Minors, Abuse, and Confidentiality

February 26, 2013

Today’s post may come off as more of a rant and I’m sorry if it does. I have just had some frustrating experiences lately working with teenagers and possible abuse situations. In the State of Florida, (it may be the same in other states and/or countries-I know I have several subscribers outside of the U.S.- but I don’t want to make any assumptions and am choosing not to do the research here) as a counselor I am mandated to make a report to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) with the state when I have reason to suspect that a child, elderly person, or disabled person is being abused in some way. It is not our job to investigate, but just to report our suspicions and DCF is in charge of investigating. This is one of the few exceptions to confidentiality and this is the first thing I tell clients when I am seeing them for the first time.

The purpose of making counselors (and other professionals such as teachers) mandated reporters is that often times we are trusted individuals in the eyes of children and seen as a person that can be helpful to them. Many times when other people become aware of abuse they do not realize that they can make a report, who to make a report to, or if they do, there is a sense of diminished responsibility to do so as they are sure someone else has done so. Minors are also not able to make an informed decision for themselves on whether they want the information reported because they are vulnerable to pressures of outside people such as the perpetrator. The law is in effect to protect children from abuse. All of this I understand and agree with.

My frustrations, however, stem from the fact that this law often times stands in the way of individuals getting the mental health help that they need. Many times minors are afraid to tell someone, specifically a counselor, about the abuse because of the fear of it being reported. In fact, I have recently had the experience of losing clients who had reason to be in counseling because of their fear of me having to make a report to the hotline, or because we had to make a report to DCF. You may wonder why a minor may fear their abuse being reported when they should be happy to be taken out of that situation, and there are several reasons that I have heard. Minors are often afraid of the experience itself, of having to go to trial, being questioned, not being believed, and even about other people knowing about the abuse and formulating judgments about them based on the abuse. They are worried about the disruption to their life. They worry about the abuse intensifying or even being pulled out of their home. Again, you may wonder why being pulled out of their home would be a negative thing, but some fear going to a foster home that may be worse or just the fear of the change, and for others the abuse may have occurred a long time before and they no longer see themselves as in danger and may even have many other positives that out weigh the negatives in their eyes currently or in the past.

Some of these worries may be founded while others cannot be verified and may even be concluded on the fantasy of childhood. The problem is that we do not typically even get a chance to discuss these worries with the children and attempt to relieve some of these fears as they do not disclose the abuse to begin with, or do not return to counseling if they have and know that an abuse report has been made due to their fears. If a client never walks through my door or only does so once due to their fears, this obviously prevents me from helping them. And this is what is heart breaking to me.

I see the system as being broken due to the fact that it prevents these individuals from getting the help that they need and therefore they are set up to experience more abuse in the future. I guess the flip side is that if a DCF report is made and the allegations are founded, they will likely set up counseling as part of the case management. Unfortunately, however, at this point the client is often so distrustful of counselors that it becomes even harder to intervene and make a difference. I write all this because part of my role as a counselor is advocacy. I do not have answers to this problem thus far, but would love to hear other people’s views on the subject and ideas.

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Hypnotherapy- What is It?

February 20, 2013

Within the past year I received training to become a certified clinical hypnotherapist (which I now am). A lot of people I work with have either never heard of hypnotherapy or if they have, still don’t know what it is and/or entails. You can search the internet and get some clinical explanations but a lot of them can be very confusing still and many people don’t gain much clarity after reading them. Therefore, I would like to spend a little time today discussing what hypnotherapy is while trying to use more everyday language instead of all the clinical jargon (or at least explaining what it means)!

First off, when people hear the word hypnosis, many times the first thing that comes to mind is the comedy hypnosis shows. I have to admit, I love a good comedy hypnosis show and went to many while I was an undergraduate student as they seemed to have free shows frequently on campus. Hypnotherapy, however, is nothing like those shows! Although a hypnotherapist may have a little fun with the session (creating arm levitations in clients for example- meaning getting the client to raise their arm and hold it there which can have many different clinical purposes), it is nothing that would be embarrassing in the moment or in the future. There is no quacking like a duck involved!

