Piecing Together Pockets of Joy

As we creatively cultivate social interaction and learn how to manage our time, our days will be filled with happiness and hope. 

Hundreds of factors influence our mental health and well-being. From disruptions in our social contact to our regular routines, the current conditions of the world are placing millions at risk for a mental health crisis. Luckily, psychiatrists and physicians are actively aware of the impacts of this global crisis and have provided sound advice for us to follow. Threats to our mental health are more frequent now than ever; this series presents solutions and ideas to combat threats and encourage goodness.

While the technological advances in recent years have brought about unforeseen changes to society, none have been quite as significant (or isolating) as the current crisis. As the world has experienced mass cancellations of social events, drastic changes to work environments, at-home education and highly limited social contact, many are left feeling overwhelmed, lonely, distracted, endangered, and distant. Although there are restrictions to regular social activities, becoming aware of how to use the resources we do have can shed some light into our dark days. Let’s explore how daily socializing, monitoring media, and maintaining a schedule can bring happiness into our unique days. 

Daily Socializing 

A common misconception is that social distancing equates to social elimination. Socializing does not have to stop altogether; it can take a new form! Keep your plans to meet up with friends, visit your grandparents, or even have playdates with your children– just shift the location to a virtual meet-up. There are loads of options for video and voice chats: Facebook Messenger, Zoom, MicrosoftTeams, Facetime, GoogleHangouts, etc. The list goes on! If the internet is not accessible at home, a phone call works perfectly. Try to avoid using only social media and text messaging to stay connected with others; essential aspects of communication are lost in the absence of hearing or seeing another person. It may feel awkward at first, but your friends and family will be grateful to talk with you regardless of the platform. Seek to maintain contact with at least one person every day!

Monitoring Media Consumption

It has never been easier to get sucked into the virtual lives of all your friends via social media. Many people have the news playing all day for constant updates, and it seems that hours quickly pass checking others’ posts and opinions on social media. There is an over-saturation of information, most of which is crisis-related or hardly uplifting. Being informed is important during these times, but it is crucial for us to monitor how much media we are consuming, especially as it relates to pandemic-pointed opinions. Setting a media limit for yourself each day will allow you to gather the information you need to stay informed, while also protecting you from the negative effects that over-saturation can have on your mental health. 

Maintain A Schedule 

With many people now working from home and many children now learning from home, normal schedules and routines are a thing of the past. Sleeping in, taking naps, and working into the evening are ever appealing (and easily accessible), but slipping into these habits may prove harmful to your mental health in the long run. Insomnia, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties can result from long naps, late nights and prolonged rises. A written schedule detailing your plan for work, breaks, and relaxation may be beneficial as you try to navigate your new freedom. Stick to a schedule similar to what you did before working or learning from home. Allow breaks throughout the day, but don’t leave much work to do in the evenings. Your body needs time to decompress and relax before bed. Avoid screen time for two hours before bedtime and dedicate the evening hours to relaxation and reloading for the new day. Not only will this schedule encourage better sleep, it will also create a necessary sense of routine that has been lacking. 

It’s okay to feel uncertain, overwhelmed, lonely, or distant at times. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a medical professional if you feel that your mental health is rapidly declining. With the current circumstances, it’s vital for us to recognize how we are feeling mentally and take the necessary steps towards health and healing. Through creating opportunities to socialize each day, monitoring our media intake, and creating and sticking to a schedule, we can cultivate pockets of joy and light despite troubling circumstances. As we work to change the things that lie within our control, we can rise above negative feelings and find happiness in each unique day. 

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.

Lydia Judd is a senior at Brigham Young University studying psychology. She lives in Dallas, TX with her husband where she works as an RBT at Blue Sprig Pediatrics. 

Fighting the Physical Battle for Mental Health

As we make our physical health a priority at this time, we will strengthen our mental capacity to cope, overcome, and press forward. 

