Questions to Get You Out of the Quarantine Slump

The days seem to blend together in this Groundhog Day that is COVID-19 quarantine. I would like to suggest six questions that will cause introspection and perhaps prompt you to certain actions that will lift your spirits. 

Hi, again. It’s me, still in quarantine. How are you doing? Hanging in there? I know, this entire situation is crazy and uncertain and continues to cause anxiety for everyone on so many levels. Hopefully we are getting closer to having some light at the end of the tunnel!

Until then, I want to urge you to continue to take good care of yourselves. I have spoken with friends, neighbors, family members and clients who have collectively said that the days blend together and leave them in a slump. It is so easy to feel that way when you are living the real Groundhog Day! Here are some questions to ask yourself daily to help make the most of this time in quarantine:

  1. What am I grateful for today? I have written at length about gratitude because I firmly believe in the power gratitude has on the mind. Seeing the silver lining, or the good in any given situation, can change your attitude or feelings about something–even something difficult like being in isolation for weeks on end. So ask yourself, what good has come from today? Was there a peaceful moment with children? Did you enjoy a nice meal in which you were not rushed? Were you able to be productive while working in the quiet of your own home? No matter your circumstances, you can find something to be grateful for–even if it is simply being healthy and alive. I encourage you to do this exercise every day!
  2. Who am I checking in on or connecting with today? I spoke with a friend who told me she was checking her phone more often than usual. She thought about why she was doing this, and realized it was because she was hoping to hear from someone. She was craving interaction with another human. I have written about the Japanese concept of amae which describes the human necessity to connect with and feel love from others. We are all hard-wired to have meaningful connection with those in our lives, and it can be challenging when the natural occurrence of physical contact is completely removed from your life. So, be like my friend: Instead of wallowing in your loneliness, recognize that you want contact with the outside world, and make contact. Check in on a family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor. I promise you that connecting with others will give you a helpful emotional boost!
  3. What expectations of “normal” am I letting go of today? Whew, this one has been hard for me.  I thrive off of being productive–which I thought came from being outside the home working, running errands, meeting up with people, etc. I have had to adjust my expectations and set aside some of those past perceptions. My big shift came when I realized I could be productive at home. I do not have to be outside the house to be productive, and neither do you. I have actually found it nice to hunker down and enjoy some time at home!  So, if you are feeling frustrated because of the changes isolation has brought, try to let go of some of your expectations (and then refer to number one). Leaning into this new isolation “normal” is really all we can do right now! Just for the record: I am not suggesting we let ourselves go and Netflix + chill all day. As an example, my brother is feeling depressed because he cannot go to the gym and work out. I urged him to let go of that expectation of his old daily normal, and adapt/adjust. Go on a walk or a bike ride, create a home gym with what you have, or access any of a million free at-home workouts. Resenting quarantine will do you no good; let go of your past expectations for a moment and make the most of what you have today.
  4. How am I moving my body today? I wrote about quarantine exercise last week.  The fact is, physical exercise can and will be your saving grace during quarantine. The benefits to exercising in general are endless: Reducing your risk of disease, increasing energy levels and boosting productivity, ameliorating mental health, enhancing sleep quality, boosting creativity, upgrading sex life, raising mood and body image, and fostering happiness. This is because exercising has a beneficial physiological effect on the brain and the body. Whether you have a vigorous exercise regimen, or take power walks around your neighborhood, there are many ways to exercise and your day will certainly be brightened as you make time to do so!
  5. How am I getting outside today? I will admit, the first part of quarantine was particularly difficult for me. Amidst all the confusion and worry that came with COVID-19, the weather was crummy and I was not able to spend time healing in nature. But now that things are literally brightening up with springtime, I invite you to spend more time outside. Being outdoors can clear your mind, lift your spirits, motivate you, improve your mental health, and better your mood. Rest assured, getting outdoors during quarantine will do wonders for you! Just today I enjoyed exploring some new trails by my house and found a new secret place of beauty. I can not wait to go back and visit it and find other hidden gems that I have missed.
  6. What beauty am I creating or inviting into my life today?  I follow a DIY extraordinare on Instagram who lives by the phrase, “Less scrolling, more creating,” and I love that. She recounts a time where she scrolled through her feed a lot. Though she was admiring everyone else’s home DIY accomplishments, she realized it totally zapped her creativity…as well as her confidence and happiness. Once she realized this, she started limiting her social media time and coined that phrase she now lives by. Happiness comes from being creative–either by creating it or viewing it. So ask yourself–how can I be creative during quarantine? Is there an activity that you used to wish you had time for that you can do now? Maybe it’s painting, calligraphy, writing, playing a musical instrument, or a million other creative outlets, spending time being creative is sure to boost your happiness!

I have been using these six questions as a trial run in my personal life, and I can attest to their efficacy. There have been several times when I used these to check in with myself, and I realized that getting outside or connecting with someone was exactly what I needed at that moment. So please, write these questions down on a sticky note and place it somewhere you will see it often. As you continue to take good care of yourself, you will make the most of this uncertain quarantine time. Let’s be able to look back on 2020’s quarantine and know we did the best we could with the time and resources we had!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.

References:

Q&A: Is My Anxiety Curable?

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” ~ Helen Keller

Everyone feels worried from time to time. You may worry about a presentation you have to do in school or work; or perhaps you worry about your spouse on a work trip, or your child away from home for the first time. Feeling worried is a normal emotion. Feeling anxious, however, is different. Maybe you have experienced both sentiments, but presumed them to be synonymous? Join the club. These two terms are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, but, in reality, they are quite different. Read on to learn the fundamental differences between worry and anxiety, if anxiety is a curable or not, and four everyday tools anyone can use to manage anxiety.

