Loss and grief. These are words experienced by the entire human race. The loss may be a loved one, a friend, an acquaintance, a pet, or the loss of a pregnancy. However, loss can also be experienced through the termination of a job, a move, and even the normal transitions of life.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her famous work On Death and Dying, described the five stages of grief. First is denial. The person who suffered the loss doesn’t want to believe the person is gone. They feel like they are in shock and their emotions are frozen. In the second stage, anger, the feelings of the person return and the shock begins to wear off. “Why them? Why me?” are common questions at this time. The person may feel anger at the doctors, at the person driving the other car, at God, or even at the person who died themselves. The third stage is bargaining. The person may try to bargain with God in some manner. This is also the time one may start to question “What if….” The fourth stage is depression. Depression can be the result of the realization that denial, anger, and bargaining did not work. This depression can be mixed with anger and/or guilt. The bereaved may wonder what they could have done differently. In the final stage, acceptance, the person who suffered the loss resolves the loss into their life. They accept the reality of the pain, cherish the memories, and move on with a focus on the future.

The stages of grief are rarely linear. People may stay in one stage longer than another. They may circle back and repeat stages. And after time has passed, the person may even go through the stages once again when a reminder brings up the pain of the loss. So, how does one effectively get through the stages of grief after a loss? Dr. Norman H. Wright, in The Complete Guide to Crisis & Trauma, states that there are three tasks the bereaved needs to accomplish. First, bridge the past. This includes accepting the death and loosening the ties to the person that was lost. For example, the woman who lost a husband may give away his clothes. Next, the person must learn to live in the present. New roles in the family, in the church, or in society may take place. Everyday tasks such as housing or bill paying may be an issue. Old habits die out while new ones are established. Finally, find a new path. Everyday functioning provides for stability while new roles are formed and new relationships are built. These new relationships do not replace the person who was lost, but help the bereaved find a fulfilling future in terms of companionship, economic security, or maybe even a parent for his or her child(ren).

Steffani Wooley, MA, LPC Intern

Supervisor: Sascha Webb, MA, LPC-S

WHAT IS ART THERAPY?

The definition of art therapy from The American Art Therapy Assosiation (AATA) Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people, of all ages, who experience medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and spiritual growth. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.

Some questions that might arise when thinking about art therapy: Do I have to be a talented to receive the benefits?  Can I do more than just draw a picture in art therapy? Is my art confidential?

DO I HAVE TO BE A TALENTED ARTIST TO RECEIVE BENEFITS?

The great thing about art therapy is that you do not need any knowledge or skills in art to receive the benefits. Try to remember a time when you created something. Perhaps you were a child, because it was a time before social pressures and exceptions of how the end results should look clouded your mind. As a child, creating seemed easier, but as an adult it became harder. I remember the awe I felt when I was younger and got to explore mixing paint with my hands. The paint was cold and smooth as I glided my little fingers across the page, having a lot of fun!

People develop different viewpoints on art based on their personal experiences. Some might feel paralyzed by the idea of creating art again. I will admit that sometimes it is a struggle for me, an art therapist, to create art. It is hard to come up with creative ideas and for it to not look ridiculous. Well, in reality, creating art is the easy part; it is the fear of judgment that is hard. Recalling my memory as creating art in my childhood, I did not have a fear of judgment and I simply created and immersed myself in the moment. Creating art in the therapeutic setting gives a person the space to explore emotions and be in the present moment, with the therapist helping them stay focused on the present moment instead of the end result.

WHO DOES ART THERAPY BENEFIT?

Art therapy can benefit those who are less capable of expressing themselves through words, such as children; however, the benefits of art therapy extend to adults as well. Through my experience, I have observed the creative process benefit individuals dealing with trauma, depression, anxiety, managing anger and developing social skills. The benefits of art therapy are broad and can certainly extend to more than just my personal experiences!

Art therapy is a process that can help guide people through a creative therapeutic process and the art therapist can then come alongside the client and process any challenging emotions that may arise. The creative arts can be an instrument in facilitating the exploration of one’s self by allowing space for a person to communicate, especially in instances when words are not available or hard to find. The process of creating art can help a person develop and manage emotions and behaviors, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and self-awareness. All art is treated as confidential and part of the therapeutic process and it is an individual’s choice whether they want to share their art outside of the therapeutic setting.

