Depression Is Not A Life Sentence

Cluff Counseling | Treating Depression

Treating Depression - Cluff Counseling, DFW Marriage and Family TherapySociety has made leaps and bounds in understanding depression; it used to be misunderstood as a common ailment of the weak and a manifestation of their inability to overcome all of the emotions that fell under the once-ambiguous umbrella of “feeling sad and/or tired.” We now know–and have research to boot–that depression is very real and surprisingly common.

Last month I wrote this post in which I hoped to destigmatize mental illness. 1 in 5 adults have a mental illness–a health condition involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior that is associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities. What many of us do not realize, however, is that depression is a form of mental illness–one of the most common, in fact. Chances are high that you or someone you know has experienced depression. You may find it surprising to know that 1 in 3 women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime! While depression is far more common than we realize, the good news is that it is also one of the most treatable mental illnesses.

It is likely you know someone with depression, or have experienced it yourself.  Depression is near-constant feelings of sadness and apathy and can make itself manifest at any time, though it typically appears during the late teens to mid-20s. It may be caused by biochemistry, genetics, personality, environmental factors, age, and even gender. (Stay tuned for my future blog post about mental illness and gender.) A dear friend of mine wrote the following about her depression: “Living with depression is like having a constant high-pitched ringing in your ears that won’t stop, or a person who walks too close behind you and keeps bumping into you without stepping back.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms range from but are not limited to the following:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

It is important to note that depression is different from grief and bereavement in the sense that depression is constant for (at least) two weeks, whereas the depression symptoms found in grieving the loss of a job or death of a loved one will dissipate slowly with time. Simply “feeling depressed” is on one end of the continuum, with a major depressive episode on the other end, and varying degrees of depression in between. You can feel depressed without having depression.

As I mentioned, depression is among the most treatable of mental illnesses. The first step to healing is seeing a family physician or psychiatrist to rule out other illnesses. Because several medical conditions like thyroid problems, a brain tumor, or vitamin deficiency mimic symptoms of depression, it is important to have a thorough medical evaluation. Once depression is diagnosed, it can be treated with medication (to balance out the chemicals in the brain), and various forms of psychotherapy, including DBT and CBT. A combination of psychotropic medication and counseling is often the most effective form of treatment. Of course, the classic self-help and coping mechanisms–exercising regularly, getting quality sleep, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol–are essential to practice for a balanced, healthy life (read my recent post about self-help). With proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with depression will overcome it.

Depression is a very real illness but help is readily available. You are not alone in this… there is hope! There is healing and happiness, and a life free of that high-pitched ringing in your ear. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, set up your first appointment with me today. Please do not be dragged down by the feelings of self-loathing and deprecation that depression often invites; you are worthy of love, happiness, and life. Depression is treatable; take the first steps towards a healthier, happier you! Contact me today.


The Power Behind Vulnerability

The Power Behind Vulnerability | Marriage & Family Therapy

The Power Behind Vulnerability | Marriage & Family Therapy Dallas, TX

“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen… to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.’”

-Brené Brown

Vulnerability is a powerful, yet misunderstood concept. In our society, vulnerability is viewed as a weakness–something we should avoid and not learn about. When I think of vulnerable individuals, however, I do not think of downtrodden, susceptible, needy, or neglected beings. Instead, I think of my amazing clients: a husband leaning on his wife for support while he battles debilitating depression; sex-addicts relearning how to have an emotionally intimate relationship with their partners; battered women re-adjusting their paradigms to see themselves as valuable; or teens challenging peer pressure to realize their worth. I see those who are “vulnerable” as brave, open, and authentic; willing to be comfortable in their own imperfect skin and take life on as they are. It is this vulnerability that allows these individuals to have meaningful, honest relationships–both with themselves and with others. I refer to vulnerability as the “underlying, ever-present, under-current of our natural state,” as David Whyte puts it; the ability to show our raw, true selves–flaws and all. My purpose of this post is to explain how welcoming, instead of numbing, vulnerability can cure most relationship ailments.

