Archive of ‘Mental Health’ category

Four Tips for Making the Most Out of Breaks in Therapy

journaling during a break in therapy

Many occasions can lead to a break in therapy – anything from a planned vacation or change in schedule to a sudden health emergency or change in circumstance. These breaks can be planned or unplanned, initiated by either the client or by the therapist, and they can be welcome or unwelcome. No matter the circumstances, these breaks can also be opportunities for continued growth and increased self-awareness. If you find yourself facing a current or upcoming break in therapy, here are four tips to make the most of it:

Dedicate the time

Breaks can be opportunities to slow down and focus on yourself and your relationships. They are opportunities to put into practice some of the discoveries made in therapy, and to try turning to other coping strategies and social support outside the therapist’s office. Dedicate the hour or hours you may have otherwise scheduled for therapy to yourself in other ways: take yourself on a walk or schedule coffee with an old friend.

Take note

Breaks can also be opportunities to step back, observe, and assess. It can be helpful to keep a journal during this time, and to bring your observations with you when you return to therapy. Some potential questions to consider journaling about: Did anything come up for you in your time away that you would have otherwise brought to therapy? If so, how did you manage it? What has changed since the start of therapy (or since your last break)? How have you grown? What’s needed moving forward?

Talk about it

Breaks can bring up feelings around loss and separation, both in the therapeutic relationship and in your relationships outside of therapy. In the session before the break, discuss with your therapist any feelings that come up around the upcoming break, and also put together a plan for how best to cope in the time away. Upon your return, you can reflect together on the experience and any insight gained.

Reach out

Reach out for additional support as needed. For longer and unexpected breaks, consider scheduling short-term support with another therapist or reaching out to a warm line. You don’t need to wait for a crisis to reach out for help. If you do find yourself stuck or struggling, don’t hesitate to call a crisis help line like 988.

YWCA’s Non-Crisis Warm Line: 512-548-9922

Integral Care’s 24/7 Crisis Help Line: 512-472-4357

or call Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988


Suicide Prevention: Conversations to Have with Your Teen

Conversations with our teenagers are vital in keeping them healthy and safe. CDC has reported an increase of adolescents who have had a suicidal attempt since 2020, the beginning of the pandemic (CDC, 2021). As a previous school counselor who did a lot of crisis counseling and worked with students who had suicidal thoughts, I want to encourage adults, parents, and educators to have these important conversations with your teens.

Ask the teen how they feel.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the most important thing we can do for our adolescents. Instead of asking about how their day went or about if they finished their homework, ask them how they feel today. You can ask questions like this: “How do you feel about what happened today?” or “How are you feeling today?” or “What are some emotions you feel regarding ____?” Middle and high school students would always tell me that they wish more adults would ask them how they feel instead of only asking them about tasks they need to get done.

Don’t be afraid to ask the teen if they are suicidal.

Many people believe that if they bring up the word “suicide” it is going to suddenly make the teen curious about it. Nope! It’s a myth. Research has proven that bringing up the word will NOT increase the level of suicidal thoughts in a teenager (NAMI, 2020). If a teen is thinking about it, their thoughts about it won’t increase just because someone asks about it. Parents, educators, and adults, please do not be afraid to ask your teen if they are suicidal. Many adolescents just need to be asked this question – so many adults in their life are afraid to ask, so the teen may not have a space to open up about their suicidal thoughts.

If your teen happens to say yes, ask if they have a plan. If they say they have a plan, consider seeking treatment and support, and do not leave them alone. If there are any items that they can use to hurt themselves, remove those items from their reach. During this process, encourage open communication and don’t be judgmental. Immediately reach out to a therapist and/or treatment center and ask for support. For an additional layer of protection, reach out to their school counselor and inform them of this too, so that they can keep an eye out at school. Since adolescents spend most of their time at school, it is important to have an adult at school who is aware of their suicidal thoughts and/or plan. The more eyes we have on our teen, the more we can protect them from doing anything rash.

Ask the teen about any protective factors.

The more hobbies and people the teen cares about, the more likely they are willing to stay alive. Ask about the adolescents’ hobbies, social circles, and values. See if there are any factors that may light up their interests or passions. If they talk about a hobby they enjoy, ask about it often and ask about their thoughts and emotions regarding it. As a therapist, I always start off my conversations with my clients about their protective factors. It helps me to better understand what they enjoy and what keeps them interested in living life. 