Still I have not explained what hypnosis is. Hypnosis is simply an altered state of consciousness where you are more susceptible to suggestions. An altered state of consciousness is a state of mind different from the normal waking state. Having a daydream, dreaming, being under the influence of drugs and alcohol are all other examples of altered states of consciousness. You experience altered states of consciousness many times a day, for instance, when you are driving on autopilot, not paying attention to the mechanics of driving and sometimes even not remembering passing certain landmarks or even that so much time has past that you have actually reached your destination or how you got there.

The mind is divided into the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind is the thoughts and thought processes that we are aware of on a regular basis. The unconscious mind plays a more behind the scenes role. We are not aware of our unconscious mind and what it is doing or why it is doing it. It has access to memories and information that we are not aware of with our conscious mind. It plays a huge part in our dreaming which is a way of it processing information and emotions and trying to come up with solutions to problems. Our conscious mind frequently gets in the way of us solving our own problems or in perpetuating problems due to its’ ability to rationalize and make excuses for instance or because it does not have access to information that we need. Hypnotherapy is helpful in getting the conscious mind to “step aside” and allow the counselor to speak directly to the unconscious mind which is better able to help solve problems and is more susceptible to suggestions without being resistant.

I hope this clears up some questions you may have about hypnotherapy. I will post more in the coming weeks about its usefulness in counseling!


An Outside Perspective

February 5, 2013

As I was looking to a friend yesterday for advice on a situation that she had more experience with both professionally and personally I began to develop a new view of counseling. A few of you may have found this site by the link on my psychology today profile but I’m sure most of you did not. One of my quotes on that page is “I believe you already have the tools and knowledge necessary to improve your life and relationships, but just need assistance in utilizing them. I am able to help you through this process by looking at how you may be able to change your thoughts and behaviors for increased success.” My newest client did find me through that page and she has told me that it was that line that really drew her in. This is not the case in all counseling as some situations are more severe and need more specialized help but I am finding joy in looking at counseling in this way.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Even when we are dealing with a situation that allows us to utilize our strengths, many times our emotions and beliefs can cloud our judgment. Counseling can be helpful as the counselor is able to give an unbiased outside perspective on your situation that you may not have been able to see without someone else’s help. You may think, “well if this is all counseling is then why pay someone so much money when I can go talk to a friend?” There are a couple of reasons. First, a friend or family member is not truly unbiased as they have their own agendas and preconceived beliefs based on what they have been told in the past. Also, they are not trained to help with situations that may be more complex. Even if they have good advice, many times, people are unable to deliver it in a beneficial manner. Plus, this is not all that counseling is, it is just part of the helping equation.

Realizing this has made me really see the benefit of getting an outside perspective when I am having a difficult time with a personal situation. The situation I was getting advice on yesterday was potty training my toddler. Although I do have training in behavior modification as a therapist and really work on using my own mommy intuition, I figured my friend the certified behavior analyst was even more equipped with knowledge in this area and would be helpful to point out things that I hadn’t thought about or noticed myself. I have to admit that her words of encouragement and extra tips were what was needed to continue the process in a beneficial manner.

As for what I do for my clients, I am able to help them see their situation from different perspectives and more clearly. I am able to help them set up goals and a plan to achieve those goals. I hold them accountable for their actions. I am also able to teach new skills for communicating, dealing with depression and anxiety as well as skills necessary to deal with other mental health and relationship issues, and other life skills necessary. There is a stigma attached to seeking counseling still but I believe there should be no more stigma than there is for asking a plumber to come snake your toilet and complete other care on your house.


Hurried Holidays

December 11, 2012

1203011923There is so much to do this time of year. Not that we don’t have full schedules already throughout the year but boy do we pack even more onto our plates during the holidays. School programs, crafts, holiday parties, baking, big meals, holiday cards, shopping, wrapping, decorating, the list goes on. Not only do we put all of this on ourselves but we also feel the pressure for all of it to be perfect, or as close to perfect as we can get. In all of the hustle and bustle, we forget the true meaning of the holidays. I won’t get into any religious meanings here because everyone has different beliefs, and I’m not here to discuss religion. To me, the purpose of the holidays is being with our loved ones, cherishing them, appreciating them, and showing them that we care.

Of course there are some things that we just can’t get away from and others that we truly enjoy and don’t want to give up. My challenge to you, however, is to find just 1-2 (or more if your calendar is especially packed) “chores” or invitations that you can cross off your list this year. Really look at your priorities and decide what is most important in your life. I can’t say that I’m not guilty of trying to do too much either, but I am proud to say that I decided this year I’m not going to worry about doing Christmas cards for my friends and family (sorry everyone!) and I had to decline an invitations for a giant cookie exchange. As fun as both of those activities would have been, I had to think about what would give me the most joy while also giving me time to appreciate this time of year and the people I’m choosing to spend it with. I know everyone will be looking to make new years resolutions soon, but why not make an end of the year resolution now to be more in the present and mindful instead of rushing around being a human “doing” instead of a human “being”. For those of you that don’t know much about mindfulness and staying present, I posted Discovery Institute’s December newsletter that talks about that subject last week. You can find it here.


The Power of Gratitude

November 20, 2012

I was working with a couple recently in which one of the partners is currently experiencing depression. As I was listening to this person talk about work and life it became obvious that thought patterns were contributing to the depression. Everything was horrible and he didn’t seem to be able to identify anything that was going well, even though as an outsider I found it quite easy to notice the silver lining. There was no gratitude for what he does have going on in his life. With Thanksgiving coming up it seemed only natural for me to give an assignment relating to gratitude.

It can be so easy sometimes to get caught up in focusing on what we have to do, what is going wrong, and the things we don’t like about our life. We all have things that aren’t going “right” or as we would like, and there are two options you have. You can change or at least attempt to change your situation or look at it differently. Unfortunately we don’t always have complete control over all aspects of our life. Don’t like your job? Start looking for another one and putting in applications other places. With the economy as it is, however, it may be easier said than done to actually make a job or career change. So this is when changing your thoughts and being more grateful come into play. You mean you have a job? In this economy? You are able to provide for your family? Look at all the great experience you are getting by having to deal with difficult people. Sure makes you happy to get to go home at the end of the day right? There have to be things that you can find that are not so bad about your job that you can focus on. Perhaps you have a good supervisor or really like your coworkers or even the difference you make in people’s lives. You may not like everything, but focus on what you do like.

This can be applied to the home you live in, your children’s behavior, or anything else. The more you focus on the positives, the better you will feel. Your thoughts influence your feelings which influence your behaviors. The areas in which you put the most energy will seem larger. I’m sure you have heard the saying about making a mountain out of a mole hill, well this is only a bad thing when that mole hill was negative to begin with. Focus on the positive mole hills in your life and they will begin to feel like wonderful, miraculous mountains that you are grateful for having.

I hope everyone has a great and grateful Thanksgiving this week!


One of Those Mornings

October 30, 2012

Good morning (or afternoon, evening- whenever you are reading this) everyone! Today has been “one of those mornings” for me. After waking up late (which isn’t altogether a bad thing) and having to rush to get my little guy to school on time today while he and even the dog resisted my efforts, I have been left feeling like a rushed mess! Now as much as I would like to use this as a venting session so everyone can sympathize with how rough this day has already been, I won’t be doing that! In fact, I won’t even be doing that on my personal facebook account. The reason for that is I believe in the power of the laws of attraction and I believe the more people who know that I am having a bad morning, who read it and believe it too, the more energy the universe will be putting into making sure that comes true. Believe me, I already know it is right and have put enough of my energy into it while I was in the midst of it, despite some of my efforts to slow down and rethink the situation (we all are human right?)

Now that my child is off to school and I have a mere 20 minutes to write this before I have to go back up to the school, I am going to use it to refocus myself for a better day and help you all learn how to do it yourself as well. Now, looking back on my morning there were some things that I was able to do effectively in order to encourage positive outcomes while at other times I failed! I would like to start here since I think it is important to learn how to stop the negatives before it builds too much. For example, my little guy is only two, so still a youngin’ and normally loves going to “school”. For some reason today, however, he did not want to go and I found my frustration levels rising as he resisted getting dressed while realizing how late we were already running. I stopped myself from trying to force the clothes on him, however, and began talking up all the things they had planned at school today and he soon began to get excited as well and let me get him dressed. You can use this in other situations by stopping for a second to regroup, resisting your own frustrated urges, and formulating a new plan that will be more effective. The effect that this had was really quite large as I felt less stressed and frustrated having my son being more compliant. If I had forced his clothes on him the both of our levels of frustration would have increased and he would have fought me more, which in turn would have lead to more frustration, negative thoughts, and annoyance on my part and most likely increased bad outcomes for the morning. Now, I didn’t succeed at this with the dog when she went further down the road than she ever does to go potty while I was getting my son into the car and it back fired on me as she sensed my frustration and proceeded to cross the road and resist instead of coming right home like usual. It would have been so much easier if I had only acted like I wasn’t so annoyed and called her back like nothing was wrong as she would have come running back without fear of being in trouble. So again, the overall lesson here is to stop yourself when you find you are reacting out of frustration, anger, and stress, regroup even for just a second, and then formulate a more effective plan.

Once you have a breather, you must start to look on the bright side of things and work on telling yourself that things aren’t so bad, or even if they were, that they don’t have to continue that way. For instance, my bright side of the morning is that I didn’t run out of gas even though I decided to not stop for more, even though I was on empty, until after I dropped my son off at school (ha, I could have run out and been stuck on the side of the road in the cold with a toddler who is potty training and am very thankful that did not happen!!) I am also choosing to have a more pleasant day from here on out. We have a fun Halloween party planned at school and then a playdate with my sister-in-law and niece. The rushing and craziness of the morning is past me and the rest of the day will be fun and relaxed. Speaking of which, I now have to go get ready for a wonderful rest of the day as I have 5 min before I need to leave the house! Here’s to hoping you are able to turn your bad moments around and not let them last an entire day!


Time to Relax

April 23, 2012

North Carolina RoadAs I am typing this I am supposed to be on vacation. My usual definition of vacation is fitting in as many things as I possibly can. For this trip in North Carolina that would mean hiking, shopping, visiting downtown, and more hiking. Unfortunately I am sitting at the table writing this blog post instead. Well, the part that is real unfortunate is the reason. I was the lucky one who got sick on vacation and my cough and congestion doesn’t make hiking an easy task in high elevations. Instead of dwelling on the fact that I am stuck at the house while everyone is out playing, I am choosing to relish the quiet. I have a 20 month old boy and we took this trip with two other couples, one of which also has a 20 month old boy. You can imagine my life does not give me much opportunity for quiet and solace, which makes it easy to keep up the busy pace. This is giving me the chance to catch up on magazines, take a nap, and relax, all things I normally don’t get to do.

You may be wondering why I am choosing to share this with you on a mental health and relationship blog. See, even I need reminders to take time out of my busy schedule and relax sometimes and to engage in a little self care. I could have chosen to go along for the ride today along the windy mountain roads with the toddlers and adult children, putting up with the crying, whining, and car sickness on top of the cold I am dealing with but I chose not to be super mom. This is me being honest with you about how even the advice I give out regularly and sounds so easy, even I struggle with. This is me giving you permission to relax just for a few minutes and recoup from a long day so you don’t end up overwhelmed, stressed, and with a weakend immune system! That is all for now, it is time for me to take in the mountain views, the fall of snow (from the warm confines of the couch) and take a nap before the chaos of our vacation arrives back home!!