When and How To Make a Change

When and How to Make a ChangeWhen 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

Local Spotlight: Depression and Bipolar Support Groups In Houston, Texas Area

depression-and-bipolar-support-groups-houstonI 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 who has been 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. Jami works with DBSA, Depression and Bipoar Support Alliance. This organization offers free support groups in and around the Houston, Texas area.

She provided me with the 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 updated lists:

Depression and Bipolar Support Groups Houston, Texas area

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 this along!

Why I Became A Licensed Professional Counselor

i-heart-counseling“Why did you decide to become a professional counselor?”

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.

Wizard Therapists? Video Games That Target Depression, Anger Management, and Social Skills

video-game-therapyTechnology is playing more and more of a role in our lives today, and the mental health field is taking advantage of all that technology has to offer. I was happy to come across some creative uses of technology in treating mental and behavioral health. Video games!

While there are just a few video games listed here, and two are not even ready for distribution, I am excited to see the possibilities in using video games for good, rather than just promoting violence. In addition, these games are created with the assistance of clinical professionals and are undergoing clinical testing.

SPARX: Using Avatars to Treat Depression

SPARX video game in New Zealand has created a game to combat teenage depression using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. According the the Sparx website, this game is NOT yet available for distribution as it is still going through clinical trials. I will keep watch though!

sparx-screenshot

“…And here’s your new therapist: the SPARX computer game uses cognitive  behavioural therapy to try to remove depression.Read more.

Rather than simply encouraging players to engage in combat or destruction, the SPARX video game developed in New Zealand  attempts to teach teenagers how to deal with depression using the psychological  approach known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Just as importantly, its creators set out to  make the game exciting for those teenagers who are often reluctant to seek counselling and bored by well-meaning advice on how to cope with  depression.

The result is a role-playing fantasy game, where teenagers adopt a warrior avatar and get to blast negative thoughts with fireballs while trying to save the world from sinking into a mire of pessimism and despair.

Project leader Sally Merry, a child and  adolescent psychiatrist at Auckland University, said the unconventional approach  had proved popular with teenagers, allowing them to address their issues in privacy and at their own pace.

‘You can deal with mental health problems in a way that doesn’t have to be deadly serious,’ she said. ‘The therapy doesn’t have to be depressing in and of itself. We’re aiming to make it fun.’

RAGE CONTROL (Regulate And Gain Emotional Control)

According to an online article by Harvard Magazine, this video game is being tested as a way to help kids deal with anger and gaining control of their emotions.

rage-control-screenshot

The pilot study at Children’s Hospital Boston tests an intervention that features a video game based on the 1980s arcade favorite Space Invaders. Players shoot down space aliens, but with an important modification: they wear a monitor on one pinkie that tracks heart rate as they play. If that indicator rises above resting levels—signaling that they’re overexcited—players lose the ability to shoot.

Succeeding at the game, known as RAGE Control (Regulate and Gain Emotional Control), is a careful balancing act. “You need to learn how to control your level of arousal,” he says, “but just enough that you can still react rapidly and make quick decisions.”

Participants play during sessions with Peter Ducharme, a licensed clinical social worker who has adapted traditional anger-management therapy to complement the game. During the course of five hour-long sessions, he teaches kids strategies to regulate their emotional states—including deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation—and then encourages them to experiment to see which strategies aid their game play.

SECOND LIFE

Second Life is a real-world style video game where players create their own avatars and interact with the social world around them. It is now being used to help individuals with Aspergers and others on the Autism spectrum to learn to interact socially but at their own pace. Brigadoon is the project leading this trend. I can see where there would be some controversy surrounding the use of Second Life for this purpose, but while games are not a replacement for real social interaction, it’s a good start for some. After all, we need to meet them where they are.

second-life-screenshot

 

Recognizing Depression in Men

depression-in-menMen 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)?

  1. 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.
  2. Exercise. Physical activity releases endorphins that improve mood and increase self-confidence. See how in this article.
  3. Eat well. Believe it or not, food plays a role in mood. It will not cure depression, but every positive life change helps!
  4. Seek counseling. Even if your doctor prescribes medication, studies show that medication combined with therapy will give the best results.
  5. 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.

References:

Foods That Make You Happy (and My Favorite Recipes!)

I woke up this morning feeling great and having more energy than usual. 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 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. Here’s what I found:

TodayHealth.com has a great article describing foods that improve your mood. Foods with these nutrients are important to look for in your meal choices:

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 presenting 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 three 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

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 make them 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 multi-grain chips.

oatmeal-and-fresh-fruitOatmeal and Fresh Fruit

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 it 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 strong 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!