Brené Brown did a quick poll on Twitter asking people what made them feel vulnerable; within 90 minutes, she received 150 answers of common situations we can all relate to–having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. You will notice that each of those are interpersonal examples–meaning each is an instance where at least two people are interacting. This is because vulnerability is at the very core of relationships! Unfortunately, too often we become consumed by how others perceive us or how we measure up compared to those around us…so we let our automatic defense mechanism kick in: we numb our emotions. We block out painful feelings like embarrassment, grief, shame, fear, and disappointment to combat being vulnerable. The issue with doing this, however, is that there is no such thing as “selective numbing”–it is physically impossible to block out only negative emotions without blocking all emotions. Brené says, “When we numb those [hard emotions], we [also] numb joy, we numb gratitude,…we numb happiness.”

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, one of my areas of expertise is relationships; I find fulfillment in helping my clients strengthen and improve their relationships with others and with themselves. I have seen countless clients who have resorted to numbing their emotions because they do not know how to care for themselves when they experience pain. Consequently, they miss out on the full spectrum of feelings that meaningful relationships offer, including and especially positive emotions. Yes, being vulnerable opens us up to feelings of hurt, rejection and sadness, but it also means we can have more happiness and satisfaction in our relationships. Our relationships can be so much more fulfilling as we welcome our imperfections and allow ourselves to truly be seen!

How does one begin to welcome vulnerability? First, adopt the unquestionable notion that you are worthy of love. There is nothing you had to do to earn it, and thus there is nothing you can do to take that worthiness away. Second, know that you (and your friend/sister/partner/spouse) are imperfect beings, prone to mistakes, misdeeds, and miscommunication; expecting perfection is the quickest way to extinguish vulnerability. I will expand on these ideas further in upcoming blog posts.

Brené says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.” Believing this will give us the courage we need to be authentic (read: vulnerable) in our relationships–to be honest about who and how we are. I have seen firsthand how numbing emotion to curb vulnerability stifles relationships, whereas welcoming vulnerability makes relationships thrive and progress. If you would like to learn how to be more vulnerable in your relationships, contact me today to set up your first session.

Additional Resources:
David Whyte, “Vulnerability”
Ted Talk: Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

The Leading Cause of Addiction Is Not What You Think

Addiction Counseling | Anxiety

Addiction Counseling, Dallas, TXWhat causes addiction? Many would guess it is the substance or behavior itself and that one gets hooked to something by doing/using it repetitively.  For years, science agreed with this response, but current research has shown that almost everything we think we know about addiction is false.  I invite you to look at the bigger picture, with me, to understand why our society is reaching for these substances and turning to these behaviors in the first place. It is not because we truly want to play meaningless videogames or become a slave to drugs or porn, by rather it is because we lack connection. We turn to addictive behaviors because we need to bond. As I mentioned in my previous post about relationships, humans have an innate need to be close to others; when that need is not met, we inevitably look elsewhere. My purpose in this blog post is to expose the true cause of addiction: the absence of connection.

In this short yet highly informative YouTube video, we are given an overview of a science experiment from the 70’s called “Rat Park.” Initially, rats were placed in a cage with two water bottles–one normal and the other laced with cocaine. As you might guess, the rats became obsessed with the drugged water and eventually died from continual consumption. While Bruce Alexander–a professor of Psychology from Simon Fraser University–was working on this project, he quickly realized that the rats were practically in solitary confinement with nothing to do but do drugs! He built Rat Park, which was basically rat heaven–a lush cage with colored balls, tunnels to scamper down, plenty of rat friends, loads of interaction, as well as the two water bottles, one of which had cocaine. Surprisingly enough, the rats hardly used the drugged water, and none of them overdosed. These researchers made a striking conclusion about how addictions are formed–it is not the chemicals themselves…it is our environment that ultimately influences whether or not we participate in addictive behavior.

Humans have an inherent need to bond and connect (think amae). When we are happy and healthy in our environment, we bond with those around us and form meaningful relationships. But when we cannot (because of trauma, isolation, etc), we will start bonding with anything that will give us a sense of relief–it could be constant use of our smart-phone, video games, gambling, pornography, or harmful substances. We are driven to bond with something because that is part of our human nature!