Protective factors to ask about:

  1. Hobbies: What do they like to do in their free time? What clubs/sports/extracurriculars are they involved in?
  2. Social circles: Who do they spend time with? Who do they trust? Who would they turn to if they were going through a hard time?
  3. Physical health: Are they eating well? Are they drinking enough water? Are they spending an adequate amount of time exercising?
  4. Purpose/Values: What do they believe in? What do they value? What are some topics that get them stirred up? Do they believe they have a purpose in life?
  5. Self-esteem: What do they think about themselves? Do they believe they have the strength to overcome challenges?

If you have a teen who is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a therapist immediately. You can find a therapist with immediate openings at Austin Family Counseling by emailing [email protected].

Additionally, there are resources available that can offer immediate support: 

  • Call 988 (suicide hotline number)
  • Call 512-472-HELP (Integral Care Mobile Crisis Team) 
  • Chat with a crisis counselor: https://988lifeline.org/chat/ 

Citations:

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2020/5-Common-Myths-About-Suicide-Debunked

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7024e1.htm?s_cid=mm7024e1_w


Ways to Increase Connection with your Child When School Starts

Notice the Good and Encourage 

As you know, the weeks leading up to school and even after school starts can be a rough transition for both you and your kiddo. One way to increase connection with your child is to not only pay attention to the positive things that your child does, but also verbalize them. Yes, the small things too! When people do better they feel better, which is exactly how children feel when their parents notice and affirm their positive actions. 

Examples of Encouragement: 

“I appreciate how you put your backpack up when you walked into the house.”

You are such a kind friend for holding the door for your classmate.” 

“Thank you for helping me set the table.” 

“You must be so proud of yourself for figuring out your math homework.”

Make Agreements 

A common struggle I hear when working with parents is “how do I get my child to do what I want.” A parent that decides for their child what they want their child to do directly reduces the opportunity for collaboration or discussion, which can create more distance between them. With this authoritarian approach, the child may feel discouraged that they cannot express their feelings leaving the parent defeated as to how to fix the issue.  

However, involving your child in the process of creating agreements can increase direct involvement from them, which can lead them to keep their agreements. Children feel respected when they are given an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings on an issue. 

Follow these 5 Steps for how to create Agreements: 

  1. Sit down together when everyone is calm and have a respectful discussion about an issue that requires an agreement 
  2. Brainstorm Solutions. Let everyone share their thoughts and feelings about the issue.
  3. Choose a solution that everyone can agree on and agree on a specific time deadline 
  4. If agreement is not followed, refrain from using judgment or criticism. Instead say, “What was our agreement?” 
  5. If agreement is still not followed, start again with Step 1. 

https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/agreements-positive-discipline-tool-card

Validate Feelings 

The first few weeks of school can elicit a range of emotions from your child. Some children might be excited about making new friends or entering a new grade, while others may feel nervous and retreat from these new experiences. Whatever your child may be feeling during these first few weeks of school, you will be a source of grounding for them. They will come to you seeking guidance or support and the most important way you can help them is to validate their feelings. 

Validation is all about providing children the space to simply feel without you trying to rescue, fix, or deny their feelings. When you directly acknowledge your child’s feelings through a question or statement, it models to them: I am significant and it is okay to feel what I feel. Through validation, you show them that their feelings provide crucial information about themselves in that very moment. And when children experience their feelings and are actively able to work through them, it can lead to self-regulation, and then later to appropriate problem solving. 

Examples of Validation: 

“You sound angry.” 

“I can see that makes you very frustrated.” 

“Can you tell me more about what you are feeling?”

“Do you need a hug?” 

Transitioning out of summer and into the school year can be hectic and overwhelming as the entire household juggles waking up on time, carpools, bus rides, packing lunches, after school activities, completing homework, and the list goes on. And as a parent, the responsibility falls on you to manage, problem solve, and fix things along the way. However, I would like to remind you that you deserve to give yourself compassion and patience during this time because you may not meet every expectation you have for yourself as a parent. And that is okay. 

The creator of Positive Discipline, Jane Nelson says, “the first step in learning to be the best (but not perfect) parent you can be is to create a roadmap to guide you to your destination.” My hope is that by implementing and practicing these three techniques it will serve as a path to more meaningful moments with your child. 

Written By: Geetha Pokala, M.S., LPC

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