Melissa Stoker, MS, LPC-Intern

Supervisor: Sascha Webb, MAMFC, LPC-S, NCC

 

Often times when a person thinks of forgiveness he/she will think that forgiveness is associated with forgetting. When a person commits an act toward someone that can be seen as unforgivable the person offended may think that the perpetrator is not worthy of forgiveness. This ideology can be detrimental not in regards to the relationship of the two people but also to the person harboring the anger and resentment toward the transgressor.

Un-forgiveness can lead to physical and mental health problems such as body aches, headaches, anger, depression and anxiety to name a few. In order to prevent un-forgiveness from taking a toll on one’s health and wellbeing one may think to themselves “I want to forgive but how do I let go? “ Forgiveness is a process that involves relinquishing control of the anger and resentment and making the conscious effort to move forward. It is normal for one to not forget a heinous act or past transgression, but making the conscious decision to move forward to better ones health can be life changing.

Here are some pointers to forgiving someone. (Derived from the Prepare and Enrich Couples Manual)

  1. Acknowledge your pain and anger. Allow yourself to feel disrespected
  2. Be specific about future expectations and limits
  3. Give up your right to “ Get Even” but insist on being treated better in the future
  4. Let Go of blame, resentment, and negativity
  5. Communicate your forgiveness
  6. Work toward reconciliation

In implementing these pointers it is important to keep in mind that this is a process. Allow yourself time to make mistakes in the process of forgiveness. Not placing high expectations on yourself and the transgressor will also eliminate any unwanted negative feelings associated with the forgiveness. If forgiveness continues to be a struggle consider seeking assistance with a counselor who is able to guide you on the path towards forgiveness. The sooner you are able to forgive someone the sooner you are able to start letting go of the past and looking forward to what the future may hold and most importantly taking charge of your life.  Remember Forgiveness is for you. 

 

 

 

 

Having a SAD Summer?

 

Does the thought of summertime make you feel like frolicking in the pool, or hiding under a big straw hat? If you have seasonal depression, the bright sunshine may make you feel more roasted than sun-kissed. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more commonly known for its winter depression variety that causes people to feel depressed during the cold winter months, but its summertime counterpart causes a mood slump during the longest, hottest days of the year.

 

People who experience seasonal depression in the spring and summer may experience anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and weight loss/poor appetite. Although depressed, they may have high energy levels and feel more restless than sluggish.

 

So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t you be happy when the sun is shining?

 

  1. One contributor to summertime depression could be the sun, which is ironic, since lack of sun is the instigator of winter depression. In Texas, the temperatures can get so high that the heat is oppressive and dangerous, causing us to flee to the nearest air-conditioned room.
  2. Allergies are on the rise in the spring and summer, which can make our bodies feel sluggish and overwhelmed.
  3. Change in our schedules could be a huge stressor in the summertime. Our kids are at home, and our routine goes out the window. Summer tampers with the structure of our daily lives. Like a toddler that smashes through a stack of carefully placed blocks, summer tears through our comfortable, familiar schedule. And our emotions can feel destroyed as well.
  4. The high expectations of summer fun can be our downfall as well. The perfect vacation, cookout, pool party, bikini body (Did I mention anxiety?)… Sound familiar? The parties and expectations of memorable family vacations can stress us out during the summertime, just as the extravagant events, parties, food, and gift-buying do during the holiday season. Seasonal depression affects primarily women in their 20s to 40s, who are usually the planners of parties, dinners, gift-buying, and vacations. Pray for perspective, that you may be able to enjoy time with your friends and family and the summer season that God gave us, without getting bogged down by insignificant details and over-the-top Pinterest-inspired entertainment ideas.

 

You may not have a diagnosable seasonal depression, but you may still feel a slump in your mood when the weather changes and your thermostat starts fighting a losing battle.

 

So what can you do about summertime depression?

