Archive of ‘Emotional Regulation’ category

Animal-Assisted Interventions with Rio

For many of us, being greeted by your pet after a long day at work is a highlight of our day. Our stresses and worries can float away a little easier when there is an easily excitable animal waiting for us behind the front door. Our pets have the magical capability of helping us forget about all the bad stuff. It’s not surprising that many of us refer to our pets as our “babies”!

As an animal-assisted therapist, I am lucky enough to bring my “baby” with me to work at Austin Family Counseling. Rio, my border collie, is the friendly therapy dog you may have seen around the office. He is usually wearing a bandana and will greet you with a kiss or a full downward-dog bow. He spends his days with me, working with children, tweens, teens, and their parents. With lots of pets and belly rubs throughout the day, it’s safe to say he has a pretty sweet gig.

Rio and myself are certified in animal-assisted counseling and completed our trainings at the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy at Texas State University (Eat ‘em up, Cats!). Throughout our training, we experienced how powerful and therapeutic the human-animal bond can be.

In my previous blog post, I shared about animal-assisted counseling and how is can be therapeutically beneficial for clients. For this post, I want to share some animal-assisted interventions that I incorporate into sessions with my clients.

Highs and Lows with Rio:

To check in with my clients at the beginning of session, we start with our highs and lows. A “high” is the best thing that happened to you that day. A “low” is something we wish went a little differently. My client shares, I share, and we often speculate about what Rio might share if he could speak. Sometimes clients guess that Rio’s low is that it’s raining outside, that he’s feeling sleepy, or he only got to eat 2 treats instead of the client’s proposed 50. More often than not, my clients theorize that Rio’s high is spending time with them in session (and they’re not wrong!) 🙂

What Would Rio Do?:

I adapted this intervention from a fellow animal-assisted therapist, Wanda Montemayor. Wanda and her therapy dog Chango work with middle schoolers in Austin. Sometimes it is easier for kids to imagine what someone else might do in a situation instead of guessing what they themselves might do. You may have experienced this when your kiddo effortlessly recalls what their sibling did wrong, but find no fault in their own behavior! Not surprisingly, kids are very aware of what a dog might look like when they are scared, angry, or tired. Sometimes, it is more difficult to know our own physical reactions to stimuli that make us scared, angry, or tired. My clients know that if Rio were to ever huddle in a corner, wimper, or hide under his blanket during a thunderstorm, he would be feeling frightened. By guessing how Rio might react to relatable situations, clients are able to verbalize what their own emotional and physical reactions could be.

Emoji Balls:

Dr. Elizabeth Hartwig, the director of the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy, knew that Rio would be a good fit for this intervention because of his energy levels, intelligence, and eagerness to please. I have about a dozen stress balls with different emotions depicted on them. While Rio and I wait outside of the office, my client will hide the emoji balls throughout the room. When the balls are in place, my client invites us back in. Because Rio is very motivated by anything that can be thrown and retrieved, all my client has to do is ask, “Rio, where’s your ball?”. Rio will then tirelessly search the room for each emoji ball. As he finds each one, he will bring it back to us. My client and I each share a time in which we felt the emotion that is shown on the stress ball. These emotions range from scared, angry, calm, loved, sad, and more. We often like to guess a time when Rio felt that emotion, too. This is an active intervention for all participants, and definitely a favorite of my kids.

I hope this sneak peak into animal-assisted counseling gives you a little more insight into the therapeutic work canine counselors are capable of. If you have any questions for myself (or for Rio), don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected] or (512) 893-7396.
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To learn more about Rio’s certification and training, check out Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy!

Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern
Written by: Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern under the supervision of Kirby Schroeder, LPS-S, LMFT-S
Follow Rio on Instagram at @animalassistedtherapist
Check out the work Morgan & Rio are doing at http://AnimalAssistedTherapist.com

5 Steps to Successfully Taking a Break from Conflict

Step 1: Mutually understand the benefits of a break and the cost of not taking one when it is necessary.

Despite our very best efforts, sometimes conflict is going to get heated. Being able to shift gears in the heat of an argument and take a break is one of the most crucial relationship skills. We compound the problem by staying engaged in a conflict that is devolving to criticism, stonewalling, contempt, or defensiveness. After a certain point in conflict, we are likely to do more harm than good. This is the moment when we need to take a break. Breaks give you time to calm down, deepen your perspective, and have a successful “do-over” with your partner.

Step 2: Identify the signs you need a break.

Recognizing when a break is necessary will take some practice. Establish with your partner now what the signs are that a break is necessary. Then, look for those signs when you and your partner are in conflict.

Signs to include:

  • When I recognize I am flooded or my partner is flooded.
  • When I notice my mind is racing and jumping from topic to topic.
  • When my partner and I are interrupting each other.
  • When I feel myself shutting down (getting quiet, ignoring).
  • When my partner or I begin to make personal attacks on each other.
  • When my partner or I become sarcastic or mock one another.
  • Non-verbal cues such as eye-rolling, storming out of the room, or slamming doors.

Step 3: Initiate the break and agree on a time to reconnect.

