Therapy can often feel like a very mystical and unknown affair. Many of us know about therapy or know someone who has gone to therapy, but unless we have experienced therapy for ourselves, it can be hard to know what actually goes on during a therapy session or what starting therapy looks like. This can sometimes hinder us from going to therapy ourselves as it can feel very overwhelming.
Where to Start…
The first step in going to therapy, which is deciding whether or not you feel that you are ready for it, is usually the biggest step. This can take a very small amount of time for some, or a much longer time for others. This journey is completely yours, so it can be good to check in with yourself about whether or not you feel ready to start your therapeutic journey.
After that the next step in starting therapy is usually finding a therapist. There can be a lot of things to take into consideration when finding a therapist that might be a good fit for you. Things like whether or not they take insurance, their location, availability, or speciality are all good things to think about. You might also find comfort in reading a little about the different therapists you are considering. Most therapists have introductions about themselves on the internet so you can get a better understanding of what they are like. This can make a huge difference in your connection and relationship with your therapist.
After you find a therapist that is a good fit for you, the next step is scheduling your first appointment! This is such an exciting, but also scary thing! It takes so much courage to start something new, especially something as vulnerable as therapy. In this time it can be helpful to take time to appreciate the steps you are taking to invest in the quality of your life.
What Will the First Appointment Look Like?
Once you have made your first appointment you will usually sign a variety of forms just like you would for a doctor’s appointment! The therapist will also let you know where their office is located, or in the current state of the world, what video streaming service they will be calling you from and you will be set to go.
Each therapist has their own individual approach to counseling so no two sessions will be exactly alike. However, usually the first session is similar to a get to know you event. There is a lot of time spent on getting comfortable with each other and sharing basic information about yourself. There might be some talk about what you hope to achieve in counseling so that you have an idea of what counseling may look like.
Something to Keep in Mind
From this point, everyone’s counseling journey is so diverse and beautiful! You will develop a place in counseling where you feel safe to be authentically yourself. Some sessions might include a lot of emotions and healing, others might be a time to decompress and process what is going on in your life right now. Therapy is a journey and it looks different for everyone, but through this journey you may feel more like yourself than you ever have before.
**note: the words “therapy” & “counseling” can be used interchangeably (and are done so above).
Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.
Curious about what this experience is like as a therapist? Check out this blog here!
Written by: Danielle Peartree, Office Manager Extraordinaire
My 5 year old has had a lot of observations and questions about race lately. Even though I try to shield her from the news (as I don’t think the news is appropriate for 5 year olds, generally-speaking), some racial differences are obvious and there are many questions a curious and observant child comes up with. On our neighborhood run today, she says, “Mommy, what do those signs mean….’Black Lives Matter’”? As a parent, I start to clam up a little – like how do I appropriately answer that question without providing a comprehensive history lesson? Am I the right person to answer this? Am I going to say the wrong thing? These types of questions may raise feelings of discomfort for parents and lead them to gloss right over the question or change the subject to avoid the uneasiness. PLEASE don’t do this!!! Silence is not the answer. If we as parents are unable to respond to these questions, then who can? The news? A fellow 5 year old friend? A crotchety extended family member? No, I will not let someone else be the first to answer this for my child! This is our job as parents and our opportunity as human beings to model for our children how people ought to treat and respect one another. It is our opportunity to instill the values of kindness, equality, respect and awareness of similarities and differences. It is our chance to encourage our children to get comfortable asking questions, challenging norms, and for us to nurture cultural curiosity, sensitivity and openness.
So, what are some ways we can have these essential conversations with our young children? Here are 5 ideas to get you started.
Don’t Be Silent!
No, you don’t have to pull up a YouTube video of police brutality, but you don’t have to wait for them to ask either. Kids are not color blind and racial bias can be internalized for children as young as 2-4! Don’t be afraid to talk to them about skin color and why some people’s skin is darker than others (melanin). Talk about why it is good that all people are different and celebrate this! And definitely don’t shy away from a question if they ask you directly. You are their best and most influential teacher!!!
Also, IT IS OKAY if you stumbled on some answers. If upon reflection and/or reading up on the subject, if you feel you could have said something better or differently, bring it back up with them. Children are WAY more receptive to repair than we realize and also WAY quicker to pick up on fear or discomfort than we know. Being silent or deflecting their questions could send them the message that it’s not a topic that is okay to discuss, and THAT is actually the more harmful outcome.