 

  1. Pray for peace. Before all else, go to God with your anxieties and your real world problems. God is the only one who can replenish your soul and be your true rock. He is the unchanging Lord over the changing seasons of our year, our emotions, and our lives.
  2. Sun in moderation. The sun is the problem AND the solution? What?! Exposure to the sun lifts the mood and is a great source of Vitamin D, but it can be oppressive at mid-day during summertime. The best time to spend outdoors is early morning when the sun is already out but the temperatures are at their lowest.
  3. Diet and exercise. I know, it’s the obvious answer. But there’s a reason that it’s the obvious answer. We must remember that the brain is also a bodily organ. Eating healthy foods and being active at least 30 minutes a day will likely improve your mood. A high-impact outdoor workout at noon is obviously a bad idea; some options are to work out indoor, in the mornings, or in a pool.
  4. Stay social. Many regular social gatherings center around the school year schedule, and they drop off during the summer, when attendance cannot be counted on due to vacations, etc. Stay connected with friends and social groups during the summer. You can schedule a regular get-together time to provide some structure to your social life. And keep it casual, maybe just getting together for coffee, so it does not become one more overwhelming to-do on your summertime fun expectations list.
  5. Talk to a pro. Sometimes talking to a counselor who understands the ins and outs of depression can help guide you to find better ways to cope with depression whenever it arises. A Christian counselor can help guide you spiritually as well, to address your relationship with God and how it factors in to your depression.

 

Solomon spoke of the changing seasons in life: “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:4). God made the seasons, and He made the earth we live on to depend on those seasons. God designed us to adapt to changes through the year and through our lives, both physically and emotionally. God molds our soul during the times when we struggle with change. For some of us, this happens every year. Let God change you and mold your soul as the seasons change this year.

 

Whether its alcohol, drugs, sex, pills, pornography, food, gambling, etc., addiction leaves individuals with feelings of helplessness and loss of control. The pain of addiction is apparent all around us. Families and relationships often experience the detrimental effects of addictive behavior. Some of the devastating consequences include: guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, mood swings, loneliness, and abandonment.

An addiction can be described as a complex physiological or psychological compulsion to habitually participate in an activity in spite of the severity of its physical, mental, social, and spiritual consequences. This leaves individuals desperate for seeking comfort in the midst of their pain. Whether pain from an addiction is directly affecting your life or whether it’s another person’s addiction that causes the pain, there is HOPE.

Seeking professional help, joining a recovery group, and having close accountability partners are a few steps that can begin the process of healing from the pain of addiction. God created us to be in fellowship with one another and to “Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Healthy relationships are an essential part of the healing process.

Relying on the truths of God’s Word while seeking wise counsel helps one cope with the pain that coincides as a result of addictive behavior. What seems impossible on our own power is possible with the help of God. In the midst of the suffering and pain that comes alongside addictive behavior, we have a Savior who comforts, protects, and loves us. Psalm 34:18 says, “He comforts the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” The person suffering from the consequences of addiction can feel trapped in a web of overwhelming darkness and defeat. Trusting God for comfort and healing provides a sense of peace in the middle of the pain.

Many of us struggle with being assertive in our interactions with others. Oftentimes, we tend more towards either passiveness or aggressiveness when dealing with others. Those who tend toward passivity, are likely to keep quiet and withdraw from conflict and may allow others to make decisions for them rather than speaking up and stating their opinions, wants or needs. Passive people tend to have underlying self-doubt about the validity of their feelings or thoughts and their right to express them. Those who tend towards aggressiveness, are likely to dominate in conflict and ignore the rights of others in the pursuit of having their opinions, wants, and needs heard without regard for the feelings of others. They may be hostile or even physically aggressive in pursuit of their own desires. A third tendency we may have is to behave passive-aggressively by not communicating our wants/needs openly (passiveness) while subtlety sabotaging the person we are in conflict with either through backstabbing behavior, being sarcastic in our interactions, or complaining about him or her to others (aggressiveness).