How are worry and anxiety different?

In a study where 189 university students were asked about the differences between anxiety and worry, worry and anxiety were defined very similarly. However, certain negative outcomes–like depression and confusion–were more related to anxiety than to worry, and problem solving was more related to worry than to anxiety. Other key differences include the following:

Worry…

Is experienced in the head. 

Is specific

Does not provoke mental imagery elicit a cardiovascular response.

Is accompanied by problem solving. 

Creates mild emotional distress. 

Is caused by a specific concern.

Is often controllable. 

Is temporary. 

Does not impact one’s overall functioning. 

Is considered to be a normal/common emotional state. 

Anxiety…

Is manifest in the body.
Is vague or general.

Provokes mental imagery and elicits a cardiovascular response.

Is not accompanied with problem solving.

Creates severe emotional distress. 

Is a non-specific, broad fear.

Is difficult to control. 

Lingers. 

Does impact one’s overall functioning. 

Is not a normal/common emotional state.

Are you beginning to see the difference between being worried and experiencing anxiety? Though there is some overlap, the two emotions are actually quite different. If I could add one more, it would be that being worried occasionally usually does not lead one to see a therapist, whereas therapy can be very helpful with prolonged anxiety.

Is anxiety a life sentence? NO!

I always tell my clients, who are battling anxiety, that what they are facing is not a life sentence! While you may feel seriously burdened by your anxiety at present, you do not need to be controlled by it. The goal of therapy is not to get rid of everything that may be causing you anxiety, but rather to give you the tools to face your anxiety and to learn from it. 

Four things you can do TODAY to get relief from your anxiety:

  1. A deep relaxation technique. There are several options for this tool. I would recommend muscle relaxation, visualization, or meditation to start. Force yourself to slow down, take deep breaths, relax, and release some of the tension you are feeling. Here are some helpful apps: Calm; Stop, Breathe & Think; UCLA Mindful.
  2. 30 minutes of vigorous exercise. This suggestion may seem obvious as regular exercise is recommended to achieve optimal health. Exercising is an amazing tool in combating worry and anxiety. Exercising releases a feel-good hormone in the brain and nervous system that positively affects you physiologically–naturally combating worry and anxiety. Additionally, vigorous exercise during the day will lead to better sleep at night which has many benefits. There is great power found in exercising!
  3. Good nutritional habits. Similar to exercise, having a balanced diet will benefit you in many aspects of your life. When you fuel your body with a well-rounded diet to sustain yourself throughout the day, your overall health with be positively influenced. You will have more energy to deal with life’s stressors, you will be less likely to fall sick, and you will be able to think more clearly. All of these outcomes will aid you in the process of rising above worry and anxiety.
  4. Replacing negative self-talk with positive affirmations to counter mistaken beliefs. Self-care is a major focus with my clients, and one form of that is positive self-talk or affirmations. You are your own worst critic. When you change your self-talk from negative and degrading to supportive and loving, you will break negative patterns to see life (and yourself!) through a different lens. This is a major step in working through anxiety.

Your anxiety does not have to be a life sentence. Seek out an experienced, qualified therapist. Develop a daily practice of deep breathing/mindfulness, get up and move your body for 30 minutes a day, eat a colorful and balanced diet, and speak kindly to yourself. Implementing these four tools in tandem will yield astronomical results in combating anxiety. Let’s get started today!

References:


What to Expect When You Are Expecting…To Start Therapy

Starting Therapy
Starting Therapy

“Psychotherapy can be one of the greatest and most rewarding adventures, it can bring with it the deepest feelings of personal worth, of purpose and richness in living.” ~ Eda Leshan

In 2018, 56.7% of U.S. adults with a mental illness did not receive treatment. Maybe you are thinking about seeing a therapist…but you have no idea what to expect, or where to start. You may wonder what happens during sessions, how long will you be in therapy, how you will know that you are done in therapy, or a million other questions. These are common and completely valid concerns, and my goal in this post is to cover that basic information so you will know what to expect when you are expecting…to see a therapist.

What to expect before you start. 

Before going to therapy, it is important to identify the areas in your life that need help and healing. Consider whether it is an individual or relational issue. This step is huge because it requires humility and courage to admit that you need help and to be vulnerable. The next step is finding the right therapist for you. Brainstorm what qualities (such as experience or personal characteristics) are important to you in a therapist; not everyone is looking for the same thing when starting therapy. For example, researchers Susan Hardin and Barbara Yanico asked men and women what they looked for in a potential therapist and found differences in genders: Men tended to want an efficient counseling process, for the therapist to be directive and self-disclosing; while women have higher expectations for the therapist to be open, accepting, genuine, attractive, and trustworthy. Regardless of gender, these researchers found that prospective clients expect empathy, expertness, and concreteness from an experienced therapist, and a positive outcome. What are you looking for?

What to expect when choosing a therapist.

Once you have found a potential therapist, you may experience trepidation about meeting and disclosing your private struggles to this stranger. To help the matter, I urge you to familiarize yourself with the therapist(s) you are considering. Here are three helpful suggestions:

  1. Look at their google listing and familiarize yourself with their website. For example, on Cluff Counseling’s page, I have a section entitled “About Me” where you will find information about me like my hobbies, interests, educational experience and training. I also have a “Frequently Asked Questions” section that will give you insight to my structure and style as a therapist. 
  2. Do not be afraid to ask for a phone consultation before setting your first appointment.
  3. Ask your questions! Create 3-4 questions you would like to ask each of the potential therapists that you are considering. Common questions I hear are: Do I take insurance? How much is each session? Does it cost more for couple sessions? Do I have experience treating ______? Do I have a sliding fee scale? What is my cancellation policy? Do I do couple therapy if that is needed down the road? How long is each session? What do you need to bring to the first session? 