I often underestimate the relationship between my physical and mental health. I have been reminded of their dependence on each other as I have read information from doctors and psychologists about how we must maintain our physical health in order to maintain our mental health given the current conditions of the world. Although the task may seem daunting due to local and national restrictions (it has for me, at least), making the effort to fuel our bodies physically is key to hurdling the mental blocks of discouragement, loneliness, and anxiety. Threats to our mental health are more frequent now than ever; this series presents solutions and ideas to combat threats and encourage goodness. 

Physicians and psychiatrists are stressing the importance of two fundamental strategies that can increase our physical stamina and decrease our distress: developing a healthy diet and daily physical activity. For some, these ideas may feel like a no-brainer, but as laws and regulations continue to limit our access to resources, we may be wondering how. Read on! 

How Can I Start to Take Back Control of my Physical Health?

Developing a Healthy Diet

Prolonged periods of isolation can become the perfect excuse for easy meals. Takeout, microwave dinners, and other junk foods present quick and simple solutions for food come mealtime or snacktime. These processed foods are typically high in carbohydrates and fats, which cause insulin levels to constantly fluctuate. These levels have a direct effect on brain functioning; the foods we choose to eat can directly influence our mental health! We need to be mindful of what we are consuming to ensure that it meets recommendations for our age and sex. If you are unsure what an adequate serving of fruits, vegetables, meat, or dairy looks like for you or your family, choosemyplate.gov provides information including serving sizes, sources of nutrients, and even exercise recommendations for all ages. Giving our brain the nutrients it needs is vital at this time. Cook at least one meal a day at home, fill your plate with a variety of fruits and veggies, or try a new recipe every day! As your diet improves, your mental health follows. 

Daily Physical Activity

Although most gyms, recreational centers, fitness clubs, and other workout facilities are closed, creating opportunities for physical exercise is still possible! If you’re like me, your regular routine has been thrown out of whack and even typical movement from work life has been halted. Luckily, most current recommendations allow for people to leave their homes to get out and move, so long as social distancing is still enforced. When available, taking the opportunity to get outside and go for a walk, run, or bike ride can have incredible effects on our mental health. While physical exercise poses many benefits to physique and physical strength, its impact on mental health is equally as notable. In fact, research shows that 30-60 minutes of vigorous physical activity at least 4 times a week has significant antidepressant effects. In some cases, exercise proves to be a more effective treatment for mental illness than therapy or medication. 

If the opportunity to go outside isn’t readily available, there are hundreds of free online resources that provide at-home workouts with and without equipment. Youtube, Nike Training Club, and 7 Minute workouts are just a few free resources that can be used on the internet or a smartphone to increase your heart rate from the comfort of your own home! Everyone’s fitness level differs, and some activities may be easier than others. Find what works for you and do what you can; you may begin with a 5 minute workout and work your way up to a 30 minute workout. Be patient with yourself as you seek to exercise your body, and if you find that you are sitting most of the day, make a schedule or set up a timer to get up and walk around every 20-30 minutes. Our small efforts toward physical exercise will make a big difference in our battle for mental strength. 

We are living in times of constant change and unique challenge. At times, the “easy way” feels like the only way. Yet, as we consider the threat being placed on our mental health, it is clear that we are in control of the outcome as we proactively choose to do the things that fight our feelings of uncertainty, sadness, and fear. Choosing to eat a healthy diet and engaging in daily physical activity may not appear to be the easy way out, but they are one of the only ways to access joy and peace as we fight for our mental health during these turbulent times. As we make our physical health a priority, we will strengthen our mental capacity to cope, overcome, and press forward. 

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.

Finding Joy In Troubling Times Through Small Changes

As your world continues to change drastically each day, you can rise to the challenges it brings through small daily habits that bring peace and happiness into your everyday life. 

With the recent unprecedented changes to social, occupational, and daily living routines, it seems that the world is in a constant state of panicked isolation. These new changes to the familiar flow of our lives bring many challenges, both seen and unseen, that can leave us feeling anxious, alone, depressed, and defeated. At a time when uncertainty is universal, hope may feel out of reach; however, small adjustments to our daily routines can have a profound impact on our mental health. This post acts as part one in a series of posts related to maintaining your mental health amidst the changing conditions of the world. Threats to our mental health are more frequent now than ever; this series presents solutions and ideas to combat threats and encourage goodness. 

