Archive of ‘Mental Health’ category

Public Perception of Counseling and Its Meaning in Society

By: Angelica Beker, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Angelica Beker, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Do you or someone you know have a negative view of counseling? On the flip side, how many people do you know who have a positive view of counseling? I am guessing the numbers are about half and half. The public perception of counseling is a diverse one and could be due to a number of factors including cultural views, media, age, and experiences – to name a few.

Let’s sort out the different factors one by one.

Cultural views: Each culture certainly has its own views regarding counseling. In some cultures, talk therapy is seen as completely acceptable and almost expected when you have an unbiased individual to listen to your personal concerns. Sometimes, it can be normal to have a therapist, just like it could be to have a personal trainer, doctor, or other common professionals. However, in other cultures, therapy can be seen as a sign of weakness. This can be due to the fact that in some cultures, your personal business stays your personal business. As such, talking to a therapist is not acceptable and you work out your concerns on your own or solely within the home.

Media: As a therapist, I often get very angry with the way that media portrays therapists. Therapists are seen as flowy clothes wearing weirdos, who get personally intertwined with their clients and over-step boundaries (in every which way possible). Too often, movies and TV shows do not show therapists following the ethical practice standards that real-life therapists abide by on a daily basis. As a young adult (putting my title as a therapist aside), I can completely see why media can give therapists are bad representation in that people may not take therapists seriously or trust them with their personal business. They seem like “weird shrinks,” which is not the most inviting to the average human being.

Age: This can certainly be a factor in whether an individual may choose to come to counseling or not. Often times, the trend can be that those of the older generation are less likely to attend counseling, whereas those of the younger generation are more open to the idea. Due to the sensitive nature of counseling, it is understandable that this may be the trend as older generations were raised in a society where personal business was kept personal. On the other hand, the younger generation lives in a time where everyone and anyone can know their personal business, especially with the rise of social media.

Experiences: Some people have been to therapy before. Some have not. Maybe those who have been before had a negative experience, which can understandably negatively shadow their views on counseling. Those who have never been may have no idea what to expect, which can naturally raise anxiety levels and make one less likely to see a therapist due to the uncertainty.

What comes up for you?

Counseling is a very vulnerable experience. It is understandable that counseling may not be for everyone, but it can and has changed lives. Because April is Counseling Awareness Month, I challenge you to take a moment and think about any of the above listed points. Do any of them stand out to you? Do you relate to any? If so, in what way? Counseling may not be for everyone, but open mindedness can be such a positive factor when considering whether you are in need of talking to a helping professional. There are times when having someone listen to us vent can be a very relieving experience! Society can have a big impact on our perceptions, but it is important to take a moment to dig deep and think about what you as an individual are in need of.

Until next time, be well!

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Trauma and The Brain

I believe when helping individuals recover from traumatic events they have experienced the first step is to help them understand just how trauma affects the body. And it does indeed affect your whole body, specifically your brain. Today I’m going to talk about trauma and the brain and give a brief overview of what happens in your brain during and after a traumatic event. First I’d like to point out that the definition of trauma lies on a broad spectrum and that the experience of trauma is subjective. I think of trauma as a high level of emotional or mental distress, and what qualifies as a “high level” varies from person to person. Here is a simple definition of trauma by researchers Duros and Crowley (2014): Too much too fast, too much too long, or not enough for too long.

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

When trauma is experienced, the body becomes dysregulated because some systems go “offline” in order to attend to the emergency at hand. This dysregulation of the nervous system results in distortion and fragmentation of memory, perception, beliefs and emotions (Van der Kolk). Lets get a closer look at how this happens. It is important to note that what I am going to explain happens reflexively, meaning we have no control of how the process unfolds. When information comes into the brain through the senses, that information is directed to the amygdala. The amygdala can be thought of as the brain’s “smoke detector,” constantly scanning (5 times a second, to be precise) for danger. It determines if any stimulus in the environment is dangerous. If danger is perceived, then the amygdala gets the nervous system going. The thalamus signals the brain stem to release norepinephrine, a stimulant, throughout the entire brain. The hypothalamus sends a signal to prompt the pituitary gland, which then signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and coritsol so the body can jump into action. When cortisol floods the brain, the hippocampus shuts down. This is important because the hippocampus is responsible for processing explicit memory – the parts of memory that can be explained with words, such as the where and when of an experience, visuals, sounds, and smells. The problem is that since this part of the brain shuts down these parts of the experience do not get processed along with implicit memory – the parts of memory that contain body sensations and emotions. Since these two parts of memory of the event are not processed together and thus stored separately, the experience of the traumatic event gets fragmented. So, when something in the environment triggers the physical sensations or emotions that were present during the trauma, there is no activation of the part of the memory (explicit) that indicates time and place. As far as the body and brain are concerned, there is currently a real and present danger and the body reacts accordingly. As you can imagine, this can be very difficult for the individual having this experience. You could be going through your day as you usually would, and then for no obvious reason you are experiencing panic, fear, anger or sadness. Some wonder if they are losing their mind because they don’t understand why this is happening! My hope is that in explaining what happens in the brain when a distressing event occurs, that relief can settle in because there is now an understanding that this is not “crazy” but a biological result of distress. Once you understand what is happening, you are much more able to address it with helpful techniques to calm down the nervous system.