Remember, you are the client and so it is important that the therapist is a good fit for you. If the first one you talk to, or meet with, does not feel right, reach out to the next one on your list. 

What to expect when you start.

Many people are curious about the frequency of sessions, as well as what typically happens during a session. I schedule one 50-minute session a week–unless a client requests to meet more or less frequently, or needs longer sessions.  In the initial session, I always ask why the person decided to start therapy now, rather than a few weeks ago, or months down the road. The response to this question helps shed some light on the process the process went through to get to my office.  

Next, I begin to gather some history on the problem. If I am seeing a couple, I may ask how they met, what attracted them to each other, the highlights and lowlights of their relationship history. If I am meeting with an individual, I may ask how long the problem has been present, what they have tried, what has given them some relief, and who is in their support system. I spend the first several sessions gathering more information and helping the person feel comfortable with me. 

Lastly, I ask how they would know that therapy can help them. Their response helps me understand what they specifically want to address during our sessions together, and orients me to establish measurable goals for the client. I do not want a client to feel they are committing the rest of their life to therapy; setting goals ascertains that there will be an end to therapy!

What to expect during regular sessions.

Once the initial phase of information gathering is complete, we will get to work on meeting the goals. Often, I will give homework assignments to be completed between sessions that will support the work we are doing in session. We will work on coping skills and tools that can be practiced and applied to any unhealthy patterns in the client’s life. Areas where trauma work is needed are identified and a plan is created to do that work. Goals are continually assessed to  make sure they still fit the needs of the client. I remind my clients that the time spent with me is theirs and I invite their feedback; I do not want my clients to ever feel they have wasted their time in a session. Please do not hesitate to speak up to your therapist if your needs are not getting met!

What to expect when therapy is nearing an end.

One of the ways I know a client is close to graduating therapy is when a client or I suggest less frequent sessions. This speaks volumes about the progress and signifies they are feeling more grounded, are reaching their therapy goals, have established a support system outside of therapy, and are ready to put what they have learned into practice on their own. I find great joy when my clients no longer need my help…my goal is to work myself out of the job! My door is and will forever be open to my clients should they need a tune-up. My final question for clients, during their last session, is how they will know if/when they need to come back to see me. The message I want them to hear is that I believe in them and that coming back to me is always an option. 

If you have been considering getting into therapy, I highly recommend you to do so now.  If you are ready to schedule a session but feel nervous, remember that it is completely normal to feel a little anxious about starting something new! It is the therapist’s job to create a safe, comfortable counseling environment where you can begin to address your individual or relational worries. If you think you may need medication, a therapist can refer you to a psychiatrist, and together the therapist and psychiatrist can address your concerns. 

I love my job. You will find the best version of yourself as you shed the weight of trauma or addiction and work through any relational issues you are facing. I am here for you! Please contact me today to get started!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

I’m Not Crazy! Overcoming the Stigma Around Therapy

Therapist Help

“In Hollywood if you don’t have a shrink, people think you’re crazy.” ~ Johnny Carson

Therapist Help

Imagine the following scenario: You go running and roll your ankle. You hear a pop and are in great pain. It turns black and blue and swells quickly. You are concerned it is broken or seriously torn, but you fear going to the doctor for help. What will your neighbors say? Will they gossip about how weak you are for not just “getting through it” or figuring it out on your own? You decide to avoid the doctor, take some Tylenol, hobble around like nothing is wrong, and hope it will just go away on its own.

This example might seem foolish to you…why would you not go to the doctor?! It may seem downright silly to not get help when help is needed!  Likewise, when a person encounters trauma, addiction, abuse, or mental illness, it is of legitimate concern and often necessitates professional help like therapy. In the exact same way a broken or sprained ankle often requires the attention of a doctor, many mental health issues require professional help. And there is nothing wrong with that! 

Recently I had a client look me in the face and say, “I don’t belong here.” She felt she should not be in my office sitting on my couch getting help from a licensed therapist because she was not crazy. She had a fulfilling career, many dear friends, and owned lots of expensive things. She did not believe she fit the image, she had in her head, of someone who needed therapy. In short, she thought therapy was for people that outwardly looked like they did not have their life together and she was not one of them. It hurts my heart to hear the shame she, and other clients have felt for being brave and seeking help. 

When studying roadblocks to receiving therapy, Patrick Corrigan and Andrea Bink (2016) had participants report fear of being stigmatized was the leading factor for avoiding treatment. Participants feared they would be treated differently by their friends and coworkers, that they would encounter rejection or discrimination as a result of seeking out mental health treatment.  Most participants would hide their psychiatric status from coworkers, friends, and even family to avoid being the victim of stigma. Thankfully, in recent years–due in large part to social media attention around the stigma around mental health and therapy–it has become much more socially acceptable to receive mental health care. It is not uncommon to hear about celebrities and prominent figures seeing a therapist; many of them highly recommend it for every- and anyone! I applaud these men and women for using their influence to break the mold and speak up on the many benefits of therapy!

The latest statistics show that the amount of people seeking and receiving mental health support is increasing! In 2018, 47.6 million U.S. adults experienced mental illness…that is 1 in 5 adults! Thankfully, 43.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018 and 64.1% of U.S. adults with a serious mental illness received treatment in the same year. 50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016. Millions of Americans experience mental health challenges each year and millions are receiving help by medical and mental health professionals!

