Archive of ‘Connection’ category

Reel Therapy

What’s your favorite movie? I’ll give you a few seconds here … Got it? Great! Okay, now WHY is it your favorite movie? Your answer may be that you loved the story, or the acting, or it shifted your perspective, or it taught you something important, or one (or several!) of many other reasons. Here’s the thing: Regardless of your reasons, I’m wiling to bet it’s because of how those things impacted you emotionally. Movies are an incredibly powerful art form ultimately because of how the story, or the acting, or the perspective shift, etc, makes us feel. The most memorable and impactful movies go beyond engaging just our thinking brains (aka the prefrontal cortex). What makes a particular film stick with us is largely due to how it impacts us emotionally, reflecting involvement of a more primitive part of the brain called the limbic system.

Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Therapists sometimes recommend that their clients watch a particular film in an effort to achieve some level of therapeutic gain, a practice commonly known as cinematherapy. There are lots of ways that viewing films can be beneficial in a therapeutic context, but like stated above, one of the most impactful is through the emotional experience of a film. The emotional journey one takes watching a film can be healing just in and of itself. It’s been said that emotion is a bridge between a problem and a solution, and if you are able to fully go on that emotional journey, whether in a film audience or in life, when that particular emotion naturally subsides, you will typically find yourself in a new and better place. Additionally, films sometimes gives us permission to feel things we may otherwise suppress, and sometimes just being able to talk with co-workers or friends about a particular film can provide deeper social connections and consequently a feeling of inclusion, or being “in the club,” (also very true with so many popular TV shows nowadays, like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Scandal, etc).

We’re about to enter into Oscar contender season. The span between early October and Christmas affords us a huge number of high-quality, limbic-smashing films. Below is a brief list of films I’m personally most looking forward to seeing, with a few non-spoiling words describing each. Once I see some of these, my hope is to get back on here, and offer a bit of a movie review, with an emphasis on psychotherapy and issues of social justice. In the meantime, enjoy!:

  • The Imitation Game – Based on the life of British codebreaker Alan Turing, whose story (the little bit of it that I know) is incredibly inspirational, and ultimately devastating. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and people who’ve seen it are saying to just go ahead hand him the Oscar now.
  • Birdman – Michael Keaton’s comeback, and looks to be amazing. Deals with issues of fame and identity, and is already generating all kinds of Oscar buzz.
  • The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking’s love story, starring Eddie Redmayne, who is just ridiculously talented (you may remember him as Marius in the Les Mis film).
  • Unbroken – Another true story, adapted from the book of the same name, “a story of survival, resilience and redemption.” Directed by Angelina Jolie.
  • Wild – Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about her 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. All kinds of inspirational. Starring Reese Witherspoon.
  • Foxcatcher – Again, based on a true story, starring an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell. Described as a psychological thriller, involving what sounds like a very unhealthy (and ultimately tragic) relationship between two Olympic wrestlers and their wealthy benefactor.

Children and Their Feelings

I was at the rock climbing wall at our gym the other day when I heard a little boy say to his dad, “I don’t know if I can do it. I’m scared.”He was referring to the route he was hoping to climb. His dad, who seemed relatively supportive and encouraging toward his son replied, “You can do it. Big boys don’t get scared.”

Jennifer Alley, LPC

Jennifer Alley, LPC

Although perhaps said with good intentions, this statement made me sigh and feel concerned about another generation of boys and men (and even girls and women) being taught that it isn’t okay to experience perceived “weaker”emotions. And more importantly, what they can do when these inevitable feelings do creep up.

Part of the reason it is so difficult to respond well when our children/friends/partners are experiencing difficult emotions (besides all of the gender messages we are socialized to adhere to) is that in order to be empathetic, we have to actually touch that part in ourselves that knows what it is like to feel that feeling. And that is scary! And what is more scary is to imagine your child feeling that, and so the easiest thing to do is brush it under the rug, dismiss or minimize the feeling, shame the feeling, or try to make them feel better. Unfortunately, this generally leads to the other person feeling like they are not heard, that their feelings don’t matter, that they should be ashamed of those feelings and are bad for having them, or that they need to keep their feelings to themselves in the future. And it generally intensifies the feeling while causing isolation.

I’m certain the father at the gym did not want for his response to his son to have any of these outcomes. Likely, he was wanting to help socialize his son to stereotypical gender norms that he learned (without even realizing it necessarily), and he probably honestly didn’t know how to respond. I did keep my mouth shut at the gym, but here are a few thoughts about how I hope to handle these conversations with my children and what you might do when your kids are experiencing painful or difficult emotions.

1. Because we are modeling emotion regulation for our children, it can be really helpful to walk them through our process.

Example: “I sometimes get scared, too. I remember when I was scared (give age

appropriate example). This is how I handled it (give healthy, age appropriate ideas about how to manage that emotion).

2. Simply validate the feeling. Nothing feels better than having someone acknowledge our emotions.

Example: “It does look scary! I would be scared in that situation, too!”

3. Listen and give your child time to talk about what they are experiencing. Having our feelings validated and being given space to talk through them can greatly lessen the intensity of the negative emotion.

Example: “I hear that you are scared. What are you most afraid of? What can I do to support you?”

If you feel like you might benefit from a little lesson on empathy and what it looks like, check out this great animated video based on the work of Brené Brown.

 

 


Family Time in the School Year

girl swinging pic

It seems like the middle of summer but the next school year is right around the corner. As you stock up on pencils, paper and other supplies, it is a good time to set family goals and have important conversations about finding balance this year.

School often brings with it extracurricular activities, homework, endless laundry, and large to do lists. It is easy for family time to be replaced with children playing sports, studying, and attending birthday parties and other social events while parents hustle to run errands, keep up with housework and their career, and shuttle their kids from place to place.

Because there are only so many hours in a day, something has to give. And all too often, it is family time together. Uninterrupted, device-less, quality time is a precious commodity these days. But maybe this year, you and your family can be intentional about making it a necessity.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider it:

  • Children whose parents are involved are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and are more likely to do better in school.
  • Families are better able to adapt to challenging situations if they are emotionally close.
  • Children whose mother communicates frequently with them (listening, answering questions, and talking) are more likely to perform well academically.
  • Children whose father spends time with them doing activities tend to have better academic success, as well.
  • Adolescents whose parents are involved in their lives tend to exhibit fewer behavioral problems.
  • Youth who participate in activities with their parents and have close relationships with them are less likely to engage in violence.
  • Eating dinner together frequenting reduces the risk of substance abuse for teens.
  • Adolescents whose parents are home with them after school and during the evening hours are less likely to experience emotional distress.

Spending time together doesn’t have to be costly or elaborate. Often, it is more about the frequency of checking in, talking with one another, eating meals together, playing games or playing outside with one another, and other low-stress activities that help family members bond the most. Now is a good time, before it all begins again, to sit down and talk about setting up regular rituals and routines for connecting with one another and committing to make family time a priority this year.


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