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Play Therapy: How to Play With Kids and Be More Present

Nathan Watkins, LMFT was on The Right Fit podcast with Michelle Pomeroy, talking about play therapy. Please click here to listen and learn!

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Give the Gift of Love

Do my kids know I love them? Should I tell my children everyday that I love them? Is it enough to give them hugs and kisses or should I be doing more to show my love? What else can I do to connect emotionally to my kids? These are just some of the numerous questions I get asked by parents. If you’ve asked these questions, or ones along the same lines, you are not alone! While there are many parenting books, there is not one way to parent a child. Children are unique, and therefore, need to be parented in different ways. What works for you may not work for your sister or your neighbor. 

That being said, there is one thing that all children need: love. A healthy attachment to parents, and an underlying feeling that they are loved and supported, are fabulous stepping stones for a successful future. Many parents question how to adequately show love for their children in such a busy and screen filled world. The best way to show love for your children is to find out how they feel loved. 

Gary Chapman is the author of the book “The Five Love Languages.” This book is about the love languages that couples feel and how to use those to connect in  your relationship. His book “5 Love Languages of Children” is a fantastic tool for any parent who is wondering how to effectively show love to their child. It talks about ways to identify your child’s love language, how to then show it, and discipline through that love language.  There is power in realizing the specific way that your child needs to feel love. If you don’t know what category they fall into simply ask them! Opening up that line of communication can be a great way to get to know your child. 

Another great book about identifying and talking about emotions is John Gottman’s book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.”  In this book parents are coached through different ways to talk to their child about emotion and then how to regulate said emotion. It is a fantastic read for any parent who wants to know more about emotion and how to teach their child about that. 

Many times an inability to talk about emotion stems from the way you were taught to talk about and process emotions growing up. We know from years of research that creating a loving relationship at home is one of the best indicators of future success. If you are struggling with identifying your own emotion, and unpacking that is difficult, coaching your child through difficult emotions may be too hard. Therapy is always a great place to learn tools that will emotionally strengthen you, and will allow you to then strengthen your relationships with your children and spouse. 

Now get out there! Tell your kids you love them. Give them a hug. Make their bed for them. Buy them a candy bar. Go for a walk with them. Find the specific way they feel loved and show it to them in that specific way. It will be a great exercise for both of you. 

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Understanding “Big T” and “little t” Trauma

When I ask my clients if they have experienced trauma, often the answer is, “no.” Many individuals think of trauma within the lens of “Big T” traumas, or specific traumatic events. Some examples are those who have been exposed to war, terrorism, catastrophic events, and physical or sexual abuse. While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the most painful experiences an individual can experience during life. However, a person does not need to have experienced a specific event to experience the negative impact of trauma in their life. 

Sometimes, an accumulation of distressing life events and beliefs in the form of “little t” traumas can produce a similar negative response in individuals. Some “little t” traumas can include interpersonal conflict, financial difficulties, abandonment or enmeshment, attachment wounds, breakups, moves, etc., resulting in pervasive negative beliefs about oneself or the world around them. The accumulation of these events is important to consider in their impact. Many individuals come to therapy due to this accumulation of “little t” traumas, often noting difficulty pinpointing what is distressing in particular, yet noting a feeling of powerlessness or unhappiness in life. 

Whether you have experienced “Big T” or “little t” trauma there is hope in many treatment options. One modality that is helpful with both “Big T” and “little t” trauma is EMDR therapy. Sometimes, clients are unfamiliar with this modality. This short video gives a brief intro to EMDR, and how this treatment can help neutralize the distressing events, while helping the client connect to a more positive belief about themselves.

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The Sexy Narrative

I’ve been talking with a lot of clients about narratives lately – the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. Narratives are powerful and shape the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If you grew up in an environment that didn’t talk about sex, or spoke of it in negative or fear-based terms, that creates a powerful narrative. Just a few of the examples I’ve come across:

  • Sex is bad, I’m having sexual thoughts/feelings, so I’m bad.  
  • Sex is embarrassing.
  • Only “those kind of people” are interested in sex.
  • I want/think about sex too much.
  • I want/think about sex too little.
  • I don’t have to right kind of body to be sexual.
  • Sex is too embarrassing to talk about with my partner.


Many of these narratives are powerful enough on their own, but they often get attached to painful emotions which heightens the power they have over us. If you are struggling with an unhelpful narrative surrounding sex, give yourself a break. You aren’t broken. You’re doing the best you can with the narratives you’ve been given. The good news is that we can change our narratives around sex – much like forging a new path through a forest – we can create narratives that lead to increased peace and pleasure. Some examples:

  • Sex is good, and pleasurable and multipurpose.  My sexual thoughts and feelings are natural and I can choose to engage with those thoughts and feelings in ways that are right for me.
  • Sex feels embarrassing sometimes, because it’s not something I have practiced talking/thinking about yet.  The more I talk about it with myself/my partner, the easier it will get.
  • Sex is a normal human experience.
  • However much I think about or want sex is the right amount for me.  Everyone has a different erotic template, and that’s okay.
  • All bodies deserve pleasure in life, there is no such thing as a “right kind of body”.  My body is good, and I appreciate it for its real ness.
  • My partner can’t read my mind, so if I tell them what I enjoy sexually, we will both have a more satisfying experience.  