Keep Your Answers as Concise as Possible
These are not topics of simplicity and quite the opposite, but the attention span of a preschooler is short! You could lose them if you give too much information. If you are unsure of where to start, you can begin with teaching compassion, equality and inclusion of others that are different. You can later bring in more of the historical background information.
Be Ready for Some Confusion; This is to be Expected
For example, preschoolers tend to learn about police and first responders as “good” people in our world. So, naturally, the question arises, “But Mama, I thought police offers are supposed to help people?” Kids want things to be easily categorized – good vs bad, wrong vs right, no grey areas. Their brains are wired to see the world with this dichotomy and developmentally, they won’t fully be able to comprehend that middle area for quite some time. But, you can prepare them so that when they are confronted with the grey it is not the first time they’re exposed to a new or different perspective. You can say, “Well sweetheart, yes many police officers are good, but there are also many police officers that have used their power in bad ways. That is not okay and we want to change that.”
Expose Your Children to People of Different Races in your Community
Attend an event put on by a local social justice organization, or donate/volunteer for their cause and talk to you children about it if they are too young to join you. Visit a museum. The George Washington Carver Museum (which is currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns), is a great place to visit as its goal is to “create a space where the global contributions of all Black people are celebrated.” In the meantime, there is some virtual content on their website to explore. You could also visit the Six Square, Austin’s Black Cultural Historic District that “comprises six square miles of East Austin, home to numerous sites of significance featuring landmarks of Black architecture and design, historic cemeteries, sites of slavery and emancipation, churches and more.” Make a point to support black-owned local businesses. See a list of black-owned businesses in Austin here.
Read Books Together that Include People of all Different Races
…and with nonwhite people as heroes and protagonists. Find movies, games and apps with diverse characters. Here are a few books that that are age appropriate for young children: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Saturday by Oge Mora and They Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson. Please consider visiting Black Pearl Books, an online black-owned bookstore based in Austin, Texas. Their website has an amazing list of books to help kids understand racism and diversity. Check it out!
Talking about race with our children will only be an initial step. To raise a generation of culturally competent people, we will have to actively take steps to model anti-racism using our voices, attitudes, actions and behaviors. Ok, now go start the conversation. You can do this!!!
It’s no secret that things are wonky right now…to say the very least…
When people go in public, they’re sporting a new accessory…the face mask
AND if someone isn’t wearing one, you definitely notice it
Overnight, parents became home-school teachers, activity providers, house keepers, workers/providers, partners, and caretakers…need I say more?
2020 graduates aren’t having an in-person graduation to celebrate a milestone of their lives
Iconic Austin restaurants are starting announcing permanent closures
Because of shelter-in-place & social distancing…regular facetime with friends, family, and loved ones is either REALLY limited or not happening at all
I could go on, however, that doesn’t seem necessary. What is necessary, though, is how you feel in your body RIGHT NOW after reading that list. That sensation (whatever it may be) is happening because everything listed above is a lot to manage…especially because nobody was expecting a pandemic, and even if we were, we are all first-timers at this and adjusting to new things is often scary. There are a lot of big feelings that have been happening (for everyone) and those big feelings can be confusing…scary…unwelcomed…helpful…they can be all over the place, really, and learning how to navigate all of that is MUCH easier said than done, however, it is 100% doable with various mindfulness practices.
In my dear friend, Katy Manganella’s, blog on establishing a mindfulness practice, she defined mindfulness as “simply the practice of coming into the present moment”. Again…that can be a lot easier said than done, however, there are practical mindfulness tips & tricks below to help you navigate the world of feeling your feelings and looking for ways to ground yourself (especially during a particularly uncertain time).
…yes! Start here! While this may feel like a silly (and oversimplified) suggestion, it’s arguably one of the easiest ways to start practicing mindfulness. Most of the time, we are breathing pretty shallowly…in fact, the last time a lot of us took an intentional deep breath was when a doctor had a stethoscope touching our chest or back and directed you to take deep breaths. Below are a few easy, simple ways to practice intentional, mindful, deep breathing.
This is an easy technique that involves intentionally breathing in for a particular count (for example, 3)…so you breathe in (1, 2, 3) hold your breath (1, 2, 3) exhale (1, 2, 3), hold (1, 2, 3) and repeat. This article has a great video for a guided visual for help with box breathing.
Another way to intentional breathe is to inhale for a particular count (let’s say 5) and exhale for a longer amount of time (let’s say 7). This is a GREAT way to help calm your nervous system.