Medical professionals are beginning to recognize the effects of the world’s newly adopted lifestyle, and they have some strategies that can help us to maintain our mental hygiene while our lives feel out of balance. The first suggestion I will focus on is a strategy called, “MAPS”. The acronym stands for Mastery, Altruism, Pleasure, and Silence. While these terms are familiar to many, their application isn’t overly intuitive, so let’s dive a little deeper into what they may look like for you. 

Mastery

Mastery encompasses any activity that leads you to feel a sense of accomplishment. It can be as simple as making your bed or as complex as learning a new language. The idea is that you choose at least one activity everyday that helps you feel a sense of purpose. Write down your tasks, check them off when they have been completed, and reflect on the small victories you have had each day. Acknowledging the things that you have accomplished brings a sense of purpose instead of the regret of wasting another day. 

Altruism

An activity that incorporates doing good for another person is considered an act of altruism. Although we may feel confined and restricted in our ability to do good, there are many kind acts that do not require physical contact. For example, calling or video-chatting with a friend or family member, sending a letter, or a curbside delivery of needed groceries are great ways to serve while keeping everyone safe. Keep in contact with those you care about. When we look outside ourselves, our worries and problems lighten and we open ourselves up to happiness. 

Pleasure

Do something that you enjoy! For me, cooking has been a delightful distraction from the heaviness of the world. Take time to discover (or rediscover) the small things that bring you joy. Create something new; go for a walk; try out painting; take a long shower. If you anticipate that some activities may not be enjoyable, try it out anyway. Even “faking it” can lead to eventual enjoyment that will be essential in the long run. 

Silence

This strategy may seem counterintuitive, but research has proven that having a period of silence each day allows our brain to settle and be mindful in the moment. Social media, television, and even your favorite music need to be silenced in order to enjoy the anti-anxiety effects of mindfulness and silence. Turn off your phone, close the computer, pause the episode, and take a deep breath. Don’t think about what you ate for breakfast or the laundry that needs to be folded tonight; think only of the moment you are living in. Focus on your breath, the sensations that you feel, the smells around you, and let the silence set in. Daily periods of silence ultimately activate your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to rest and digest properly. 

The strategies are not meant to be performed perfectly or act as another item on an endless to-do list, but rather provide direct access to improved mental health, a sense of hope for the future, and a feeling of peace that appears so out of reach lately. Big or small, making these simple daily efforts can lead to significant changes in your attitude and mental health. The current condition of the world is unsettling. Discouragement, fear for the future, anxiety and uncertainty may occupy our thoughts frequently, but we can create moments of purpose, solace, and joy as we master small tasks each day, serve others around us, do the things we love, and take time to be silent. 

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.

Lydia Judd is a senior at Brigham Young University studying psychology. She lives in Dallas, TX with her husband where she works as an RBT at Blue Sprig Pediatrics.  

Escaping the Fear Trap

In a world deeply enveloped in fear, we can choose to avoid the traps that leave us feeling helpless.

The first time I remember really feeling fear was when I was in the second grade. The cold, dry winter air did not couple well with my asthma, and one night I found myself struggling for air in the middle of a terrifying asthma attack. Usually my mom or dad would grab my albuterol to calm my panicked breaths, but this time, my medicine was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t catch my breath despite all effort, and I began to worry that I never would. My mom found my medicine after some relentless searching and my breathing settled before the situation became desperate, but I still vividly remember the feeling of fear that petrified me as I searched hopelessly for air to fill my empty lungs. 

Fear is the central nervous system’s physiological and emotional response to a serious threat to one’s well being. While fear can prepare us for fight or flight responses in dangerous situations, it can also become a roadblock to progress and peace if prolonged. 

After the events of 9/11, unprecedented fear and terror filled the lives of millions of Americans. Curious how such an intense fear could spread so rapidly, researchers began to study the roots of fear. Their findings completely changed my perspective of fear and how it is cultivated. 