Going to therapy does not mean you are crazy. It means you are smart. Would you sit at home, alone, and let your broken ankle “do its thing” without getting help? No. You would make the proper appointments and follow the advice of the professionals so you could soon be running again. My hope, my plea, my job is to help my clients find lasting healing.  The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. Eleven years people will struggle with an emotional “broken ankle” before getting help. Ouch! You do not need to suffer any longer. Make the call–get in to see a therapist today.

I felt sad for the client of mine, and any others who share her sentiments. Just because you receive mental health attention does not mean you are crazy. Just the other day a client, who begrudgingly started therapy at the insistence of their spouse, recently told their new employer that they thought everyone should go to therapy, after they experienced the personal benefits of therapy. While I acknowledge you may believe that going to therapy means you are weak, crazy, limited, hopeless, etc–these stigmatic ideas could not be farther from the truth. I know my clients: THEY ARE BRAVE. They are good people who see their worth. My clients–and those who seek help in other ways–are my heroes and I will always and forever shout that from the rooftops! We need to do away with any and all stigmas that therapy is just for broken, crazy people. It could not be farther from the truth! 

If you have been letting your emotional broken ankle heal on its own because you have felt you do not “belong” in therapy, the time to act is now. Allow a licensed, qualified, experienced therapist, to help you. Emotional health, healing and happiness are possible. Contact me today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville,Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

References:

When Someone Else Alters Your Reality: Gaslighting

Gaslighting:  The attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality.

In 1938, Patrick Hamilton wrote a mystery thriller play called Gas Light, where a husband manipulates his adoring, trusting wife into believing she can no longer trust her own perceptions of reality. He does this by dimming the gas-powered lights in their home, and then denying that the light changed when his wife points it out. From this the term “gaslighting” was born.

In the last few years, there has been attention around this term. Awareness has been heightened about gaslighting in the media, in politics, and in relationships. Also known as “crazy-making,” gaslighting leaves its victims questioning their very perception of reality.  I frequently see gaslighting in relationships where one of the partners battles an addiction; the supporting partner may suspect a relapse or regression, but the using partner may use gaslighting tactics to protect themselves by convincing the other that their instincts are wrong. My hope is to delve a little deeper into the specifics of gaslighting so my readers are better able to spot it and be armed against it. 

The phrase “to gaslight” refers to the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society. Targets of gaslighting are manipulated into turning against their cognition, their emotions, and who they fundamentally are. It is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts, and sanity, which gives the gaslighter a lot of power. Obtaining power and control is at the heart of gaslighting. 

In relationships, gaslighting typically happens very gradually; in fact, the abusive partner’s actions may seem harmless at first. Over time, however, these abusive patterns continue and a victim can become confused, anxious, isolated, and depressed, and they can lose all sense of what is truly happening. Then they start relying on the abusive partner more and more to define reality, which creates a very difficult situation to escape.

Gaslighting has several faces. The first is withholding–where the gaslighter pretends not to understand or refuses to listen. Second is countering–where the gaslighter questions the victim’s memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. The third is blocking or diverting–where the gaslighter changes the subject and/or questions the victim’s thoughts. The fourth is trivializing–when the gaslighter makes the victim’s needs or feelings seem unimportant. And the final is forgetting or denial–when the gaslighter pretends to have forgotten what actually occurred or denies things like promises made to the victim. 

People are not born gaslighters like some are born introverts or extroverts. A gaslighter is a student of social learning, or nurture. They witness it, feel the effects of it, or happen upon it and see that it is a potent, effective tool. Although some individuals gaslight intentionally–like my previous example of an individual trying to cover up a relapse or slip, in their addiction, from a partner–others may not even know they are being manipulative. I have seen some people unknowingly gaslight because they lack self-awareness and/or simply think they are expressing themselves directly and saying it “like it is.” Whether intentional or unintentional, gaslighting leaves its victims discouraged, resigned, pessimistic, fearful, debilitated, and self-doubting. They also question their own perception, identity, and reality; thus, the gaslighter gains control.

The following are common signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

  • You constantly second-guess yourself.
  • You ask yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
  • You often feel confused and even crazy.
  • You frequently apologize to your partner.
  • You cannot understand why–with so many apparently good things in your life–you aren’t happier.
  • You frequently make excuses for your partner’s behavior to friends and family.
  • You find yourself withholding information from friends and family so you don’t have to explain or make excuses.
  • You know something is terribly wrong, but you can never quite express what it is–even to yourself.
  • You start lying to avoid the put downs and reality twists.
  • You have trouble making simple decisions.
  • You have the sense that you used to be a very different person–more confident, more fun-loving, more relaxed.
  • You feel hopeless and joyless.
  • You feel as though you cannot do anything right.
  • You wonder if you are a “good enough” partner.

At its extreme, the ultimate objective of a gaslighter is to control, dominate, and take advantage of another individual or a group. But, as I always say, this is not a life sentence. If you have been or are a victim of gaslighting or believe that you have used gaslighting in relationships, you do not have to continue that pattern. Get help. Learn how to break the cycle and create healthy relationships. I am a trained, licensed therapist, and I am here to help. My door is always open! 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Healing From Trauma: A Newer Treatment

EMDR - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

EMDR - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistWith over 500 kinds of psychotherapy available today, one relatively new kid on the block has been widely heralded by the media, practitioners and mental health consumers. More than 60,000 trained clinicians believe in the power of EMDR–Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing–including me!