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection. The cure for addiction is not simply to stop the behavior or substance, such as pornography or cocaine. The path out of addiction is to form healthy bonds, to connect with people you want to be present with and want in your life. If you or someone you love is turning to addiction because of a lack of meaningful connection, contact me today to schedule your first session. The way out of addiction is steep and hard, but I can assure you that it will be worth it!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post about how we can change our outlook on addiction as a society!

Self-care: Is it Selfish?

Dallas Marriage and Family Therapist

Self-care | Cluff Counseling, Dallas Marriage and Family TherapistLife can be draining. We are constantly surrounded by a barrage of common, everyday stressors like financial strain; employment, unemployment or deployment; addiction; sickness; or familial discord. If we are not careful, life’s demands can overwhelm, frustrate, or discourage us. Self-care is a tried-and-true method prescribed by therapists, and other professionals, to help clients improve their overall health. In this post, I will explain how self-care is not a selfish use of time, but actually one of the best ways to improve your overall health. Keep reading and I will give a few ideas for how you can improve your self-care today!

Any string instrumentalist can tell you the importance of loosening the strings of your instrument when it is not in use. When a violin, viola, cello, or double bass is put in its case to be stored, the strings need to be loosened; then, when it is time to play again, the musician will tighten the strings and adjust the tuneage. This ensures that there is not constant, damaging pressure on the strings or the instrument itself that would impede it from playing optimally. Self-care is to humans what “loosening the strings” is to a string instrument–a rest, a break, a reprieve. It is not selfish, self-indulgence or self-pampering. It is care provided for you, by you. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. It is about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. Self care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. It is vitally important to our overall health, yet we often fail to make time for it.

Most of us, myself included, could improve on how we take care of ourselves. We run ourselves ragged fulfilling our responsibilities and obligations at work, at home, at church, or with our family and friends. We neglect ourselves! When we do this, we see the things that are most important to us–such as our health, our relationships, our career and our life goals–negatively affected. When we live a balanced life, we are able to accomplish our to-do list and not feel emotionally drained, depleted of energy, and lacking in motivation at the end of the day.

So how well are you treating yourself? Use the following questions to identify areas of self-care you are successful in and areas you could improve in:

  • Am I getting between 6-8 hours of sleep a night?
  • Am I eating 3 balanced meals a day?
  • Am I saying “no” to extraneous responsibilities (when applicable)?
  • Am I exercising 2-3 times a week?
  • Am I making and maintaining meaningful relationships with those in my circle of support?
  • Am I making time for hobbies?
  • Am I taking time to relax?
  • Am I keeping my mind sharp by reading good books, playing word puzzles or seeking to educate myself further in areas that interest me?
  • Do I know what triggers my bad moods and am I actively working to remove those triggers?
  • Do I know how to express my emotions in healthy ways that don’t hurt myself or others?
  • Have I established spiritual or religious practices and do I practice them consistently?

If you were able to answer yes to the majority of these questions, then you are well on your way to practicing good self-care. If you answered no to any of them, you know where to start. Be intentional about your self-care–literally schedule it into your day! And please, start small with behaviors you can reasonably implement without overwhelming yourself. Remember, self-care should leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, not more stressed with one more thing on your plate!

I have seen clients make remarkable progress in their sessions with me when they correctly and consistently practice self-care. If your figurative strings are loosened at the appropriate times, you will be able to perform to the best of your ability when you need to. We can all improve our self-care. Let’s start today and give ourselves a little bit of a break from the rigorous lives we lead.

If you have any questions on how you can implement self-care into your life, please feel free to contact me. Similarly, if you would like help formulating an effective and personalized self-care plan, schedule your first session with me today!