The study found that the roots of human fear stem from what researchers call risk perceptions. Risk perception suggests that we attribute fear to things that pose any risk toward us– the more the risk, the more the fear. This explains why humans appear to fear similar things (like heights or spiders), why we subconsciously decide what we are afraid of (like skydiving, even if we’ve never done it), and why our responses to risk are not always internal or rational, but rather emotional (screaming in a scary movie), reflecting our values and perceptions of a risk itself.

What are the Fear Factors?

What I found most interesting from my research about fear was that there were common underlying factors which seemed to alter how risks are perceived, ultimately increasing the fear experienced by populations at large toward a particular risk. I’ll share a few of these factors and invite you to consider how they may affect your risk perceptions and consequent fear. 

Factor 1: Awareness

As our awareness of a risk increases, so does our fear. Awareness can be generated by the media, word of mouth, and even personal experience.

Factor 2: Uncertainty

The more uncertain we feel of a risk, the more afraid we are. Where did the risk come from? When? Who? Is it likely to affect me? 

Factor 3: Newness 

We are more afraid of risks that are new rather than those that have been around for a while. After we’ve lived with a risk for a while, we gain a better perspective and understand the real dangers posed by the risk. 

Factor 4: Control

The more control we feel we have over a certain risk, the less fear we feel. Less control over a risk brings about greater fear. This is why people ride bicycles without helmets and rarely hesitate to drive their car; they are in control. Does this lessen the risk of injury or harm? Perhaps not, but it establishes a sense of control. 

How can we Escape the Fear Trap? 

I present these factors in hopes that you may realize, like me, that sometimes our fears do not match the facts. Whether your fears are work, school, home, family, or world-related, they can be pressing, consuming, and heavy. Yet, as we look at these factors, it’s clear that we can choose to escape the fear trap by making small, simple decisions that align our fears more with reality:

Monitor Awareness

While the media presents incredible information and benefits, it can also be a fire hydrant of facts. Monitor the sources you trust, limit your time on social media, and seek information from reliable sources. 

Discover What You Know 

There are so many uncertain things in life, but there is so much that is certain! Although there may be aspects of risk that we cannot find the answers to, there are truths and facts that can help us to feel more certain about our future. Focus on the things you know and the things that don’t change as a result of risk. 

Practice Patience

When risks are new, they feel more threatening. We can avoid the tendency to overreact by reminding ourselves to be patient. Even when others respond fearfully to news risks, we can recognize new ways to learn, live, and grow as we become familiar with risks, instead of being afraid of them. 

Control the Controllable

While some things will always lay outside of our control, we can focus on the things we can control. Study for your upcoming test; make an emergency preparedness kit; wear a seatbelt in the car. We will never be able to eliminate all risk, but we can decrease our fear as we focus on the things we can control. 

In a world deeply enveloped in fear, we can choose to avoid the traps that leave us feeling helpless. Although it takes great effort, we can handle the fear we face by heightening our awareness, focusing on what we know, learning to live with risk, and recognizing our control. Risks may always abound, but we decide how we will react to them. Let us choose courage and conscience as we encounter the risks that raid our lives. 

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: 

Comer, R. J., & Comer, J. S. (2018). Abnormal psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers/Macmillan Learning.

Gray, G. M., & Ropeik, D. P. (2002). Dealing with the dangers of fear: the role of risk communication. Health Affairs, 21(6), 106-116.

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 Don’t Have Trauma…or Do I?

I Don’t Have Trauma...or Do I - Cluff Counseling - North TX Couples Therapist

I Don’t Have Trauma...or Do I - Cluff Counseling - North TX Couples TherapistMost people associate trauma with terribly difficult and disturbing events like war or a natural disaster. Because of this, you may think you have never experienced something traumatic. However, any distressing event that falls beyond your normal scope of human experience can be considered traumatic! Odds are high that you HAVE experienced trauma. How have you dealt with it?