Just a few months ago, in June, I posted on my blog about anxiety. Did you know that an estimated 44 million American adults suffer from anxiety, and only one-third receive treatment? I shared nine signs that often indicate anxiety, and urged my readers to seek help for this treatable ailment. In today’s post, I wish to share one of the newer methods of treatment available today: EMDR.

What is EMDR?

It is more than likely you have never heard of EMDR. That’s okay! It is a relatively new form of treatment, and kind of a funky acronym. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and it is a breakthrough therapy with a special capacity to overcome the often devastating effects of psychological trauma. It was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist, in the late 1980s. Shortly after its discovery, an ever-growing community of therapists saw its power to transform lives, controlled research studies consistently demonstrated its efficacy and effectiveness, and many therapists sought training to become EMDR certified. Often therapists have said that EMDR felt like a gift to themselves and their clients, and they were eager to “pay it forward” by spreading the word to colleagues.

How did EMDR start?

Like many great inventions, EMDR was born out of serendipity. One day in 1987, private California practitioner, Francine Shapiro, went for a walk in the woods. She had been preoccupied with disturbing thoughts. She discovered that her anxiety lifted after moving her eyes back and forth while observing her surroundings. Intrigued, Shapiro tried out variants of this procedure with her clients and found that they also felt better. She concluded that trauma can be resolved naturally when a person recalls parts of disturbing experiences while stimulating the eyes (by moving them laterally). EMDR was born!

Initially, EMDR was utilized and studied as a therapy for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other anxiety disorders, such as phobias. Therapists have since extended this treatment to a host of other conditions including depression, sexual dysfunction, schizophrenia, eating disorders, addiction, and even the psychological stress generated by cancer. EMDR therapy is applicable to a wide range of psychological problems that result from overwhelming life experiences. Although I mostly use EMDR for trauma, I have also used it for certain situations where the client faces OCD or is working through fear.

How does EMDR work?

EMDR therapists begin by asking their clients to identify events or situations that provoke anxiety or fear in the present–like the painful memories of a frightening accident. After the history of related anxiety provoking events has been gathered and the assessment phase is complete, the therapist, with the help of a client, identifies a “target” event to start with. By leading the patient in a series of left-to-right, or lateral eye movements, as the patient simultaneously focuses on a disturbing memory, “bilateral stimulation” occurs. Basically the the brain’s two hemispheres synchronize, which allows clarity. A therapist may use her hands, or other EMDR developed devices, to stimulate these bilateral movements.

Dr. Shapiro and her associates developed a number of procedures for coordinating what she termed, “dual awareness,” or the unifying of the two hemispheres of the brain.  The procedures have been refined and validated through controlled research at several centers around the world. Precise and careful use of these procedures can lead to the safe processing of memories, where negative thoughts and emotions can disappear.

This is more than a set of techniques. The EMDR approach provides a model for understanding human potential–including how positive experiences can lead to adaptive living, and how upsetting experiences can lead to psychological problems that interfere with a person’s ability to meet life’s challenges. The EMDR protocol requires clinicians to carefully assess and prepare adequately, particularly for persons with histories of multiple traumas.  

It has long been assumed that it takes a great deal of time to heal from severe emotional pain. However, multitudes of studies have been done on EMDR which repeatedly show that by using EMDR therapy, people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy much quicker. Two particularly notable studies include one where findings indicated that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer had PTSD after only three 90-minute sessions; and another in which a whopping 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in just 12 sessions! In fact, there has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized by several important institutions (like the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense) as an effective form of treatment for trauma, other disturbing experiences, and even the more “everyday” experiences that bring individuals in for therapy (like low self-esteem, anxiety, or feelings of powerlessness).

I became interested in EMDR after witnessing the positive outcomes it had on my clients at an inpatient treatment center. I recognized that many clients, not just those with addictions, come into my office with trauma, and I wanted to find a way to decrease the power that the trauma had on them. This model of treatment works to decrease the intensity of emotions connected to a traumatic memory, and thus lessens the power these events have on them. I have seen EMDR work for countless clients. Two particular clients come to mind when I reflect on the power of EMDR 1) A young female adult, recently involved in a serious car accident, had trouble meeting the demands of her daily life after the accident due to flashbacks. Within 5 EMDR sessions, she was able to function like she had before her accident and the flashbacks had stopped. And 2) A client’s pet passed away which triggered the tragic death of her best friend as a child, which made sleeping impossible and caused her emotionally and physically shut-down. After multiple EMDR sessions, she was able to sleep throughout the night and started reaching out to friends (and even dating) again!

EMDR procedures should only be used by a fully trained EMDR clinician, who holds licensure in the mental health field. I have been fully trained in levels 1 and 2, and use this method on a regular basis. Just today I did three hours of EMDR with my clients! If you or someone you love could benefit from EMDR treatment, contact me today or schedule a session to be evaluated. I would be more than happy to give you an evaluation and offer the relief that can come through the effective administration of EMDR!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area. 

Resources:

SPLIT: A Deeper Look into Multiple Personalities

Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Marilyn Monroe, Lady Gaga, and Mel Gibson are a few famous individuals who have shared that they face Dissociative Identity Disorder–more commonly known as multiple personality disorder.  The average number of alternate personalities a person with DID has is between eight and 13, but there have been cases reported of more than 100 personalities within one individual. Read on to learn more about the cause and treatments for this mental illness.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), often called multiple personality disorder (MPD), has fascinated people for over a century. In 2017, this disorder caught a bit of the limelight with the release of M. Night Shyamalan’s hit movie, “Split,” where the murderous villain has 24 personalities manifesting themselves throughout the abduction of three teenage girls. Although this movie was entertaining for some, 1% of the population who truly face this horror, may not have been as amused.