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Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness

Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness

Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness | Cluff Counseling, Dallas Mental Health TherapistDo you shy away when you hear the words mental illness? For years, there has been a stigma about mental illness in our society. It was taboo–something uncommon and misunderstood; some even ventured as far as to say it was made up by the “weak” as a ploy to receive attention. However, over the past two decades, much has been learned about mental illness and a fair amount of resources have been developed to educate mental and medical health professionals.  Mental illnesses are very real; in fact, 43.8 million, or 18.5% of US citizens are affected. Mental illness influences the way one thinks, feels, behaves, and relates to others and to his/her surroundings. Those with mental illness often feel tense, anxious, and/or sad to the point that it is difficult for them to function normally.  That is no way to live! If you feel you or someone you love may have an undiagnosed mental illness, now is the time to get help. My purpose in writing this post is to increase understanding and awareness of mental illness in order to help you or someone you know who is suffering. Let’s begin with some basics on mental illness:

  1. What is a mental illness? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Mental illnesses come in different types and with varying degrees of severity. The most common types are depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, trauma and eating disorders.
  2. Who has a mental illness? While some studies show that mental illness can be hereditary, we are all susceptible. In fact, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year! Mental illness can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, background or other aspect of cultural identity. It can occur at any age, but 50% of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24.
  3. How do you get a mental illness? Although the exact cause of most mental illness is not known, researchers are finding that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of the following factors and not personal weakness or a character defect (as was previously believed):
    a. Heredity (genetics passed on from affected family members)
    b. Biology (imbalance of neurotransmitters)
    c. Psychological trauma (emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; a significant early loss; neglect)
    d. Environmental factors (death or divorce, a dysfunctional family life, changing jobs or schools, substance abuse)
  4. Are mental illnesses treatable? Certainly! Much progress has been made the last two decades to better understand mental illness and how to treat it.  A full recovery from a mental illness is not simply a matter of will and self-discipline. With therapy and/or medication, a full recovery is absolutely possible.

I hope that better understanding mental illness will remove the stigma and allow more people to seek the treatment they need. It is very real and it is very treatable. If you suffer from mental illness, I want you to know that there is hope! There is nothing shameful about a mental illness, and there are a myriad of resources available to you today–the foremost being a trained and experienced therapist to be your coach and advocate along the way.  Start treatment early and be an active participant in your own recovery process. Contact me today to set up your first appointment!


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The Most Forgotten of the Human Needs

The Most Forgotten of the Human Needs | Marriage & Therapy

The Most Forgotten of the Human Needs: Relationships | DFW Marriage & TherapyHave you ever experienced such pain or heartache in a relationship that you have sworn off future friendships or relationships? Has your trust or confidence in someone been shattered to the point that you never wanted to open up to anyone ever again? I think it is safe to say that all of us have been through a bad breakup or had an interaction with a friend, coworker, or family member that has left us feeling discouraged, rejected, or alone. In the moment we may have thought we would be better off living a life without ties to other people. But in the end, we nearly always end up making friends or falling in love with someone new. Why do we do that? Would you believe me if I told you that we legitimately need relationships in our lives in order to thrive and be happy?

A relationship is defined as the way in which two or more concepts, ideas, or humans are connected–in the case of humans, that connection could be through blood, marriage, sex, or friendship. This state of being connected functions optimally when both parties are mutually striving for closeness; when either side is withholding time, honesty, intimacy, or open communication, the relationship is strained.  I chose to be a therapist and work with couples and families because I deeply value relationships. I have witnessed tremendous healing when a client has strong bonds in their life. Although it takes a great deal of time, effort, and energy to maintain and improve relationships, humans have an innate biological and emotional need to be close to others. Brené Brown said it best, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children.”

Believe it or not, human biology is involved in the formation of meaningful relationships. You may have noticed your adrenaline pump, palms sweat, breathing get shallow, skin feel hot, or pupils dilate when you are with people you care about. Less noticeable biological activity is that our amygdala (the center of the brain where emotion is processed) gets highly active as we interact with others. We produce the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter dopamine as well as oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” or the hormone related to bonding.  Interacting with others physically makes our bodies feel good. We are literally wired to connect and form meaningful relationships with others!