Most of us have inherited unhelpful sexual narratives, this doesn’t mean we have to hold onto them throughout our lives.  If you are feeling stuck in your sexual narratives, and need help overcoming them, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice. 

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“You’re So Strong!”

Few phrases will cause such an immediate, intense, almost visceral reaction from me as, “You’re so strong!” It’s a phrase that I have heard countless times over the last few years. On the surface, it sounds like a compliment that I possess the ability to hold and manage more than you would expect, and I work to receive this message as the one the sender is trying to convey. What it feels like the person is saying is that they are unable to deal with my sadness, grief, frustration, anger, or whatever emotion, and they need me to be strong because the emotions make them uncomfortable. I’m left feeling alone and dismissed.

In the early days of grief, the feelings of being overwhelmed with the “business” of death can feel paralyzing. Often, there are seemingly endless tasks that need to be completed within a very short amount of time. Sadly, most of these tasks require the next of kin, so that leaves the people that are in the midst of intense shock, grief, disbelief, anger, frustration, or whatever mishmash of emotions to navigate yet another emotional load; it can feel like too much.

The feeling of being alone is scary. Navigating really strong emotions without support and guidance is treacherous, we might make decisions or take actions that are counter to our actual needs because of the disorientation that strong emotions can evoke. So what can we do, as the person in the midst of a seemingly never ending emotional storm and as the person watching someone we care about struggle to fight the onslaught of emotional waves? Be there, be present, and be willing to listen. You can’t take away their pain for them, you can be that safe place where they don’t have to pretend to be “ok” or “fine”.

Providing people with the chance to not be strong, to be authentic and genuine with the feelings they are experiencing, no matter what those may be, can be just the thing that we all need to do truly develop that strength. If you are struggling finding that internal strength to deal with loss or grief, or just need that safe place to discover your strength consider reaching out to a therapist. You are strong! We can help you think it, feel it, and believe it!

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MINDFULNESS

What comes to mind when we hear this word? 

For centuries, people have applied mindfulness to everyday life as a way to  enhance clarity and focus. Today, we can apply this tool to better relate and  respond to our busy minds, that are sometimes too full to interact or even  function. 

Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. Awareness of our current, present  experience and not that of past (regrets, sadness, loss) nor future (worries,  fears, anxieties). 

When we find ways to better respond and relate to our overwhelmed minds,  do we really ‘fix’ the problems holding us back? 

Not exactly ~ like many other worthwhile aspects of life, this is a practice, and that involves repetition. It includes the recognition that life involves suffering. This is not about pushing away these anxieties, worries, losses,  regrets and sadness, but finding a way to make room for them all.  

How can we do this? Invite ourselves into this moment. 

The past has passed. 

The future is not yet here. 

All we have is the present, which can bring us some peace ~ perhaps in  forgiveness (past) or calm (redirecting from future worries). This is mindfulness. 

By identifying these very elements (anxiety, regret, anger, panic) as they  approach, and without their attached story, we are already giving ourselves room to return to the present. We do it with softness, kindness and without  judgment. 

This is mindfulness. 

We can mindfully wash the dishes, brush our teeth or take a walk. Keeping  our awareness on what we can see, touch, hear and experience. This is mindfulness. 

Life is never still ~ the mind is never still. Awareness is always still.

Settling into the present may liberate us from the busy mind (perhaps taking  us into the past or future). 

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help  the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”  

~ Thich Nhat Hanh 

Most of us are forgetful ~ we are not really here a lot of the time. Our  minds are caught up in worries, fears, anger, regrets and not mindful of  being here. We are caught up in the past or in the future, which sadly  results in us not living our lives fully in the present moment. 

It is human nature for our minds to wander ~ it’s just what it does with  thoughts and the stories that accompany them. When we recognize that our  mind has wandered, we can access mindfulness to bring ourselves back ~  without judgement or criticism and stories; just accepting we are back and  have the opportunity to start again.

We bring ourselves back by opening our eyes to what is in front of us, our  ears to what we can hear and allowing our minds to experience this. 

Think for a moment about all of the birds outside our window that we may  have silenced by the active mind, or the sunsets and sunrises missed when  worries flooded our minds. 

If we mindfully return to the present, even for a moment, we have stopped  talking (not only the outside conversation, but the inside talking, our mental  discourse). 