Some may feel that this is just who they are and these patterns can’t be changed, however, there is a better way to communicate and that is to learn to be more assertive. An assertive person is able to communicate his or her feelings, beliefs, desires, and needs openly and honestly while also understanding and accepting the rights of others to communicate their feelings, beliefs, desires, and needs. Additionally, assertive people take responsibility for themselves and do  not blame others for their choices. There are many benefits to communicating in a more assertive manner including:

  • Gaining confidence in who you are and your right to express yourself.
  • Respecting the rights of others as well as your own.
  • Improving communication with others by being more open and honest and, thus, improving your relationships.
  • Making it easier to have your own needs and desires met because others are more aware of them.
  • Decreasing stress and anxiety in relationships while allowing for more calm, straightforward communication.

For most of us, learning to communicate more assertively will take some time and effort. If you feel this may be an area you need to improve, you will need to honestly evaluate your own natural tendencies in your interactions with others and especially how you tend to deal with conflict. If you tend toward passive behavior, you will need to work to accept yourself and your right to your own feelings, thoughts, and beliefs first. Next, you will need to work to communicate and express yourself clearly and confidently. If you tend toward aggressive behavior, you will need to work to accept the validity of others’ feelings, thoughts, and beliefs and come to an understanding that validating others does not invalidate you or make you powerless. Then, you will need to work to calmly hear others out, especially during times of conflict, while also clearly and calmly expressing yourself.

Working to make changes in your communication style and working towards assertiveness can be difficult. If you find that you would like more help in learning how to make these changes, the many counselors on staff at The Well Counseling Center are here to help. Please give our office a call and we can help you get started on your journey towards more assertive communication and more fulfilling interactions with others.

 

 

Many times when the journey of life becomes difficult and worries seem to pile on at every turn, we have a natural reaction that makes us want to retreat and withdraw into ourselves. I guess you could say that is the “flight” part of the “flight or fight” response. When marriages are deteriorating, finances are spinning out of control, children are falling into destructive patterns, or we simply feel depressed and frustrated with this life, we have a natural tendency to withdraw from others and try to work on our problems alone behind closed doors. We don’t want others to see how hard things are or how much we are hurting. We stop calling our friends and family members and participating in other kinds of social interactions. It seems that we think if we can just hunker down and get through this stage in our lives, then we can come out and show our “good selves” to the world again. The old adage, “Never let them see you cry” comes to mind. We feel that others won’t want to be around us during this difficult time and that others will only want to share in the happy parts of our lives. This may seem like a logical conclusion since so much of our world is based on appearances. In our fast-paced world, there is so much pressure to look like we have it all together, like we are managing each area of our lives perfectly.

However, there is something flawed in this line of thinking. The truth is that we were made for relationship and if we were made to be in relationship that means that we were made to stay in relationship even when things get tough. It may be hard at times to hear God or to feel like He is listening and wants you to be in relationship with Him when you are going through a tough time. Nonetheless, Scripture says that we are to ask for what we need and to pray believing that we will receive it (Matthew 21:22, John 15:7). God hears your pleas and He wants to comfort you in your distress, but He won’t go barging in where you don’t invite Him to go. Take some time to be with Him, to tell Him about your struggles, and ask Him to come into the middle of them and to bring you comfort.

Don’t be afraid to ask others for the help you need also. Of course God is the one who provides for all of our needs, but that does not mean that He doesn’t use others to provide. You’ve heard, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7). That Scripture most certainly applies to God, but I think it also applies to relationships with others. The truth is, God has gifted others with many different talents and placed them all in relationships. Other people may be just the avenue God wants to use to bring you the help and healing you need. Reach out and tell your friends and family members that you need a job, or you need marriage counseling, or financial guidance, or help dealing with your difficult teenager. You may be surprised at how others can help you or who they may know that can help you, if you will only ask.

If you feel that you naturally tend to withdraw when tough times come along, that may be where you need to work to stay and “fight” rather than give in to “flight.” Fight the urge to withdraw and make a point to reach out to others. If you reach out to some people in your life and you feel they aren’t listening or providing the support you need, keep fighting by telling them that you need them to really listen. If they still won’t listen, look for others who will. Keep fighting until you find that friend, family member, pastor, other church staff member, or counselor who will listen to your story and offer encouragement and support.