We also have an emotional need to form and maintain relationships. I have never forgotten about a particularly interesting lecture where one of my college Professors described a Japanese concept called “amae” (甘え). Amae is the need to belong; the desired to be loved, to have someone take care of us, or even the unconscious need to rely on others. This amae is cross-cultural; American psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary subscribe to what they call the “belongingness hypothesis”, which states that people have a basic psychological and emotional need to feel closely connected to others, and that caring, affectionate bonds from close relationships are a major part of human behavior. We would rather have close relationships (even those marked by distress, conflict, or abuse) than permanently separate ourselves from those people (through breakups, divorce, death). Though unconscious, our emotional need to belong is incredibly strong!

Although relationships carry immense emotional weight, we need them in our lives. After all their research, Baumeister and Leary surmised: “It seems fair to conclude that human beings are fundamentally and pervasively motivated by a need to belong, that is, by a strong desire to form and maintain enduring interpersonal attachments.” If you are struggling with an important relationship in your life, and you want to make steps to rectify that bond, schedule a session with me today.

P.S. My first post in the month of May will delve into how the lack of meaningful connection can actually lead to addiction. Stay tuned!

University of Rhode Island: “Love: A Biological, Psychological and Philosophical Study”
Science of Relationships: “The ‘Need to Belong’–Part of What Makes Us Human”

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Are You Searching for Fulfillment?

Searching for Fulfillment | Marriage & Family Therapist

Searching for Fulfillment | Marriage & Family TherapistSteve Jobs once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I have found that doing great work is never easy, but it is nearly always fulfilling. As a therapist for 10+ years, I can honestly say that I love my job. I readily admit I do not have all the answers and that my work constantly challenges me, but I find great satisfaction through being a therapist. Although I think being a therapist is pretty great, I am not naive to think it is the only thing out there that can bring fulfillment. What do you do that brings you fulfillment?  If you struggle with answering the question, please do not feel ashamed. You are not alone. Instead, ask yourself, “Where would I like to feel more fulfilled in life?” Common responses are careers and relationships. If those areas seem too daunting, simply start by asking yourself, “What can I do TODAY to begin to feel more fulfilled?” For further guidance, reach out to a counselor or friend.

In honor of Counseling Awareness Month, The Mighty features an article where counselors share their top reason for why they love what they do. These therapists are doing great work, and are finding immense fulfillment because of it. I could relate to many of their responses, and I want to share some of their words with you as an example of people who are fulfilled by what they do.  The overarching theme in these responses was healing; out of these 25 experienced therapists, 11 report that helping others heal and live better lives is what brings them fulfillment. While reading the responses below of these people (counselors) who are passionate about what they do, think about what you are passionate about and why you are passionate about it!

  1. “Rather than just feeling better, my focus is on helping clients live better.” —Deanna Kasper
  2. “I have the privilege of participating in the healing process. By leading people down the path of acceptance and forgiveness, they find meaning in their pain.” —Jennifer Bradley
  3. “Counseling is not just about helping people to solve their immediate problems; it’s about helping them to build a better future.” —Cindy Goehring
  4. “Healing is a combination of honoring strengths, empathizing with difficulties, and challenging someone to grow in spite of their obstacles.” —Cristina Andriani
  5. “It takes a tremendous amount of courage to commit to transformation. Let’s take the first step together.” —Alicia Zielinski Straub
  6. “Kintsukuroi: The art of repairing with the understanding that pieces are more beautiful for having been broken.” —Bill ‘Eli’ Owenby
  7. “I can help you learn how to relate to your struggles in new ways, so your thoughts and feelings have less impact and influence over you.” —Charlene Lenkart
  8. “You deserve an opportunity to write your story.” —Christina Vanchina
  9. “Re-framing thoughts and considering behavioral actions proactively are difficult feats. I can empower you with the tools you need to succeed.” —Morgan Rodgers
  10. “Once we are able to connect feelings of anger, fear, anxiety or depression to our grief and loss, the healing can begin.” —Lisa Simon
  11. “Everyone has a source of inner freedom. Counseling can help you find it.” —Margaryta Johnson

If you are looking to feel more fulfilled with your life, spend more of your time doing the things you love.  It really is that simple. Personally, I am passionate about being a marriage, addictions and trauma therapist. It motivates me to do my own work and follow my own counsel, and I enjoy getting to know people at their core level. As I said in my first post a few weeks ago, I find it sacred and rewarding to witness the personal transformations of my clients as they prepare to move on to the next phase of their life–healthier and more fulfilled. There is nothing quite like being a therapist… I love my job!