When Truddi Chase was just two years old, she moved out to the country with her mother and stepfather. At this time, she was sexually abused by her stepfather, and the trauma ultimately led to a DID diagnosis. For years, Chase was able to suppress her memories by holding them in alternate personalities that rarely came to the surface. Each of her 92 personalities held different memories, served different roles, and played different parts in protecting her from the past. One personality named Black Catherine held most of her rage. Another personality, Rabbit, held the pain. Chase wrote a book about her life, When Rabbit Howls, and, later, a movie was produced about her entitled, “The Voices Within: The Lives of Truddi Chase.”

The American Psychiatric Association defines Dissociative Identity Disorder as a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of who he/she is. To some degree, this is a normal process that everyone has experienced. Examples of common dissociation are daydreaming, highway hypnosis or “getting lost” in a book or movie, all of which involve “losing touch” with awareness of one’s immediate surroundings. The difference between those more daily acts of dissociation and Dissociative Identity Disorder, however, is that DID is nearly always caused by a traumatic experience–such as an accident, disaster or crime victimization. Dissociation helps a person tolerate more than what he/she normally could. A person may mentally escape from the fear, pain and horror–which may make it difficult later to remember/recount the details of the experience.

Although there is so much we do not know about DID, we do know some things about DID:

  • Dissociation is present in all races, but is more common in American children.
  • Females experience more childhood abuse than males at a ratio of 10:1 and thus more females suffer from DID.
  • However, more males who have been abused may experience pathological dissociation.
  • Dissociative identity disorder is typically caused by trauma occurring at less than nine years of age.
  • Early age of abuse onset predicts a greater degree of dissociation.

DID is nearly always the aftermath of some form of trauma. Multiple personalities are unconsciously created in order to shield and protect the individual from reliving and remembering the traumatic experience. Sometimes these personalities can lay dormant as life stabilizes, but may manifest themselves during stressful periods of life. There is no medical attention formulated specific to DID; the recommended methods of treatment include the following three steps: 1) stabilization, 2) trauma-work and 3) integration. Dissociative patients who are not appropriately treated or who attempt to treat themselves tend to get worse and DID then becomes one of the most difficult to treat psychiatric conditions. Alternate personalities do not integrate spontaneously; treatment is necessary. Untreated DID tends to leave the sufferer vulnerable to to further trauma.

As with nearly all mental illness, there is a stigma associated with multiple personalities. We need to remember that this is a natural coping mechanism for those who have experienced intense trauma. The way I see it, those people who have DID are courageously fighting to survive and overcome past trauma. This means that functional, high performing, otherwise healthy individuals can experience DID depending on their childhood history. Mary Higgins Clark wrote a book called, All Around the Town where Laurie, the protagonist, is kidnapped at a very young age. She develops DID to face the sexual and emotional abuse she endures. After her release two years later, and the ensuing stabilization of her life, her multiple personalities subside for a time, only to reemerge after being triggered by her parents’ tragic deaths, causing her to confront the horrors of her past in order to heal. This book was incredibly interesting; I likely dissociated into Laurie’s world as I allowed myself to be fascinated by the manifestation of her mental illness!

My hope for those with DID and any other mental illness, is that they can find healing and hope. I never judge my clients facing these difficult challenges. It is important to remember that SPLIT was incredibly dramatized, and that the individuals with DID are just seeking to cope with life. It is likewise important to keep in mind that we all dissociate to some degree as the stresses of life close in on us! As previously stated, the best methods of treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder is therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (also known as EMDR–of which I am trained in), and medications to treat depression or related symptoms. As with all mental illnesses, DID is not a life sentence.  Address the trauma that originally led to intense dissociation is the first step.  I am passionate about helping you find hope and healing. Please contact me today or click here to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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The Positive Influence of Affirmations

 

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” The way you talk to yourself can determine how you live. Incorporating positive affirmations into your daily walk and talk can profoundly influence the course of your life!

Do you realize how much you talk to yourself? You may be driving alone in your car, thinking about an interaction with a friend, and think, “I was stupid to say that”; or maybe you are looking in the mirror before a date and say, “I wish I felt more attractive.” Affirmations are sentences aimed to affect the conscious and the subconscious mind.  Every word we say to ourselves is an affirmation–the sad truth is that the majority of things we say to ourselves is negative. We focus on what we cannot do, what we are not, and what we do not look like. It is incredibly easy to get down on ourselves and practice negative self-talk. After all, we are our worst critics!

How you talk to yourself influences how you feel about and see yourself. You may not realize how poorly you treat yourself until you start observing your self-talk. Can you imagine saying half of the things you say to the mirror to your child or your partner? Never! How we perceive and talk about ourselves and our situations set the precedent for how we live and interact with others. Not only that, a study was done in 2010 at the University of Arizona where researchers found that the power of positive thinking could beat depressive thoughts. By saying positive affirmations, subjects were able to change their thought processes, and some even reported that affirmations were the most influential part of their recovery process! Practicing positive affirmations can help us consciously flip the switch to start being the person we want to become.