When you do share, push yourself to stay in relationship. I have seen many clients that feel an urge to withdraw after they have shared their stories of pain and sorrow with me and with others in the lives. These clients fear that their counselor or family or friends may not be able to handle the truth of their pain. But, good counselors are trained to help you work through the pain and they are ready to help you process all of your thoughts and feelings and walk alongside you during this difficult journey. Your family and friends may not have a complete understanding and may not be able to help you process thoughts and feelings as well as a trained counselor, but they are a part of your life and they can often tell when you are in pain, whether you seek to share it or not. If those are safe relationships, being open and sharing may be just what the doctor ordered. And, if they are not safe relationships, that doesn’t mean that you should withdraw and retreat within yourself. Make a point to seek out new relationships and start with the safest of all…by opening up to the Lord.

Each of us has God-given gifts that He intends for us to use to bring glory to Himself. We were each created for a purpose (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139:13-16) and we can do our part to fulfill that purpose by using our gifts to their fullest potential.

In order to use our gifts, we must first know what they are. We need to take some time to really know ourselves. If this is an area you are struggling in, here are some things you can do to work to identify your gifts:

  • Pray and ask God to reveal to you what gifts He has given you specifically. You might consider writing in a journal as you pray about any things you feel you may be gifted at or that you feel God is revealing to you.
  • Ask those who know you best what qualities or characteristics they observe in you and how they could see you using those gifts to serve God and others.
  • Another way of discovering some of your gifts would be to take a personality test or interest inventory. Some examples of these include the Strong Interest Inventory, the 16PF, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, etc. These types of tests can be administered by a trained therapist who can discuss your results with you and help you determine your next steps. The staff of The Well can help you identify which tests might be best to take and set up a time for you to take those tests in our office.
  • Another test that you can take to help you determine your gifts and career interests is the Self-Directed Search. This test is available online at http://www.self-directed-search.com/ . Once you take the test, you’ll want to discuss your results with a trained therapist who can help you process your thoughts and feelings and help you determine your next steps.

As you are seeking to use your gifts, recognize that your gifts will be different from others and that is by design. We all have different gifts God has given us and He wants us to use them to work together to serve Him and others (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-31).

Remember that it takes stepping out in faith to trust God about using your gifts. When you work diligently and do your part to use your gifts, God will do the rest. When you are not following His lead and using the gifts He has given you, it is hard for much to be accomplished. However, when you are using those gifts He’s given you, you may be surprised at what can be accomplished. A good example of this can be seen in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable, Jesus talks about a master who loaned varying amounts of talents (money) to 3 of his servants and then went on a journey. When he returned, 2 of his servants had invested what their master had given them and had doubled the amount of talents they had. One servant had not invested the talents and he had nothing more than what his master had originally given him. Jesus demonstrates through this parable that we have a very active role in using our talents and gifts that God has given us.

Remember as you are seeking to use your gifts that the enemy wishes to hold us down and he does not like when we are using our gifts, so we may come up against challenges that seem to make it hard to use our gifts. 2 Timothy 1:6-7 says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” Be encouraged and reminded that even when the enemy wishes to challenge us and make it hard for us to use our gifts, we can press into the Lord where we will find that God has given us a spirit that can help us overcome those challenges with power, love, and self-discipline.

You know that feeling when you find a great friend or group of friends and everything seems to be going along great? The two or three (or more) of you hang out all the time and you find that you can do just about anything together and enjoy each other’s company. Everything is going along great…and then things change. Maybe your friend has to move away, maybe you move away, maybe your friend gets married or divorced or has some other life-changing event occur.  Or maybe something else happens that changes your friendship, something that you can’t quite put your finger on, but you know things have changed.

These are tough times for sure. I think as humans we generally aren’t so big on change and when our friendships change or aren’t quite as fun, easy, or free-flowing as they used to be, we tend to be grieved by this. God made us to desire friendship and fellowship (Genesis 2:18), so it makes sense that we would have a hard time dealing with the changes that inevitably occur in friendship. It can be so frustrating to realize that a friend just can’t be there for us the way he or she used to be or that we don’t seem to connect on the same level that we used to.