I was recently talking with a friend who told me she had never been through anything traumatic in her life. Although I knew she was referring to the fact that she had not experienced a death of a loved one, abuse, an accident, or something of like nature, I silently disagreed with her. While those experiences are incredibly traumatic for any individual who faces them, trauma is not limited to life-changing events like those. Trauma can happen every day in the normal course of your day without you realizing what you are up against. In this post, I will focus on the two different types of trauma and how we are all affected by trauma’s expansive reach.

Let’s start by defining trauma. What is it really? At its Greek core, trauma means to wound or to pierce. A search for this word will yield a definition much like this: “A disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury; an emotional upset, an agent, force or mechanism that causes high distress.” Basically, trauma is intense emotional distress resulting from stressful life experiences. Oftentimes when describing trauma, it is divided into two major categories: Big “T” and little “t” traumas.

Big “T” trauma

Big “T” trauma, or complex traumas, are events that involve physical harm and/or a threat to life or physical safety. Big “T” trauma is trauma in its most severe form, and can often result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Examples of big “T” trauma include being in a combat/war zone, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, immigration, rape, sexual assault, abuse, death, sickness, moving, financial stress, a car/plane accident, etc. These are extraordinary and significant events that leave us feeling powerless, helpless, and as if we have little or no control in our environment. This element of helplessness is a key difference between of big ‘T’ traumas and little ‘t’ traumas–feelings of helplessness being much greater in big ‘T’ traumas. These events can forever alter a person’s life, and may influence our ability to make/maintain relationships, and function later in life. One big ‘T’ trauma can be enough to cause severe distress and interfere with our daily functioning–which is intensified the longer treatment is avoided.

Little “t” trauma

Little “t” traumas are life events that are more common experiences that, although upsetting to an individual, are less severe or dramatic than big “T” traumas. A few examples of little “t” traumas include being teased in elementary school, always being picked last for a team, divorce, death of a beloved pet, losing a job, or losing friends by moving from school to school during childhood.  It is not necessarily the event that determines whether something is traumatic to someone, but the individual’s experience of the event. If an individual experiences an event as life-altering or upsetting in such a way that it changes the way they think about themselves or others,  it is likely a little “t” trauma.

The term little “t” trauma does not imply, however, that the emotional impact of such an event is insignificant compared to big “T” traumas. The emotional wounds can be as lasting and severe as big “T” trauma wounds!

Trauma’s reach

Everyone has endured some sort of trauma in their lifetime. Both big “T” and little “t” traumas have a strong influence on our view of the world and shape how we cope in life. For example, the little “t” traumas of being teased by peers and being picked last for the team can leave us feeling inadequate or insecure amongst our peers. Big “T” traumas may leave us orphaned, severely dissociated, or less physically capable than we may have previously been. The four core signs of trauma include the following:

      • Hyperarousal: These symptoms can be difficult to manage and can vary from person to person. In general, hyperarousal includes having a difficult time falling or staying asleep, feeling irritable or having outbursts of anger, having difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance (constantly being on guard), and being jumpy or easily startled
      • Dissociation of body and mind: This includes feeling disconnected from oneself, problems handling intense emotions, sudden/unexpected shifts in mood, depression or anxiety problems, derealization (feeling as though the world is distorted or not real), memory problems, concentration problems, and significant memory lapses.
      • Constriction of body and perceptions: Which may include the skewed notion that the individual was responsible for causing the trauma.
      • Feelings of helplessness: The inability to act or think for oneself, or to act effectively.

When symptoms of trauma continue for more than three months, it is considered PTSD or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Fortunately, all symptoms are not permanent if addressed properly–which means that healing for both little “t” traumas as well as big “T” traumas are completely treatable. Receiving treatment can truly reshape the way we view both the world and ourselves!

Trauma is treatable

Treatment for trauma consists of specialized counseling techniques and practices that will help you cope and deal with trauma and its effects on your life. I use EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) , as well as Pia Mellody’s inner child framework to treat trauma. Because trauma contributes to negative thinking, negative behaviors, and difficult emotions, counseling for trauma can help you change your thinking and behaviors, which will, in turn, impact your mood. Counseling with me is a safe place where you can explore some very difficult issues that are hindering you from the life you want to live or the person you wish to be. If you think you may struggle with trauma, please reach out to me! Untreated trauma can lead to serious life consequences, the longer it is left untreated.

