For more information:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Oil and Vinegar: Brain Illness vs. Emotional Health

For some time now, I've found myself delineating "mental health" from "emotional health" in written documents and conversations about what I do as a therapist. I think this is a distinction that needs to be made in order to better help all of us (anyone from those who live with severe, persistent mental illnesses (SPMIs) and those who can't get along with their spouse anymore) get appropriate treatment.

Maybe you've heard of Patrick Kennedy. He's a member of the Kennedy family and is a tireless advocate for increased attention to and funding of mental health/addiction research and treatment. You can see his agenda of hard work here. Mr. Kennedy sees the gaps in our system of identifying and caring for people with SPMIs and addiction. Thanks to him, those gaps are getting noticed.

I think of SPMIs and other "disorders" as brain illness and/or brain injuries whose symptoms are often manifested in emotional dysregulation and culturally unacceptable behavior. I also think that brain illnesses and disorders can be and should be separated from emotional wellness and relational health for the purpose of treating them both more effectively.

Because we have a one-salad-dressing-fits-all approach to mental health (finally, I'm getting to the point of calling this post "Oil and Vinegar"!), we lump brain illness and emotional/relational wellness into the same category of "mental health". And, when we lump them into the same category, we make assumptions about how they can be conceptualized and treated in similar ways.

I'd like to challenge our assumptions about mental health by splitting that concept into Oil (brain health) and Vinegar (emotional health). Yes, you can mix them together to get something delicious (a nice raspberry vinaigrette comes to mind) or something nasty, and there is often a symbiotic relationship between the brain illness and emotional/relational health. However, by separating them we can see the standalone characteristics of both.

We know that mental illness is stigmatized in this country. We also know that because of that stigma, many SPMIs and other brain illnesses/injuries go undiagnosed and untreated, which is why Patrick Kennedy's advocacy and awareness work is so important. Unfortunately, we also know that because SPMIs/brain illnesses/brain injuries often show up as behavioral or emotional dysregulation, sufferers end up in the criminal justice system or labeled "crazy". That cycle pretty much stinks and is super unhelpful.

What's also unhelpful is that people who are struggling with their kids or are fighting with their partner or who can't stand to go home for the holidays are worried about being stigmatized with a mental illness if they seek help for what are relational or emotional issues.

By separating Oil and Vinegar, we can create space for the Vinaigrettes to talk to someone about their relationships and their emotions and not have the added worry of being labeled "mentally ill".

So, what do you think? Have you thought about seeking help from a therapist when you've had a relationship issue only to change your mind because you're not "mentally ill"? Have you wished for help sorting out family dynamics but known you don't have anxiety or depression? Are your kids driving you nuts, but you're worried about admitting that parenting is tough? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, a systemic and relational therapist might be a good fit for you.

#mentalhealth #nimh #oil #vinegar #emotion #relationship #kennedy #mentalillness #spmi #mft #familytherapist

Friday, September 16, 2016

Self-care or Self-couldn't care less?

Just a few of the tomatoes...
As a therapist, I've learned to become a big fan of self-care. Most of us think of it as a luxury--and it certainly can be. But as these Ted Talks tell us, self-care is anything but a luxury. Self-care is vital to sustaining our lives.

There's a lot written about self-care, from what it is (hint: it's taking time for yourself to recharge, grow, experience, and relax) to what it isn't (another hint: getting high, drunk, and sexed to the detriment of other important life-y things). But what happens when your self-care becomes a chore? What are the signs that you couldn't care less about experiencing your next "self-care"?
I thought I was being fancy with green and
purple beans this year!

I just recently had an experience with this. People who know me could tell you how much I like to vegetable garden. It has been a passion of mine for the last six-plus years, ever since I got heat-exhaustion from renting a tiller and started digging up my backyard. I find great fulfillment in the idea of yard-to-table; I freeze and can beans, tomatoes, squash, raspberries, peppers, strawberries, carrots, leeks, and okra. Usually, a batch of newly stewed tomatoes poured into a freezer bag and carefully placed in the freezer causes me to have a little twinge of pride that I contribute materially and literally to the feeding of my family and friends (chili night, anyone?).

