Archive of ‘Mental Health’ category

Creating Healthy Body Image

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

I was always smaller than the other girls in middle school. I remember around 6th grade, when the other girls started developing, I was often picked on because I didn’t have curves or cellulite. I remember feeling so apart from them and hated my small figure. I made buttered popcorn my regular snack in hopes of gaining weight and creating a little cellulite so I could fit in and not be picked on anymore. I was also torn because the magazines I saw displayed and even promoted small figures, so it seemed I couldn’t win. I’m sure I was told by my mother that I was beautiful the way I was, but I don’t remember that… probably because the messages I was getting on a regular basis drowned out her compassion. Creating healthy body image was difficult for me at that time. I struggled with the choice to either gain weight and fit in at school or embrace and maintain my smallness so I could be accepted in the rest of society. Every girl (and boy) growing up in our society struggles with body image and most likely with body shaming. Body image is defined as how one sees their body, and this is influenced by the individual’s own perception and the comments and ideas of others. Consider the following statistics about body image (taken from http://www.dosomething.org):

  • “Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape.”
  • “58% of college-aged girls feel pressured to be a certain weight.”
  • Body image is closely linked to self-esteem and is often affected by family, peers, social pressure, and the media.
  • Low self-esteem in adolescents can lead to eating disorders, early sexual activity, substance use, and suicidal thoughts.
  • According to research, the more reality television a young girl watches, the more likely she is to place high importance on appearance.
  • “In a survey, more than 40% of women and about 20% of men agreed they would consider cosmetic surgery in the future. These statistics remain relatively constant across gender, age, marital status, and race.”
  • “Students, especially women, who consume more mainstream media place a greater importance on sexiness and overall appearance than those who do not consume as much.”
  • Only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.
  • “95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.”

Creating Healthy Body Image

Developing Body Image

The way we develop our perceptions of our bodies is largely due to the messages we receive about what our bodies are supposed to look like. With advances in computer and graphics technology, now more than ever images in the media are photo shopped to give consumers the belief that more women (and men) have this “ideal” body… and the underlying message is that you should too. Actually, sometimes this message isn’t so covert, but rather individuals are told directly that this is the body to strive towards. Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, it’s impossible to avoid these messages and it’s even more prevalent on television and the Internet. There are even websites that encourage and teach individuals how to be anorexic or bulimic, and how to do so without parents or loved ones finding out.

Tips for Creating Healthy Body Image

How can we combat the epidemic of body shaming and create healthy body image? The first step is to place importance on things other than physical attributes, such as intelligence, creativity, humor, and compassion. Even when someone compliments another on their appearance or how much weight they’ve lost, the messages sent are “how you look is important” and “you did not look okay before and now you do.” Another subtle way in which we body shame is when we shame ourselves, whether in front of others or alone. If I am with friends or family and say, “I really need to workout more so I can get rid of my cellulite,” I am sending the message that I am judgmental of anybody who has cellulite. If we voice that we don’t like something about ourselves, we are often sending the message we won’t like and accept that same attribute on someone else. And the truth is that many of the things individuals don’t like about their appearance and want to change, like cellulite or the lack of a “thigh gap,” are strongly genetic. As it says in the statistics above, only 5% of women are born with the bodies that are lauded in the media – you can’t diet your way to these figures. You are either born that way or you aren’t.

I believe we need to teach others, and ourselves, that physical appearance is not a measure of whether we are enough. We can start by simply not mentioning appearance when discussing ourselves or others. When you want to compliment someone you love, choose to compliment them on the things that really matter. Try to surround yourself with others who do not place importance on physical appearance and with those who do not talk regularly about the things they want to change about themselves. Try to break the habit of commenting on your own appearance. This in turn can help you learn to love and accept your body as it is. Working out and healthy eating should be a practice based on physical and mental health, rather than looks. It’s up to us to make a change in the way we perceive what’s important in our society, and it’s certainly an uphill battle, but we can start by making these changes and creating healthy body image in our homes and communities.


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!

public_perception_of_counseling


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


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