As always, the take away that I want you to remember (and cling to) is that treatment is available. Healing is possible! No matter where you have been, I can help you get relief from your trauma symptoms. Remember that everyone responds to traumatic situations differently; you may be experiencing only a few of the aforementioned symptoms, or you may be experiencing many. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his/her specific trauma event. What may affect one person may not affect another person in the same way. Counseling can help you explore your trauma and find the healing you may still need. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.  I look forward to working with you!

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

Resources:

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:

The Truth About Men and Depression

The Truth About Men & Depression - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

The Truth About Men & Depression - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistAlthough women are more likely to attempt suicide due to depression, men are 4x more likely to succeed. This means that the suicide rate is 4 x greater in men than in women! I believe that talking about and raising awareness about men and depression will hopefully set in motion some necessary changes to our societal stigmas.

Certain stigmas, in our society, have become widely believed despite the fact that they are inaccurate or untrue. Last month I addressed one of these in my blog post about women who face pornography addiction–in hopes to dispel the misnomer that men are by and large the ones to become porn addicts. This month, I wish to speak to another fallacy: that women are the main ones who face depression. Last May I wrote a general post on Depression entitled “Depression is Not a Life Sentence”, Today I want to build on that foundation and hone in on a more specific group suffering from depression: MEN.

There is a wonderful book by Terrence Real entitled, I Don’t Want to Talk About It which addresses this issue head on. I highly recommend reading it if you or a male loved one is battling depression. It is a compelling read uncovering the frightening fact that just as many men face depression as women, but only a fraction get help.  He writes about how these men battling depression often go undiagnosed because they do not want to tell others for fear of no one listening or of damaging their image.

The truth is that everyone feels sad or irritable and has trouble sleeping once in a while. But these feelings pass after a little while–usually a couple of days. Depression, on the other hand, is a common yet serious mood disorder that has symptoms that do not dissipate with time. Depression affects one’s ability to feel, think, and handle daily activities.  To be diagnosed as depression, these symptoms must be experienced for at least two weeks.

Signs and symptoms of depression in men

Just like with any illness or mental illness, there are a plethora of symptoms, but the common depression symptoms include the following:

  • Anger or irritability
  • Feeling anxious or restless
  • Loss of interest in work, family, or hobbies
  • Problems with sexual desire and performance
  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering details
  • Fatigue, not being able to sleep, and/or oversleeping
  • Overeating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
  • Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing from family and friends; isolation.

Every man will respond to his depressive feelings differently. Some may exhibit several of these behaviors while others may only experience a few.

Causes of depression in men


Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of risk factors including genetics, environmental stressors (like financial problems, loss of a loved on, major life changes, or any stressful situation), and illness (particularly serious illnesses like diabetes, cancer, heart disease or Parkinson’s disease). There is no difference with how men and women arrive at depression–it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Studies suggest you are at greater risk of developing depression if you’ve suffered a severe loss as a child, an overwhelmingly stressful event as an adult, or you have a family history of depression.

Regardless of how one develops depression, men react differently than women.  When men experience depressive episodes, they retract completely from their social circles. One man reported that he did not want to get out of bed or leave the house, that his depression took over his life. He said, “Men are not supposed to be depressed. Men are supposed to be the providers, the pillar of strength, the one everyone else turns to. You can’t talk about it because…you don’t want to admit any weaknesses.” Men facing depression feel ashamed and embarrassed, which leads them to internalize their struggle with depression, close themselves off from others, and not seek professional help. This greatly affects their work performance, their relationships, as well as their self-image and self-worth. Many men who feel depressed enter into this negative cycle of denying/ignoring their symptoms, isolating themselves, experiencing diminished self-worth, and not receiving treatment. It is likely because of this that men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women!