If you struggle with finding fulfillment in your life or in your relationships, please reach out to me.

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Seven Questions Your Therapist Doesn’t Want You to Ask

7 Questions Your Therapist Doesn’t Want You to Ask

...but that the well-informed client will want to know7 Questions Your Therapist Doesn’t Want You to Ask

Have you ever been asked an awkward question that you are unsure how to answer? Well, therapists get those all the time! So often, in fact, that I have spent time to compile my typical responses for when people are brave enough to ask.  I completely understand where you are coming from–you are anxious, coming into therapy trusting me with something vulnerable. So when you ask difficult questions, such as the ones below,  I am impressed–it shows me that you are invested in your therapy and the progress in our sessions. Because I know these questions can take courage to ask, I am devoting my blog today to answering them all at once.

Q:  How can you help me if you have not been married/don’t have children/are not an addict, etc?

A: Fantastic question! This is one I understandably get a lot, as I’m not yet married or may not have experienced exactly what you’re going through. Here’s an analogy I love to use: A doctor does not need to have had a broken leg to know how to fix it.  In last week’s post, I talked about my extensive education, research, certifications, and training I have received in order to be an experienced therapist. I have been in the middle of hundreds of marriages totalling thousands of hours of counseling; I know what works! My job is not to share personal biases or experiences from my own life (like what I have done to achieve the perfect marriage), but to be an unbiased, third party observer and use my education, research, experiences, and skills gained through counseling others to help you reach your goals.

Q: Will you respect my values and/or spiritual beliefs when they are different from your own?

A: Yes, absolutely. As a religious woman, this is something I feel very strongly about. When you come into my office, I leave my beliefs at the door and adopt your values. For example, based on personal values, I have chosen not to smoke. But if you choose to smoke marijuana on a daily basis, I am not going to tell you that’s a bad decision or that you are a terrible person! My job will be to point out if your choices are steering you away from what you are ultimately wanting. If smoking marijuana is affecting you from keeping your job, for example, then I may point out that the drug is interfering with your ability to think clearly.  While I will never expect you to live according to my beliefs and quit smoking, I may advise that you be smart about when you smoke (ie. during the weekend or other times that will not interfere with your work performance). My job is to help you make the most of your life.  I’m not going to project my values on you; instead, I am going to meet you where you are and we will work together to get where you want to be!

Q: Have you seen a therapist for your own issues?

A: I see a lot of therapists as clients, and many of them ask if i have “done my own work.” Without going into details about what specifically I have had to work through, yes, I have certainly invested time in self-betterment. In many of the trainings I have been through, it was required that all attendees bring a piece of personal work to process during the training. If I felt like I did not completely work through that piece by the end of the training, I sought additional resources to help me fully resolve it. In order to be the best therapist I can be, I have to do my own work. I’ve been on the other side of the couch and I can honestly say that I understand where you are coming from.

Q: Do you practice what you preach?

A: You bet I do! Well, I try. I give my clients homework–things like practicing mindfulness or self-care, watching their diet and sleeping patterns, reaching out to their social network for connection, processing/identifying their emotions, etc. And yes, I do all the same things I ask my clients to do. I am not perfect…some days I fail miserably!  But I will redouble my efforts the next day–which is what I will expect of you when you fall short.

Q: Why do I feel worse than I did before I started therapy?

A: Although this is actually quite common, I can see why it would be frustrating for a new client to feel this way. In therapy, I’m going to help you work through issues you have ignored or numbed to protect yourself. Reliving difficult experiences or using coping mechanisms instead of resorting to an addiction can be uncomfortable and/or overwhelming at first. But this is good! It means there is movement where you used to be stuck. It’s a positive thing. I don’t expect it to last forever. A good analogy for this is the first time you took a new medication–did you feel some side effects before it kicked in and did its job? As you continued to take the pill, you likely began to feel more of the positive and less of the negative side effects.  Therapy can be hard, but these painful “side effects” will only be temporary; the “medication” (aka the work you have put into therapy) will kick in and you will experience the satisfaction that comes from your hard work.