References:

Duros, P., & Crowley, D. (2014). The body comes to therapy too. Clinical Social Work Journal. doi:10.1007/s10615-014-0486-1

Van der Kolk, Bessel, MD., “The Body keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma,” Peguin Press Viking, New York, 2014


Shame: The Insidious Defeater

It wasn’t until after I was out of graduate school and well into my professional career that I really learned about shame. While many of my clients seemed to receive help and work through tough problems and even trauma, there seemed to be a few areas where we would sometimes get stuck. After training with Dr. Brené Brown and her team on shame resiliency, I began to notice huge progress both within myself and in my clients.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Most of us don’t talk about shame. By definition, shame is that which feels unspeakable; the things that keep us awake at night or nag us throughout our daily tasks. They are the messages we hear in our head when we want to be vulnerable or make a connection with another person; the voice that discourages us when we think of taking a risk or doing something brave. For many of the clients I work with, the voice shows up as something like, “not ____________ enough” (fill the blank with words like good, smart, pretty, skinny, sexy, funny, etc). It also dresses up in messages like, I’m unloveable, flawed, disgusting, broken, worthless, a phony, or a fraud. When we have a fight with someone we love, shame is often the feeling that causes us to curl up in the corner feeling completely defeated and “bad” or lash out and blame the other person, perhaps even shaming them.

For many people, these messages and statements are so insidious, so ingrained that they are perhaps not even really consciously noticed. Instead, they may just be internalized as “truth,” minimizing the chance that the person feeling shame might take that risk, share something vulnerable, or succeed at something hard. It often keeps people from having the close relationships that they would like to have because they fear that if people only knew the “truth” about them, they wouldn’t be liked or considered worthy of connection.

As part of the work I do with clients, I ask them to notice the “tapes” that play in the back of their minds. When they feel challenged, when they are trying something new or difficult, when they feel scared or hurt, what messages are they hearing? They often come back surprised by the amount of negative self-talk or shaming messages that are on replay throughout their days.

Particularly in my work with individuals who have a trauma history including family of origin mental illness or dysfunction, domestic violence, assault, or abuse, with clients who have experienced divorce or made the difficult choice to abort or give a baby up for adoption, and with clients who are in recovery from various types of addiction, there is often a great deal of shame happening consciously or unconsciously.

The biggest problem with shame is that it jeopardizes relationships, stunts our growth, keeps us from connecting with others, and makes us feel very alone. The anecdote to shame is owning our story with self-compassion and love in addition to sharing our story and our shame with those that we trust.

To learn more about Dr. Brown’s work on shame, visit http://www.brenebrown.com. If you are interested in joining a group or receiving individual counseling about shame/shame resilience, visit http://www.austincounselors.org.

Upcoming Group Offering:

Daring Recovery– an eight week group for women in recovery based on the work of Dr. Brené Brown. Facilitated by Jennifer Alley, LPC, CDWF-candidate at 5000 Bee Caves Rd. Suite 100.

Mondays 6:15-7:45pm

October 27-December 15

Group objectives:

  • Gain courage to own, share, and live our stories
  • Learn how to live life sober, transforming the way we live and love
  • Choose authenticity over numbing, pretending, and perfecting
  • Increase self-compassion, empathy, and connection
  • Understand our shame triggers and what drives that feeling of not being enough
  • Connect bravely with other women

Contact Jennifer at [email protected] or 512-761-5180 to register or for more information. You can also visit http://www.austincounselors.org.


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