There are times, that in our desperation to get things back to just how they used to be, we can miss some very valuable lessons that God wants us to learn in the midst of changing friendships. If you find that your friendships are strained, it may be that God is trying to teach you about forgiveness and reconciliation. Or, it may be that He is growing you as a person, drawing you closer to Him and making it more difficult for you to hang out with some friends that may be distant from Him. Sometimes, it seems it really can’t be explained why our friendships change.  Sometimes friendships just fade or go away entirely, because they were only meant to be a part of our lives for a season.

Whatever the reason that these human friendships wax and wane, we can rely on the truths of God’s character during this season of change. We can know that the Lord knows the desires of our hearts and that we long for fellowship and He wants to fulfill that need. Even when it seems that no one else in the world is there for us, He is there to walk with us through all the trials of life (Deuteronomy 31:6). He can and will use others to help fulfill our desire for fellowship, but, we will need to do our part. We will need to work to reconcile with friends where we can, reach out to make new friends whenever possible, and remember that although the seasons of life may change and cause some friendships to drift in and out, Christ remains constant and He is waiting to meet with us each and every day.

Oftentimes, we think we shouldn’t have to tell others what we need or want. They should just know, right? Our spouses should know that we need them to hug us often, tell us we are loved many times a day, and to do random acts of kindness for us. Our kids should know that we want them to tell us thank you for all of those lunches we pack, dinners we cook, and soccer games we drive them to. Our parents should know that we want our space and to be able to hear their opinions but still feel like we are able to make our own decisions. Our co-workers should know that we need those reports done today or else we are going to feel overwhelmed and have to stay late to finish our work later this week. Or, they should know that we want to be a part of that specific project because we feel like we have great qualifications and skills to contribute on it.

Sure, it makes sense that we need and want these things and it really feels like others should know what we need and want just based on the fact that they know us. Nonetheless, the reality is that if we are really going to get our needs and desires met, we will often have to say them aloud. I have talked with some women before about how they could help their husbands out simply by telling them what makes them feel loved whether it be a kiss when they first come home for work, or helping out with getting the dishes done or kids bathed, or sending them a short email just to say hi during the day. Many times, these women have responded by saying, “Well, he should just know what I need.” Sure, maybe he knows you really well and he “should” know what you like, but how many times have you really talked about what means the most to you and helps you feel loved?

I remember very clearly learning that I should tell my mother thank you for things such as cooking dinner for us each evening after working all day. I remember it had been a long week for her and she was exhausted and one day she just said through her tears of frustration, “You guys never tell me thank you for the dinners I cook.” I learned that day how important it was to her to say, “thank you.” It wasn’t that she didn’t want to cook dinner for us kids, it was simply that those two words helped her to feel that she was valued. From then on, I said thank you for the dinners she cooked and many other “small” things that she did for us. I learned that, “thank you” means a lot to her.

I have heard many instances in which teenagers and adult children have felt that they wanted their parents to provide a listening and supportive ear, rather than an exact solution to their problems. Yet, they have not told their parents that is what would help them most. Maybe parents should recognize that is what their kids need in those moments, but that may not be the pattern of relating the parent is used to. I think in those situations, it doesn’t hurt for kids to help parents out a little bit and tell their parents how they can be most helpful.

Similarly, I have heard about many work situations where needs and wants were going unmet simply because they weren’t expressed. So much frustration could have been avoided if the person who needed others to finish their work so that he could get his work done, had explained what he needed and when he would need it in order to do his work. Or, the person who wanted to be involved with a particular project had expressed that desire to her supervisor.

This is not to say that every need and desire of your heart will be met if you express those feelings to others. No human is capable of fulfilling all of your needs and wants, and inevitably, others will still let you down. Nonetheless, you can get a lot of your wants and needs fulfilled simply by expressing them to others. Look to approach others without blaming them for past shortcomings – after all, maybe you never really told them this is what you wanted/needed. Rather, approach others by being honest about how you feel and helping them to see how meeting these wants and needs could really help you and improve your relationship with them. I think many times, you will find that others were willing and happy to help, they were simply unaware of how much those things meant to you.