This year feels different, though. This year, the garden has been--and I hate to even write this--a bother. It's been a pain. It's been the thing that I'm like, "Oh, crap. I'm gonna get bitten up by mosquitoes to pick some more blankety-blank raspberries tonight after work." 
And did I mention ANTS?

My self-care of spending quiet time in the garden, carefully looking for ripened fruits and vegetables, sparingly spraying for fungus, and quickly sweeping beetles into bowls of soapy water somehow changed into a chore. 

Here's how I knew -- and how you might assess any of your self-care routines that don't seem to be creating the same kind of "I LOVE THIS SO MUCH!!" feeling for you as they used to.

1) I put off doing it. I used to be out in the garden twice a day or more looking for buds and sprouts. Right now, I roll my eyes every time I see yet another acorn squash. (Seriously. I didn't even plant the buggers this year -- a stray seed from last year re-booted an avalanche of the things.)

2) I complained about it. "I haven't picked beans in two days. Now there are going to be SO MANY. Waaaah!"

3) I didn't have the rush. More than once this summer, I've thought, "My family doesn't even really care if they have garden tomatoes in their chili, do they?" Previously, I didn't care if they cared, because I cared. Right now I don't care so much.

4) It became a schedule item. "Let's see...if I can get home in time, I can garden. Or maybe I can squeeze it in before work tomorrow. Or, maybe there will be time this weekend, between 2-3 pm Saturday. Wait...Sunday."

If you have something that once was your go-to self-care experience and you're just not feeling it anymore, you're not alone. But, before you get completely burned out on it, it might be time to re-evaluate and take a break. Whatever-it-is has meant a lot to you in the past, so it might mean a lot to you again...if you don't break up with it completely because you didn't break up with it temporarily soon enough.

Self-care that has become Self-couldn't care less is worse than doing no self-care at all. Why? Because it's taking time away from you finding something else to replace it. It's probably starting to cause resentment. It may even be pissing you off. It's okay to take a break.

After all, taking a break from it may actually be the best self-care you can do right now.
Anyone want a squash??? Please?

#gardening #selfcare #therapy

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ah, Teenagers...

When I opened TouchingTrees Counseling, I was asked all the time who I preferred to work with. Did I like working with couples? Individuals? Families? Who? Who? Who?

Of course I answered "everyone"! One of the groups I specifically like to work with, however, is teenagers and young adults.

Right now I provide therapy to some young adults, ages 18-21, who are in a transition program. Some of the students are working on completing their high school graduation requirements. Some of them are working on independent living skills, like cooking, cleaning, paying bills, being employable, etc. Some students are working on how to read social cues and participate in family and school life. All of them have a number of challenges.

And all of them are great. Frankly, teenagers are some of the most resilient, creative, and hopeful people I know. That's not how we always think of them, though, right?

I've liked working with and around young people/teenagers since I was barely past being one myself. When I was a teacher, I especially preferred middle schoolers. When I coached and administered lacrosse, I liked seeing young people try hard and learn sportsmanship lessons. I've also had that house where my kids' friends stop over to chat or chill or snack. Every time I've had the opportunity to work with a young person, in whatever capacity, I've been struck by the delicate balance our kids have to try to achieve during those teen years. 

Teens want to feel loved, first. They are prickly beings to love, though, because they also want to feel like they have power in their relationships. They are trying and needing to pull away, but they are also hoping they don't get too far before someone says, "Wait -- I miss you!"

If you or someone you know is struggling with a teenager or young adult--or you are that teenager or young adult and you're struggling with your parents, please reach out. There are people like me who care a ton about you as parents and care about you who are the kids. We can help restore some positive communication in your family as well as change the patterns that keep everyone angry, sad, or frustrated. It's never too late (or too early!) to get help.

For more information, check out:

Children's Hospital MN

Teen Mental Health

Warning Signs

Parenting Tips

Of course, if you're in the Twin Cities and want to stop in to see me, please feel free to visit my website: TouchingTrees
I offer a free consultation by phone or email, as well as the ability to schedule online.

Take care.