Then, we can fully awaken to what is in front of us while, even briefly, the  rest seems to settle. We become aware of something, such as a flower, and  we can be liberated from the anger, despair, worries and fears that  previously took us away. 

This is mindfulness. 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS With gratitude, I respectfully mention Howard Cohn, Oren Jay Sofer © Orenjaysofer.com, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Martin Aylward, whose teachings have influenced my practice and work.

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Let’s Talk Pornography with Kathleen Baxter, LMFT on the Eve Unleashed Podcast!

Sometimes, in conservative cultures, there is sexual shame attached to the usage of pornography. Listen in to hear the brain science behind pornography use, as well as how to navigate the topic of pornography as a couple, family, and society. Visit the link below or listen on your favorite podcast platform.


https://www.eveunleashedpodcast.com/podcast/episode/4ca908be/lets-talk-about-pornography-with-kathleen-baxter-lmft

Contact us to schedule an appointment with Kathleen today!

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Tips for Parents of LGBTQIA Youth

LGBTQIA youth face unique mental health challenges as they struggle to reconcile their faith, sexual identity, or gender identity. If you are a parent of an LGBTQIA youth moving towards accepting your child’s identity, I would like to share a few thoughts. In this blog post, I will discuss the importance of familial support to LGBTQIA youth. Then, I will share simple, practical actions to support your child through this moment.


LGBTQIA youth who question their identity hide who they truly are for fear of being rejected by their families. LGBTQIA youth worry about hurting their parents and family members who believe that being gay is immoral and sinful. But when LGBTQIA youth hide their identities, they pay a high cost. It undermines their self-esteem and self-worth. New research shows that families and caregivers significantly influence their LGBTQIA youth’s risk and well-being. The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition reports that LGBTQIA teens who experience family rejection are eight times more likely to die by suicide than LGBTQIA teens accepted by family. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that LGBTQIA teens who are rejected by their families are six times more likely to have high levels of
depression, three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and three times more likely to be at increased risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.


Conversely, studies show that LGBTQIA youth who are accepted by their families experience overall physical and emotional health. It also helps them to develop higher self-esteem and value their inherent sense of worthiness. Furthermore, LGBTQIA youth accepted by their families are less likely to be depressed, use illegal drugs, or attempt suicide. Family acceptance also helps LGBTQIA youth create healthy beliefs about their life outcome. They believe that they will be happy, productive, and have a good life with family support. If you are motivated to support your child through this acceptance journey, but unsure what to do, you are not alone.


Finally, parents, you may be struggling with your emotions, and that’s ok and normal. However, it is critical to emphasize that parents’ or caregivers’ actions and words have a powerful impact on their children’s well-being. If you’d like to foster a more supportive environment for a LGBTQIA child or teen, here are a few things you can do.

  1. Show love and affection.
    LGBTQIA youth worry about being loved by their parents or caregivers. The question that they may be asking themselves is, “Am I loved? Am I lovable?” Don’t hesitate to tell your child, “I love you.” Also, show your child displays of physical affection. These actions will promote a secure attachment between you and your child.
  2. Reach out and listen
    Your child may interpret long periods of silence as a sign of anger. It will feel uncomfortable to talk about your teens’ sexual orientation or sexual identity but reach out to talk to them about their experiences. Listen to what they have to say and respond with empathy.
  3. Happy future
    Parents, accepting your LGBTQIA youth allow them to envision a happy future as an LGBTQIA adult. A positive narrative about the future is essential to counteract isolation, hopelessness, risky behaviors, and suicide ideation.
  4. Stand up for your child.
    Remember, as a parent, your words are powerful. Through your journey and your child’s journey, you may hear some negative comments from families and friends. When you hear these negative comments, it is an opportunity to practice courage and let others know that you will not
    accept insults, teasing, or discrimination against your child. Insist that family members and friends treat your child with respect or rethink the very definition of family and friends.
  5. When you know better, do better.
    As human beings, we are always evolving and growing. As parents, we also make mistakes. Do not try to be perfect but try to be human. American poet Dr. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Parents, your LGBTQIA child needs your love. They are afraid and worried that you might never love them. They need a secure attachment bond to become physically and emotionally healthy adults.

References:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, June 21). LGBT Youth. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm. 

Sanders, R., & Fields, E. L. Tips for Parents of LGBTQ Youth. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/tips-for-parents-of-
lgbtq-youth. 

Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition. (2017). Utah Suicide Prevention Plan 2017-2021.
https://www.health.utah.gov/vipp/pdf/Suicide/SuicidePreventionCoalitionPlan2017-
2021.pdf. 