Treatment for with depression

Now knowing that both men and women can experience depression, let’s talk about treatment. These suggestions are not gender specific. Such suggestions include spending time with friends, family, or coworkers; increasing your level of physical activity (particularly important for men who are supposed to be masculine and strong); breaking large tasks up into small ones; delaying important decisions until you feel better; keeping daily routines; and avoiding alcohol, drugs, or harmful substances. These are suggestions that will help if are not yet ready to receive professional help.

For those that have had enough and are ready to stand up to depression, here is my plea: Remember that help is available! To effectively treat depression, a combination of medication and therapy is recommended–regardless of gender.  If you are struggling with depression, it is okay to ask for help. I want to support you. I want to offer you hope! The amazing news is that researchers has proven that between talk therapy and medications, about 80 percent of depression cases can now be treated effectively–for both women and men! In reality, the risks of untreated depression far outweigh those of taking antidepressant medications under a doctor’s supervision. You do not need to carry the heavy burden of depression any longer. Please, contact me today or click here to schedule a session. You are not alone! Help is out there!

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

Resources:

Teen Mental Health: Recognize It, Talk About It, Care For It

Teen Mental Health - Cluff Counseling, Carrollton Therapist

Teen Mental Health - Cluff Counseling, Carrollton Therapist1 in 5 teens lives with a mental health condition and less than half are receiving the support he/she needs. The fear of discrimination and being viewed as different by their friends and peers is a large barrier to young people receiving mental health services. Learn the warning signs and be aware of your teen’s mental health.

When you ask a child or teen about mental health, often they will not know how to answer or will not want to talk about it. This may not seem like a big deal, but considering the staggering statistic of 1 in 5 teens living with a mental illness, this is something we must face. We need to be talking about it with our youth! We need to be mindful of the signs and symptoms so we can recognize if/when something may be awry.

One of my good friends of many years recently told me about an interesting conversation she had with her parents.  This friend of mine had suffered abuse as a child and ensuing mental health issues that landed her in a treatment center in our twenties. She told me her dad admitted to recognizing a big warning sign in his teenage daughter–a lack of range of emotions. My friend always feigned happiness. She pretended like everything was okay. Because she was such a good actress, everyone fell for it, me included. Her dad wisely said, “Children and teens are supposed to feel and exhibit a wide range of emotions. If a child is consistently only displaying one emotion, there is a problem.”

Hindsight is 20/20 for these parents. They wish they would have seen the signs. Thankfully there has been enough experience and research done to give you and I a fairly comprehensive list of criteria to be aware of. The following are warning signs of mental illness to watch out for in your child or teen:

  1. Feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks
  2. Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  3. Intense worries or fears that gets in the way of daily activities
  4. Sudden, overwhelming fear for no reason
  5. Dramatic changes in behavior (ie. if your once-ambitious or strong willed child suddenly loses desire to participate in activities he/she once did and/or is lethargic or empathetic)
  6. Plans or attempts at self-harm, or to harm others.
  7. Drastic changes in behavior, personality, sleeping, and/or eating habits
  8. Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to lose weight
  9. Significant weight loss or weight gain
  10. Severe out-of-control risk taking behavior that could cause harm to oneself or others
  11. Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
  12. Extreme difficulty concentrating or staying still
  13. Adrenaline rushes, cold sweats, and/or panic attacks

If you see these signs in your child or teen, tell someone you trust. Ask for help. A diagnosis of a mental health disorder will not define who your child is or their value. They can live a full life with their mental health struggles.

The best advice I can give to someone who has kids–especially teens–is to be aware of their mental health.  Remember, mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. Children and teens are our most vulnerable and innocent population. Watch for changes in them.  Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Get in their business. Let them know you care about and are there for them. Adolescents fear of discrimination and being viewed as different by their friends and peers is a large barrier to seeking mental health services. Not talking about mental health increases the stigma around mental health; the fewer conversations we have about mental health conditions, the more these negative perceptions endure!

I hope that learning about these warning signs educates and helps you. Many adolescents  struggle with their mental health, but do not understand what is happening to them or have the words to reach out. We must be there for them! Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns you may have. If a child or teen you know is experiencing one or more of these signs, talk with their parents immediately. Help with mental health is widely available and my door is always open. 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.

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.

Resources: