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.


Is It Really Optional?

January 29, 2013

 

I was out at a science museum the other day with my little one and some other family members. I wasn’t feel all that well so I decided to hang back a bit while my hubby and his mom kept an eye on my son. Several times as I was sitting back, I decided to engage in one of America’s favorite pastimes, people watching. I know in one of my last posts I talked about not being so harsh on parents in the limelight as it puts more pressure on parents in general to try to be perfect. I am not retracting that at all but I was amazed at how some of the parents I saw allowed their children to walk all over them and everyone else around them. It made me realize the importance of what you say to your children and how you say it, as well as brought to my attention more how parents start the friend role with their children versus a parenting/teaching role even from an early age. Therefore I wanted to spend a little time today to talk about how to phrase your requests to your young children.

Making appropriate requests

One of the situations I witnessed was a father with a son approximately 4 years old. The boy was playing with something for a good amount of time while other children were waiting for their turn. The lady in charge was asking the child to let the next child have a turn while he essentially ignored her. The father stated to his child “Are you ready to let the next kid have a turn?” Can you imagine his response? I believe the child ignored his father too but if he were to answer him, the answer would have been a resounding “NO!” I am all about giving children options when it is appropriate but in this case whether he stops playing was not an option, and the father phrased it as if it were. It would have been more effective to first get down on the boy’s level and tell him what needs to be done in this situation such as “It is time to give the next child a turn, you need to hand the controller over now.” Since options are very effective with children when used properly the father could have even added an option to get back in line to play again or to find a new exhibit to check out.

This is a very common problem with parents, I even catch my husband giving our son an option to do something that really is not optional and not getting the result that he desires. Here are some tips on how to get the response you would like.

1. When requesting behaviors from a young child or toddler you need to determine if it is optional or not. In most cases you wouldn’t be saying it if it was optional, so make sure to phrase it so they understand that there is not a lot of wiggle room for getting out of it.
2. Make sure to be reasonable with your request. It needs to be age appropriate, and think about what your child is doing and how they typically respond. You may need to give them a time limit and remind them several times. You can’t expect a two or three year old (or even a lot of older kids) to drop what they are doing and immediately do what you ask but stay on them, repeating what they need to do.
3. You can also make it sound more fun by asking them to hop over to their laundry basket and put their clothes away or give them an option of how they do the task (notice not if they do the task but how they do it).

Good luck in rephrasing how you talk to the little ones in your life in order to get better results!


Society’s Pressures of Parenting

January 8, 2013

I was recently catching up on some of my magazines and came across an article in a parenting magazine that caught my attention. It had 5 different celebrities listed and was noting their “weird” parenting habits with quotes from the celebrity. At first it only sparked my interest as a baby shower game as I am planning a baby shower for someone this weekend. At my baby shower we played a game of matching the celebrity with their kids’ names which are sometimes a bit out of the ordinary and I thought this would be a fun spin on that. Well this past weekend I was looking on the internet for more “weird” celebrity parenting habits to include since 5 just wouldn’t be enough. As I was doing this, it really started to hit me the pressure we are putting on parents to parent in a certain way. Especially since many of the parenting behaviors that some of these sites listed as “weird” I find to be completely acceptable in my natural parenting circle.

Society has put pressure on parents to be a certain type of parent. I think we all struggle with this because we have beliefs about what is best for children to help them to become productive adults. I can admit that even in my line of work, I read research that shows that certain parenting behaviors can have either negative or positive effects on children and therefore believe others should do their best to follow what the research shows. Trouble with this is that often times there is research saying the exact opposite.

I was even speaking with another mom this morning about how I cringe now when I see parents having their babies in the carrier on top of the shopping cart after seeing how easily they can collapse on videos on youtube. I guess I can justify this, however, due to it being a sincere safety issue and not just a difference in parenting style or a harmless behavior. There are certain things that we need to educate our parents about such as these safety issues and other behaviors that benefit our children such as breastfeeding and reading and paying attention to them. We should not, however, be belittling or making them feel bad for doing things differently that we do when it is not harmful to anyone.

Who cares if someone is going to make their placenta into pills and take them for energy or postpartum depression? Even though there isn’t research on the effectiveness on it there are a lot of women with anecdotal research that shows that it is helpful. Who cares if a parenting is using a nose frieda (a device with a tube that helps parents suck snot out of their children’s nose and also has a filter to prevent snot and germs being ingested by the parent), I hear of people swearing by it! Who cares if a parent follows attachment parenting behaviors of extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping (as long as it is done safely).

All this pressure is making parents, especially mothers crazy with trying to fit in and do what’s “right” and “best” for their children. Even pinterest is to blame in making moms feel like they have to constantly be doing crafts with their children and trying new recipes. I say relax, be yourself, and do what you believe is truly best for your child. Let’s focus more on the real safety issues and not that a celebrity mom kept their child’s umbilical cord in her make-up drawer! I love a saying that my natural minded friends use frequently, “the more you know, the better you do”. Let’s focus on educating ourselves and others more instead of criticizing them, especially for things that really make no difference in the long run.


Lost Memories of Trauma

November 27, 2012

More than once I have had clients come into my office saying they think they may have been sexually abused as a child. You may be thinking “what? how do they not know?” But our memories are not perfect and our psyche can sometimes create obstacles to keep us from remembering in order to protect us. I won’t spend a whole lot of time going into detail on all of this but there are a few points that I would like to make because the feeling always is that they want to know for sure what happened and they want help from me in order to figure it out. Although our unconscious mind can access all those memories and I am able to get through to the unconscious mind via hypnosis, there have been too many claims in the past that therapists have implanted memories through suggestion, which in some situations is completely valid, and therefore I find this unethical to do. Another reason I find this to be unethical is because if you do not have a memory of something bad happening right now, there is probably a good reason, and what good would come of bringing that memory back to the surface? For the person remembering, likely none although I’m sure that some people could argue differently.

So now to discuss how our memories work for a bit. As I said, our memory is not perfect. In my work with clients, I typically refer to a study I remember learning about in my social psychology class in college some 7-8 years ago. As I tell the study, I describe that participants had to watch a video in which a car accident ocurred and after the video were asked if they saw the stop sign (which was not actually there) and they report that they did. In wanting to be able to refer to this study here I searched for it on the internet and found what sounds to be it here, posted by Elizabeth Loftus who states that she conducted the research. I will say that she describes the study with some slight different details than those that I remember, which I wanted to point out as another example of false memories, even if her research demonstrates being given misinformation and this is not quite the same thing. At least I remembered the lesson of the study, right? She also goes more into detail about creating false memories which would be a good read for those of you that are interested.  I often remind clients of certain phenomena that I’m sure they have experienced as well such as having a dream they have difficulty recalling as real life or a dream. Or having memories from childhood that other people cannot confirm. I have even shared my experience of truly believing that we had a certain type of dog, by a certain name, and recalling an incident in which he ran away and each member of my immediate family (4 other people) have confirmed that we never had such a dog! I’m not sure if this was a wish that I had to have this type of dog (which is possible- to have memories from daydreaming or fantasies as a child) or an actual dream while sleeping, but it was a vivid memory of mine! Also, as children we do not always understand what is going on around us. As we get older we do not gain this understanding and sometimes try to make sense out of certain experiences and without all the information do so inaccurately. Another phenomena that many people may have experienced is hearing a story told by a friend and getting so immersed in it that later down the line it feels as though it actually happened to us.

All of the examples in the previous paragraph are ways that false memories can be implanted, but what about true memories that are forgotten? If you believe Freud’s theory that our unconscious mind tries to protect us then this may be a good explanation. We have all heard about repressed memories in which our brain some how forgets big events in order to protect us from having to remember and relive it. Other people may imploy denial techniques as well. Even without these explanations, can you remember everything that ever happened to you? Likely not. Yes, we tend to think of it as being the small things that we forget but it’s also very likely that you don’t remember many details about your birthdays and christmases over the years either and those were pretty memorable when they happened. Other times it may just be that as children you may not understand the importance of the event and just push it to the side.

So, I say all of that to make the point that we cannot rely on our memories solely. The goals that I suggest for those that are not sure if they were abused as a child is to work on learning how to deal with not knowing and if you are experiencing any negative symptoms that you think are attributed to something that may have happened, to learn to deal with those. For some people that may be sexual difficulties, avoiding certain stimuli you attribute to the possible perpetrator or event, or even things such as low self-esteem and eating disorders.


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!


Preventing Mood Disorders During Pregnancy & Postpartum

November 13, 2012

Of course there is only so much control that you have over your hormones, neurotransmitters, and genetics, all of which play a part in whether you will develop a mood disorder during pregnancy or postpartum. These are not the only factors that determine whether a person will develop a mood disorder or not, however, and there are things that you can do that can affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. I’m saying this because in some cases, there is not much that you can do to prevent a mood disorder, but in other people, engaging in some of these activities may make a big difference. If you would like to improve your mood during pregnacy and postpartum, here is a list of activities you can do in order to help. I will explain those that I believe warrant more explanation but please feel free to leave any comments or questions if you need. Also, these are not listed in any specific order, but instead just in the order that I thought about them!

1. Exercise- A good workout can help boost the feel good hormones in your brain and has been shown to even be helpful in improving mood in those who are currently experiencing a mood disorder!

2. Seek out a support network- You have heard me state this before, but having other people around you, feeling understood and cared for, and feeling like your not alone can go a long way in preventing mood problems.

3. Take care of yourself and your needs- Even though your focus may be on other people, especially the little ones you are growing and raising, you need to make sure you are doing things for yourself as well. If you are drained and unhappy then it makes it much harder to give of yourself and can start a downward spiral. This can be engaging in your hobbies and things you enjoy, getting a massage or pedicure, taking a bath, or anything else that is just for you.

4. Get help around the house- We are one of the few cultures that do not give moms more help with chores during pregnancy and postpartum (and we have the higher rates of issues!) It will just take a little bit of stress off of you to allow others to help you.

5. Yoga- I’m feeling a whole blog entry about the benefits of yoga during pregnancy because the benefits are just too many to list here but suffice it to say that it is a great stress reducer.

6. Change your thought patterns- Pay attention to your thoughts, notice any negative thought patterns or cycles and begin by interrupting them and counteracting them. Our thoughts influence our feelings which influence our actions!

7. Get out of the house- It can become so easy to get stuck in a rut, to feel too worn out to leave the house, or to just be worried about exposing a new baby to germs but staying home all the time can lead to feelings of isolation.

8. Spend time outdoors- The bright sunshine, fresh air, and appeal of nature are known for improving moods.

9. Alternative Medicine- There are many alternative medical practices that are safe during pregnancy and can help improve moods. Homeopathic remedies (my doctor uses drops) are safe and helpful, or you could check into acupunture, acupressure (although some points are not recommended during pregnancy), aromatherapy (again not all is safe during pregnancy so do your research first) or chiropractic care as well as other alternative therapies.

10. Massage- This therapeutic touch can not only be relaxing but can help release endorphins.

11. Meditation & deep breathing- It is important to ensure that you and your baby are getting all the oxygen you need and meditation can help you focus on your breathing while relaxing your body as you release all the stress and nagging thoughts of the day.

12. Increase your omega 3 fatty acids- Research has shown that people who get more omega 3 fatty acids in their diet have a lower incidence of depression. It will also help ensure your baby is getting enough in utero or through breastmilk to help develop the brain develop effectively.

13. Imitate joy- Sometimes just by acting happy even when you don’t feel like it can help snap you out of the mood and get you doing the very things that will help you improve.

14. Participate in activities you enjoy- If possible, don’t stop activities you enjoy. Due to limitations of pregnancy or for other reasons it may be necessary, but make sure to find other things you enjoy just as much!

15. Music- Music can have a big effect on your thoughts and mood. Choose music that makes you happy or relaxed.

16. Hire a doula- A doula can be a positive support person who can help you through the pregnancy, birthing, and postpartum process.

17. Sleep- It may be hard during different stages of pregnacy or even during the first few sleepless months but it will be important to sleep when you can (while also not sleeping too much- if thats even possible during this time) to give your body the rest in needs to repair itself and for you to think properly.

18. Nurse if possible- Nursing releases oxytocin another feel good hormone.

19. Placenta pills- Now I don’t know much about this one but it was brought up to me while I was presenting on this topic the last time. You can have someone take the placenta and make pills out of it and it is said to be helpful with postpartum depression and with menopause. Maybe something to consider if you aren’t too squeamish!


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!