When you notice the predetermined signs that a conflict is bubbling out of control, initiate the strategy of taking a break.

  • State your intention so your partner does not feel rejected or abandoned. Communicate to your partner that a break will help you re-focus on the relationship. For example, “This conversation is important to me. I recognize that I’m/we’re too upset right now to talk about this constructively. I worry that if we continue this conversation right now, we will only make it worse. Let’s take a break so I/we can calm down and come back together.”
  • Set parameters for the break. Agree together on how long of a break you need. A break should be at least 20 minutes (that’s how long it will take your body to physiologically calm down). A break should be no longer than a day, or you risk building resentment. It is critical after the break to come back together. Agree on a time to reconnect now.

Step 4: Calm down.

The purpose of a break is foremost to calm down. The greater insight and perspective you garner will result from first calming down. What you do with the break will determine whether the time apart will be beneficial or detrimental. Channel your distress into something unrelated that takes your mind off of the conflict. Go for a run, walk the dog, go take a shower, water your plants.

Tips for calming down:

  • Cease negative thoughts about your partner.
  • Consider that there may be more to the picture than what you see and feel in this moment.
  • Refrain from venting to others or to yourself. (This is probably a bad time to call your sister.)
  • Do not go prepare for battle or strengthen your case.

Step 5: Come back together.

After the agreed upon amount of time, come back together. Coming back together is a critical component of taking a break. It is necessary to achieve resolution and reconnection. It also behaviorally shows your partner that you care about them and the conversation you were having.  

You have a new opportunity to get back on track. You will likely experience greater clarity and closeness because the “big emotions” have subsided. You will also be able to focus more clearly on your shared relationship goals and see the situation through a broader perspective. You will be better positioned to communicate successfully with one another.

Here are some ideas for starting your reconnection conversation on the right foot:

  • “My reaction was too extreme earlier. Can we try that again?”
  • “My feelings were hurt and I did not mean the things I said. I’m sorry.”
  • “I can see my part in all of this.”
  • “Let’s try this over again.”
  • “We were both saying…”
  • “Let’s find our common ground.”

Written by:
Katy Manganella, LPC-Intern supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S


How to Talk to Your Children About the News

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” – Mr. Rogers

The news is everywhere, and children are becoming consumers of the news at younger and younger ages. Not all information is factual, and children might have a difficult time distinguishing between what is real and what is false. Children might also be frightened by things they hear from peers or news outlets. By age level, here are the things parents should focus on when discussing the news with their children.

Children Under 7
  • Keep the news off – children in the age group developmentally do not need to be seeing the news. Wait until children are in bed to get your nightly fix. Keep any pictures that might be violent or distressing out of sight of children, that includes things on the internet! Make sure your computers and tablets have child protections in place that include news channels. 
  • Emphasize that your family is safe – If your child does hear about a tragedy in the news, highlight to your child that your family is safe. Clear up any misconceptions that your child may have about what happened. Although we as adults know that chances are low, your child only needs to know that this won’t happen to them. Children are very black and white at this stage, and might be fearful if they think there’s even a tiny chance of something bad happening to them. 
  • Teach basic safety skills – 
    • Beginning at age 4, knowing how to call 911. Children should know how to call from a parent’s cell phone, and know to answer questions as best they can, without hanging up. 
    • Know address and phone numbers at age 3. Children can best learn this through a made up song. 
    • Know names of parents. 
Children 8-12
  • Ask what they know – they’re getting a lot of information and misinformation at school at this age, so ask first what they know, and correct any misconceptions. 
  • Allow them to ask questions – and answer in an age appropriate way. Take into account your child’s sensitivity. What is right for one child is not for another child.
  • Talk about the news, but filter coverage – Children of this age do not need to see the grisly photographs, but they can know about what is going on in the world in a discussion. 
  • Talk about what you can do to help – they can send politicians post cards or attend an event with you. Encouraging them to help will let them feel as though they are making a difference in the world. 
  • Have a plan – making a disaster or safety plan with your child will give them a sense of control. 
  • Acknowledge feelings – Big feelings during tragedies are a normal and valid reaction. Allow your child to mourn and question when bad things happen. Be comforting but also accepting.
Teens
  • Be open – check in with them and allow them to express their opinions. It’s ok to state yours, as long as you’re not shutting down your teen’s ideas.
  • Let them develop – Teenagers are creating their own morality at this stage, and it’s important for them to question and challenge ideas. Within this questioning is growth, and identifying who they are as a person.
  • Encourage activism – Teens can participate in their world even more than younger children. They can attend meetings and events, and raise awareness about issues that are important to them.
  • Do the same things you would do with younger children, but at their developmental level. Some teenagers might need reassurance from their parents. Some might need an action plan. Be open and aware of your teen’s feelings so that you can do what’s best for them.

No matter what the age of your child, watch for significant and lasting behavioral change from your child when they’ve heard about a tragedy. If these steps are not working to reassure and help your child feel safe, it might be time to seek some professional help. 

Questions? Contact Michelle at [email protected]

By: Michelle Beyer, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S


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