Resources:
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)
https://pflag.org/chapter/pflag-salt-lake-city

Utah Pride Center
https://www.utahpridecenter.org

Equality Utah
https://www.equalityutah.org/mission

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Anxiety in a Time of COVID: Part 2

We have many internal and external resources available to us when anxiety becomes overwhelming. We can typically recognize an unhelpful anxious thought because it often starts with some variation of “What if…” and or is predicting negative events that are possible but incredibly unlikely.  In this post, I will briefly outline some of the internal and external resources that can be extremely effective in confronting and managing anxiety.

Internal Resources

1)    Talking back to and Challenging Anxious Thoughts:

Anxiety is like an annoying know-it-all and overly critical boss; it constantly points out what might go wrong or what it thinks you didn’t do right, and it is usually flat out wrong! When we talk back to or challenge anxious thoughts with phrases like, “I’m allowed to make mistakes!” or “I’m enough as I am!” and “You don’t know everything!” we are bossing back our anxiety and taking charge.

2)    Past Successes:

What difficulties have you overcome in the past? How did you do that? What did you learn about yourself? Anxiety likes to make us forget or discount all the challenges we have overcome in the past. But, as we stack up our past successes, we are reminded of just how capable we really are, no matter what anxiety says.

3)    Problem Solving Skills, Creativity/Imagination:

Clearly you have gotten yourself this far in life, which means you have solved literally thousands of problems. Life throws curve balls at us regularly, and it is our creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills that help us work through them. When anxiety says things like, “What if you get sick?” We can say back to anxiety, “Then I will rest, get lots of fluids and take care of myself. I know what to do when I am sick.”

External Resources

Support Systems:

Some problems and concerns are outside of our experience and skill set to solve. Who do you have in your life that you could go to for help? Make a list of people in each arena of your life that you feel comfortable approaching and asking for help. For example, who at work can help you when you have questions or problems? When you are at school, who is most likely to have the information you need? Our external resources include people in our support systems, people who know us and care about our well-being and are invested in our success: parents, teachers, friends, family members, coaches and teammates, therapists etc.

When anxious thoughts and feelings begin to escalate, start by recognizing these feelings for what they are, ANXIETY, and then access your internal and external resources to challenge and talk back to your anxiety. 

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All Hope is Not Lost

Whether it is hardships from the pandemic, civil unrest, political discourse, loss of a loved one, fear of the future, or many other aspects of life, it sometimes may feel there is no end in sight to the pain that life can sometimes bring. Finding continued hope through the burdens of daily life can often feel daunting, uncertain, and just out of reach. Through the recent year, many people may have found themselves uttering these simple words either to another or to themselves:

Ex: “ I would like to… but I don’t want to get my hopes up”…

 While the simple rhetoric is often over looked, the profound impact on our lives is not to be underestimated.

Hope: “ (A belief that things can be better than what they are”) is one of the most powerful aspects of human life. The instillment of hope can offer peace in a moment of chaos; comfort in a moment of fear; and courage in a moment of despair. The loss of hope, or (hopelessness) often results in a person loss of will to live. 

Maybe this past year you have found yourself not planning, not hoping out of fear of disappointment. Maybe you have felt lost, overwhelmed, or out of control. Maybe you have lost a family member or loved one and need to find a way to some how keep moving forward.  The joy of hope is that it is accessible to all who seek it, and is found all around us. May I offer 3 principles of Resiliency  to help you increase your hope, and in turn, increase your ability to manage hard times in your life. 

  1. Commitment 

We commit to the challenge ahead of us. We commit to the strength, the endurance, and the help needed to survive. Asking for help is not weakness. Everybody in life needs help. Most of all we commit to not let our burden consume us, destroy us, or allow us to lose our selves in the process. We tell ourselves, “ no matter what happens, I will be ok”. 

2. Control

A main source for unmanageability and discourse is caused by trying to control things that are out of our ability to control. Learning to let go of what is out of your ability to control, and having the courage to do something about what you can control can drastically reduce the out of control feeling life can bring. 

3. Challenge 

Much of the research about resiliency and hardiness speaks to how we choose to look at a situation. Some are financial, others physical, some trauma, others mental health related. Challenge, adversity, and pain are essential to provide opportunities for growth. Seeing our problems through a lens of opportunity rather than suffering can help provided a new perspective of hope that will allow us to face our trials with gratitude. 

Symbols of hope can often provide something that reminds us to have hope in a moment we need it. Find something that inspires you, makes you feel happy, or gives you courage to keep moving forward. Symbols of Hope include:

  • A favorite quote, 
  • A poem, 
  • A song, 
  • A picture, 
  • An experience. 
  • A person you look up to
  • A deity, religion, or spirituality practice

Surround yourself with little things that bring hope into your life. As we move into a new year I am reminded of a statement from Viktor Frankel:

“ We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.” 

Frankl, V. E. (2006). The meaning of life. In Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy (p. 108). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

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