Q: Will you let me know when I’m done with therapy or will you prolong my sessions so I keep paying you?

A: I am sure you can think of a million things to spend your money on other than therapy, so I admire you for even considering to come see me.  I always tell clients that my job is to work myself out of the job. As I said in this post, I experience such joy seeing clients progress, get healthier, and move closer towards their goals. (It is important to note that the amount of sessions required for each person and/or situation varies. There is no set time frame, but we will go at your pace until we both feel that you have fully worked through your issue.) So no, I absolutely will not “hold on” to you for monetary gain. I want you to move onto the next stage of life healthier, happier, and independently. Plus, as you “graduate” and leave counseling, that makes room for someone new. (Not to mention that I would probably get bored if I saw you forever…haha!)

Q: Why did you specialize in sex addiction and why do you like being a therapist?

A: Such a valid question. Let me just preface by explaining how I got interested in it: I was working at an agency where I saw numerous clients with signs of sex addictions. I did not have the needed skills to appropriately address or assess this piece of their treatment. I was led to seek additional training in sex addiction, and to working at an inpatient treatment center to further my knowledge, before moving into the private practice sector. I continue to see many sex addicts, male and female, in my office. Why? Because I have found that these dear people have the most tender hearts! And I find deep satisfaction helping them find their worth–they make mistakes (don’t we all?), but that does not make them bad people. I love reminding them of that!

On a more general note, I chose to be a therapist and work with couples and families because I deeply value those relationships. I absolutely love that my life’s work is helping others improve relationships I esteem so highly.

Do you have a question you would like me to answer? Click here to contact me today!

Choosing the Right Therapist for You

Melissa Cluff, Cluff Counseling

Melissa Cluff, Marriage & Family Therapist, Cluff CounselingIn last week’s post, I talked about 5 things I want my future clients to know. This week, I’d like to address how to choose the right therapist for you–an essential element in having a successful experience in therapy.

The first two steps to choosing the right therapist for you are 1) being aware of which personality traits you connect well with, and 2) knowing what concerns you would like to work through with your therapist. First, take a moment to think about what characteristics you are looking for in a therapist, remembering that these characteristics can help make therapy a safe place for you. To give you an example, here are a few adjectives I use to describe myself as a counselor: cheerful, compassionate, nurturing, knowledgeable, available, humble, and direct.

The second part of finding the right therapist for you will depend on your needs and goals–why are you seeking therapy in the first place? What are you hoping to accomplish? Some of the more common reasons individuals seek counseling are for anxiety, depression, codependency, divorce support, family conflict resolution, and help during periods of transition or adjustment. In addition to these topics, I specialize in relationships, addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma. I have sought years of supplementary certifications so I can be an experienced, knowledgeable, and qualified therapist in these three areas.

Below I will break down some of my “letters” (or the abbreviated qualifications) you see behind my name, my additional certifications, and where each one fits into my specializations. If, after reading this, you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT, EMDR-II

  • MS: Master of Science


  • LMFT: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
    Marriage and family therapists are trained in Family Systems Theory. The idea here is that individuals cannot be understood in isolation from one another; I must look at all of the relationships a client is involved in, not just at the individual(s) that come into my office. Because I am a firm believer in the centrality of family and committed romantic relationships to and in one’s health, I devote time in focusing on my client’s relationships, and how each plays a role in shaping who they are.
    PREPARE/ENRICH certified: I am trained to administer PREPARE/ENRICH, the leading relationship inventory and skill-building program. These assessments help couples identify and strengthen growth areas in the relationship and I have found them to be extremely helpful with my pre- and post- marital couples. (Click here for more information on the assessment itself.)