Some people may try these out and realize they are still breathing shallowly…a way to learn how to breathe deeply & intentionally is to lie down on your back, put a book on your belly (probably something not too heavy) and breathe in and out with the intention of making the book move. This will require some work…and may not be the best technique for someone who has experienced trauma.
Tune into Your Senses
Another mindfulness tip is to tune into your senses. We are CONSTANTLY taking in sensory information and are typically in autopilot. Give yourself an opportunity to focus on one of your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste) and focus ONLY on that one sense for 2 minutes (set a timer if you need to so you’re not focused on the time the entire time).
For example, if I was focusing on touch in this very moment–I would notice:
My computer (not a very mindful thing…but figured I’d be honest)
The keys feel different than the touch pad
The texture of the couch I’m sitting on
The soft, fuzzy blanket next to me
My dog’s fur
…I was actively noticing those (although admittedly, I was distracted because I’m writing this), however, it was a nice moment to truly slow down. Give yourself permission to slow down and notice things around you.
Things to keep in mind: Taste may NOT be the best sense to focus on…and if you choose smell–know that it’s okay if you don’t smell anything. Don’t force it. Rather, notice what it’s like to not smell anything in that moment. It sounds woo-woo (and maybe it is), but I promise there’s a method to my madness.
Pay Attention to Your Body
…which is another tip that’s easier said than done. For as long as I can remember, I have heard phrases like “I had a gut feeling…” or “…that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!” It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I understood that that was our bodies communicating messages to us (I promise…method to my madness) and it wasn’t until my late 20s (and MAYBE even my 30s) that I truly understand what that meant.
Even though I’m actively living what you are right now…a global pandemic…and I’m 100% aware of things that are happening around us, when I wrote the list out of changes that are happening all around us, I had a physical reaction to it…I felt a pit in my stomach and a heaviness in my chest…and as I sat with that for a while…I was able to name what was going on: feeling sad (about things happening around us), curious/anxious (about the future), and even a little stuck (because of the uncertainty of the future). That can feel like an overwhelming amount of information to realize from simply noticing a sensation in your body…and some days, it is.
However, the more you notice physical sensations that are happening, the more you can name what feeling(s) you’re experiencing, and the more you can access (and hopefully name!) what you’re needing…otherwise you might just feel foggy, agitated, anxious…or all of the above and feel like you just can’t shake what’s happening inside of you.
Side note: The Emotionary is a book of words that don’t exist for feelings that do. It’s NOT child-friendly and is a fun, great way to access some of the mixed/morphed/big feelings you have.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “meditation”? I called my best friend (a business attorney…so someone who is NOT in the mental health world) and she made a joke about lighting incense, holding hands, and chanting…while that can paint the picture of what meditation looks like for some people, that’s not what it’s always like (I promise!). You can google “guided meditation” and be gifted with SO many options–which is great! You can find meditations for specific purposes (e.g.: waking up or relaxing) or a particular amount of time (e.g.: 2 minutes or 20 minutes). Mindfulness
Note: This is not kid-friendly and uses profanity.
By definition, self-compassion involves “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering” (for more information on it, check out Kristin Neff’s work!) I know I’ve repeated myself a few times now…but this is DEFINITELY easier said than done. An easy way to start practicing self-compassion is simply by using the word “and”.
“I feel like a failure as a parent right now….AND I’m doing the best that I can”
“I feel really anxious because of the uncertainty around us…AND thank goodness I have a therapist I can talk to about these feelings”
I’m so upset that I don’t get to have a normal graduation…AND I am grateful for ways I can celebrate in the future”
“I love my family, but am SO tired of being around them/I feel like I need a break…AND that’s okay!”
See what I did that? That’s self-compassion in a nutshell. It’s SO easy to get caught up in negative self-talk (especially when we’re surrounded by stress, anxiety, and scarcity thinking)…rather than getting bound to black-and-white & all-or-nothing thinking, embrace the beauty of “and” andallow multiple experiences to happen at once. After all, that IS the human condition…right?
You might read some of the tips & tricks and think “YES! This sounds perfect” and others you might be more like “Nope…no thanks”. Both of those reactions are completely fine and to-be-expected. Whatever tip or trick you gravitate towards, try incorporating that into your life on a regular basis…the more practice you have doing it on the daily, the more likely you will be able to pull that out of your toolbox when you’re feeling a lot of big feelings and are needing something to ground you.