Now let’s talk about how we can use our inner dialogue to build–rather than tear down–our self esteem. A positive affirmation is a brief statement, worded in the positive, said with confidence that can help you make significant changes in your life.  Okay so what do you do with these thoughts? Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Consider your positive traits or abilities. Like I previously mentioned, we are our worst critics. We are so hard on ourselves; we only see where we lack, what we cannot do, how not skinny or smart we are, etc (especially in this day and age of social media, our negative comparisons are endless!). But you are unlike anyone else; there is only one you in the world. What are you good at? What makes you special? Write a little list of these qualities and make them into “I am…” or “I can”  statements. Examples: I am strong; I can learn new things; I am determined, I am hard-working; I am relentless; I am connected and comfortable in all environments, with all people; I find and enjoy the simple pleasures life is offering right now;
  2. Replace negative self-talk with your personalized affirmations. The moment you start paying attention to your inner-dialogue, you will notice how down on yourself you are. Make a sincere effort to cut out negativity towards yourself and instead build yourself up. Next time you are feeling discouraged thinking, “I will never be able to do that..” or, “I will never be good enough…”, instead say one of your positive affirmations. Examples: My challenges bring opportunities; I love myself and who I am; I love myself unconditionally; I allow only healthy and loving relationships into my life; How I feel matters, therefore I concentrate on aspects of life that make me feel good!; My mood creates a physiological response in my body. I am peaceful and positive!; I am in control of my thoughts and my life.
  3. Rewrite and repeat your affirmations daily. Watch this YouTube video of a father practicing affirmations with his daughter before she goes to school. This is a great example of how to start your day; look yourself in the mirror and build yourself up! Imagine the power that would come to you if you began every day this way! Whether you practice affirmations at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, or all throughout the day, be consistent. You might even consider writing your affirmations down on notecards or post-its scattered throughout your living and working spaces. Seeing these positive statements will only help reinforce and solidify them in your mind.

These three steps are simple: Focus on what you can do, stop putting yourself down, and regularly affirm yourself. As you begin to think about specific thoughts about your, over and over again, those thoughts will become beliefs and reality. Instead of limiting yourself with demeaning thought processes, make changes today that will enable you to reach your full potential. As you build yourself up, you will see that the small steps of adding positive affirmations into your life will influence you for the better. You will be a happier person, more comfortable in your own skin, and you will see that life is full of opportunities you can handle. After all, that’s the truth!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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When the One You Love Most Hurts You

Partner Trauma - Cluff Counseling - Dallas TherapistWhat happens when the person you would normally turn to is the one who betrayed your trust? You understandably feel deeply hurt, a great level of sudden distrust, and the desire to increase distance between you and this significant other. Partner trauma is real and it requires help in order to heal–both individually and in your relationship. If you or someone you know is experiencing partner trauma, help is available.

What exactly is partner trauma? Let’s begin by defining trauma. Trauma is the unique and personal experience of an event, a series of events or a set of enduring conditions that has the effect of overwhelming the person’s ability to integrate and regulate his or her experience at the levels of sensorimotor (body), cognition (thoughts), and emotion (feelings). In order for me to adequately explain the specifics of partner trauma, we need to take a step back and evaluate connection and our need for healthy, stable relationships.

At our core, we are all wired to connect with others; we begin as babies where we are entirely reliant on our caregivers. As we grow and gain independence, we look to others for comfort, guidance, support, and love. The children in Romanian orphanages, who are not given the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with caregivers and are deemed “unable to thrive” by healthcare professionals, are examples of how the lack of connection with others affects us greatly–physically, mentally, and physiologically.

We never outgrow our need for connection; adults need connection as much as small children do. As stated in my previous blog about connection, humans are wired for attachment! Answer the following questions about a significant relationship in your life:

  1. Will you be there for me when I need you the most?
  2. Can I count on you?
  3. Do I matter to you?
  4. Am I a priority in your life?
  5. Will you value me and accept me even with my imperfections?
  6. Will you stay close to me?

Answering yes to any of the above questions signals healthy attachment; whereas responding “no” to one or several could be indicative of relational trauma. When the person you once relied on, cared for, confided in, trusted and/or loved, no longer fills that role in your life, due to their actions, you are experiencing partner trauma.

Partner trauma (commonly known as relational trauma) has many faces; your partner could be an addict, involved in an affair, or ignored your needs at a time you needed him or her the most, such as a miscarriage, or loss of a job, etc. The common denominator, though, is that the stressor causes a traumatic attachment injury for one of the partners. The person you have leaned on for connection, comfort and support is the one you feel abandoned by. These feelings disrupt your relationship and your entire life. The person you have been the most vulnerable with may suddenly feel dangerous and unsafe. Relational trauma overwhelms the coping strategies you have in place and if not attended to, can appear to define you and how you see the world.

It is important to note that in the majority of cases, the person bringing the hurt into your life is not doing so intentionally; he or she is not trying to cause you emotional harm, although their actions have directly negatively impacted you. The deeper your relationship is with the one who hurts you, the more traumatic the experience and lack of trust will be. How you find out about the betrayal, how long it has been taking place without your knowledge, and your trauma history also factor into the symptoms you may experience. The following are some of the most common symptoms of trauma: fear, anxiety, outbursts of anger or rage, hypervigilance (excessive alertness or watchfulness), irritability, worrying/ruminating, intrusive thoughts of the trauma, tendency to isolate, difficulty concentrating or remembering, feelings of panic or being out of control, increased need to control daily experiences, difficulty trusting, feelings of betrayal, feelings of self-blame or responsibility, numbness, feelings of helplessness, minimizing the experience, feeling detached, concern of over-burdening others, under- or overeating, shame, shock, diminished interest in everyday activities, withdrawal, and preoccupation with body image.

