek help?
* First of all, learn the symptoms of depression before baby arrives- sadness, tear fullness, hopelessness, lack of joy, fatigue, lack of motivation, changes in eating habits, and sometimes emotional numbness. Knowing these symptoms can help you to identify depression in yourself and in others if they should come. The Mayo Clinic website has more detailed information on these symptoms.
* Attempt to identify some of the greatest area of need for you at the moment. Sleep? Food? Time out of the house?
* Seek support from loved ones, such as your significant other, relatives, and friends. Be sure to let them know you really need help and if you know how they can help, communicate that clearly. Don’t expect people to guess what you need.
* Talk to your doctor a) if the depression and anxiety has been going on for more than 6 weeks, b) if you feel the emotions are too much to handle, c) your symptoms continue to get more severe, or d) anytime you are unsure what to do or what you are experiencing.
Please keep in mind, changes in emotions are normal for everyone. Having a baby is a wonderful, joyous occasion, but also a huge change! There is no shame in what you are experiencing and I can guarantee you that another mother or father out that has experienced something similar. Seek the advice of your doctor anytime you have concern.
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I meet with a lot of parents who are bringing their child for play therapy, either because they were referred by another child professional, or they just figured they would give it a shot to help them with their child’s behavior. However, most do not really grasp what play therapy means or what a play therapist does with the child. So, what does a play therapist do during a session?
My favorite explanation is to use the image of adult therapy. I call it the “Couch Explanation.”
When you think of an adult getting counseling, you think of someone sitting on a couch, talking to the therapist while they listen to your problems. The counselor may point out patterns they notice in your life, help you reframe certain ideas, reflect your feelings, and even teach you some therapeutic techniques. You would feel you have a a safe place to express yourself, talk about intimate details of your life, and process events that have happened, or are happening, in your life.
When a child comes to play therapy, it is very much the same. Sometimes the child uses words and other times they use play or art to communicate and express thoughts and emotion. Similar to working with adults, the play therapist will reflect the child’s feelings, point out patterns, likes, and dislikes they notice. They may also teach the child techniques to help them identify feelings, cope with their anger, or socialize at school. And most importantly, the play room is set up to be a safe place for the child to express themselves and process various things in their life. For example, a child struggling because their parents divorced and now they are living in a new house and going to a new school will definitely need to process all that has happened in order to move on.
As a Registered Play Therapist, I really believe in the power of play therapy. I have witnessed the benefits and encourage parents to seek out a play therapist if their child is struggling.
Please visit the Association for Play Therapy website for more information on play therapy and Registered Play Therapists!
If you have experience with this as a parent or professional, I would love to hear other explanations you have found helpful!
You may also like: Bringing Back Old Fashioned Play!