  • CSAT: Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist I trained with Patrick Carnes through the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). Being a CSAT allows me to better assess, diagnose, and treat sex addicts and their partners compassionately and effectively. I worked with addicts in both in- and outpatient environments before I began my private practice. Using the knowledge I have gained as a CSAT, I have led therapeutic groups for female addicts, male addicts, and female partners of sex addicts, as well as, facilitated recovery intensives for couples. (Click here for more information on IITAP.)


  • EMDR-II: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (Level 1 & 2 trained) EMDR is a model of treatment that works to decrease the intensity of emotions connected to a traumatic memory. 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 the clients. (Click here for additional information on EMDR.)”
  • I acquired additional training in trauma, and inner child work through Pia Mellody’s Post Induction Therapy (PIT). PIT is a therapeutic treatment approach assuming that childhood trauma, including child abuse and neglect, is the origin of developmental immaturity. It is often used in inpatient and intensive outpatient settings. I have found that using this model with my clients, in the later stages of treatment, has been extremely effective in fostering ongoing sobriety, reduction of trauma symptoms, and relational healing.

I share this information not to overwhelm or impress you, but to inform you. I have spent the last decade of my life acquiring the education and certifications needed to be the qualified, supportive therapist you deserve. I am warm, compassionate, attentive, and honest. I specialize in relationships, addictions, and trauma. If you are seeking professional help in one of those areas and think I have the attributes you would like to see in a therapist, give me a call.

A Letter From Your Future Therapist: 5 Things I Want My Clients To Know

5 Things I Want My Clients To Know | Cluff Counseling, DFW Marriage and Family TherapyDear future client,

There’s a stigma in our society that one doesn’t need to see a therapist until there’s an overwhelming reason to do so–like a tragic accident, infidelity, or hitting rock bottom with an addiction. Seeking therapy isn’t easy, but it could be one of the best decisions you ever make. Have you ever felt emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged, lonely, or anxious? Disconnected from someone important to you?  Distant from the person you want to be? If you have–which, I believe, we all do at times–here are a few things I want you to know:

  1. I think you are remarkably brave for seeking help. I absolutely do not think you’re a weak person because you need counseling; as I stated in my first post, I deeply admire my clients for having the courage to make changes in their lives in order to be healthier and happier.
  2. I’m not going to “psychoanalyze” you. My job is to be curious. This includes asking some difficult questions so we (especially you) understand why you’re acting and thinking as you are. I’m not going to judge your character or your future based off of the vulnerable things we will discuss and explore in our sessions.
  3. I will not be surprised when (not if) you slide backward to old behavior patterns. This is natural, and part of the change process. I believe we learn the most about ourselves when we allow mistakes and don’t expect perfection. Personal and relational transformation will take time–but it will be so worth it. Please don’t give up or become discouraged. You deserve to see this journey to the finish line!
  4. I will never “fix” your problems or your life. That’s up to you. I will not spew advice at you nor tell you what to do. Through our sessions we’ll talk about where you are, where you want to be, and how you will get there. Together we’ll make a reasonable game plan with practical steps for you to achieve your goals.
  5. Trust my intentions–I want you to have the life you want. I chose this profession because I truly love helping people find lasting healing. I am your advocate! We will work at your pace to overcome your challenges and weaknesses so you can be the best possible version of yourself. You deserve to be happy and I want that for you!

Lastly, I want you to know that increased happiness is just one of the many outcomes you can enjoy from therapy. You can also experience:  A greater understanding of your needs and how to fight for them in a healthy way; the ability to make tough, thought-out decisions instead of simply reacting in the moment; more connection, vulnerability, and meaning in important relationships; the strength to fight off painful emotions when they are present in your life; the presence of mind to forecast and overcome potential stumbling blocks in relationships and in your recovery; and–best of all–the chance to live more congruently with your true, happy self.

Call me! I am excited to start building our therapeutic relationship. I promise that when you look back on where you are now and where you’ll be after our sessions, you’ll wonder why you waited this long.

Sincerely your future therapist,

Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT, EMDR-II

P.S. Tune in next week for my post on how to choose the right therapist, and why my specialized skills and training will be the best fit for your needs!

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