Although relational trauma is not as visible as physical trauma–like being a victim of rape, bullying, or domestic violence–it leaves scars that take a great deal of time to heal. Relational trauma causes a ripple effect in all aspects of your life and influences how you see and treat people, yourself included. It is important to resolve relational trauma and work through it (both with your partner and also on an individual-basis) alongside a trained, experienced therapist. I have counseled many couples through varying degrees of relational betrayal and, while it is never easy, I can attest that couples that come out on the other side have some of the strongest marriages that I have seen. Everyone makes mistakes and we all need second chances. Healing is possible. Please contact me today to schedule your first appointment.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Finding Happiness After Hurt

Finding Happiness After Pain - Cluff Counseling, Denton Therapist

Finding Happiness After Pain - Cluff Counseling, Denton TherapistLife isn’t fair: people are unkind, injustices happen, and life sometimes seems to have dealt us a pretty hard hand. Here are practical tips to overcome emotional pain and find happiness.

Every day I see clients who are hurting. Some are suffering from childhood trauma, others from addiction, chronic illness, or the unexpected ending of a key relationship in their life. One of the things I have learned firsthand as a counselor is that there is a lot of hurt out there. You and I are literally fighting a world of hurt. But the main reason I absolutely love my job is that I have the chance to help my clients fight through their hurt and find happiness.

We have all experienced something unjust or painful in our own lives. Sometimes it is easy to shake those feelings and other times we just cannot seem to let them go.  Prolonged anger and feelings of injustice—directed toward a particular person, circumstance, or yourself—have a steep price tag: they can rob you of happiness in the moment and have negative impacts on your overall health. But there are steps we can take to overcome the inevitable feelings of hurt, pain, and resentment to find happiness. In addition to seeing a therapist, there are several simple ways you can start today:

  1. Fill your own cup. Sometimes, when we feel empty, we hope for and expect others to fill our cups for us…which is incredibly dangerous. More often than not, we let people in who are not healthy or worthy, and they do more harm than good. Stop that. Fill your own cup. Sandra Bienkowski writes for Mind Body Green, “You have to fill your own cup. Whatever you didn’t get and need, you have to give to yourself. If you didn’t get praise, give yourself praise. If you didn’t get love, show yourself some love and compassion with kind thoughts and doing things that make you feel good about yourself. If your home didn’t feel safe, create a safe and secure home as an adult.” Happiness begins when you are at peace with yourself.
  2. Stop looking for external validation. Be comfortable in your own skin.  Do not look to Instagram/Facebook/Twitter, your friends/family, or anywhere else for validation. Look in the mirror. Use your internal gauges to measure how you are doing and how you could improve. That is what they are there for!
  3. When people show you who they are, believe them. We sometimes make the mistake of hoping or expecting others to be who we want them to be. Let your friends, family members and acquaintances be who they are. Accepting their limitations and allowing them to be imperfect will help you avoid feeling disappointed when they do not measure up to your high expectations of them.
  4. Set boundaries. You are the only one who can set limits of where you end and others begin. Do not let other people’s issues/history/negativity hurt you. Your boundaries set the bar on how you expect to be treated or set the limits of what you accept and what you do not. Knowing how to protect yourself is really just you protecting your happiness.
  5. Have patience and compassion for yourself. Recognize that you are dealing with something hard. Cut yourself some slack, give yourself time to make changes, and focus on what you are doing well!
  6. Decide it is not worth it. Feeling angry, frustrated or wrong only harms you. Decide that is it not worth it, get help, and move on. Do not dwell on the negative!
  7. Separate facts from emotions. Yes, you got laid off–fact. Yes, that will impact your finances–fact. But these facts do not mean you are entitled to feel angry, frustrated, and wronged for years to come. Reconcile the facts (what you are NOT always in control of) with your emotions (what you are ALWAYS in control of), and you will be a lot happier.
  8. Seek treatments that help resolve feelings of anger and injustice. Effective modalities include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Loving Kindness Meditation, and Compassion Meditation. Contact me today if you are seeking one of these treatments to increase your happiness.
  9. Use relaxation as the antidote for anger. Have a plan or strategy to calm yourself down in the face of anger or frustration…because you are sure to need that plan at some point.
  10. Use imagery. Imagine yourself letting go of the negative emotions you are feeling and holding on to. Then envision yourself finding and clinging to happiness. As cheesy as it sounds, it may be remarkably helpful for you visual learners out there!
  11. Talk it out. For some of us, talking to a therapist or someone we trust can be extremely liberating. Getting a fresh perspective, as well as, suggestions for how to move on is invaluable. Use your words to extricate your feelings, work through them, and let them go. It is remarkable how liberating talking it out can be.

Of course there are a plethora of ways to replace hurt with happiness. I could spend hours talking about the power of hobbies, a balanced diet, regular exercise, quality sleep, religious outlets, and several other physical and emotional-reducing strategies. The 11 suggestions I have mentioned above are simple things you can do now with no added time, props, or money. In fact, most of the 11 suggestions I have shared begin with you deciding to be happy. At the end of the day, you are the one who decides to hold on to feelings of anger, guilt, resentment, frustration and injustice. While there are many tools available, your will is the most important. So if you are looking to stop the hurt in your life, decide now. Do it. Use the above methods and contact me if you need additional assistance. I find immense joy witnessing the personal transformations of my clients as they prepare to move on to the next phase of their life–as healthier and happier people. Stop the hurt in your life and welcome the happiness that is waiting for you.

Resources:
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Welcome”
Mind Body Green: “The 4 Best Lessons I Learned From Seeing A Therapist In My 20s”
Psychology Today: “7 Practical Strategies to Overcome Emotional Pain”
Psychology Today: “9 Tips to Stop Anger and Injustice from Hurting You”
Psychology Today: “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”
Psychology Today: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy”
Psychology Today: “Happiness”
Psychology Today: “Meditation”
Psychology Today: “Mindfulness”
Psychology Today: “Stress”

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