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Divorce is hard. It is emotionally and physically draining for all people involved, including children. When a divorce becomes high conflict, children are caught in the crossfire and are treated as “prizes” to be won. Parents start pressuring their children knowingly and/or unknowingly to choose sides. These behaviors can escalate to “alienation”. Alienation is defined as a parent teaching their children to reject the other parent using fear (Templer, 2). Due to limited research, professionals often mistake alienation for estrangement. This misdiagnosis can have devastating effects on a family.
One misconception about alienation is that the alienated parent is responsible for being rejected by their child, whereas the alienating parent is considered to have little to no part in why their child is rejecting the alienated parent. Discerning whether a parent has been alienated or estranged requires specialized skills and knowledge. Unfortunately, many professionals who are assigned to such cases often have little to no training in this area.
Misconceptions about alienation prevent families from getting the help they need and can even have legal ramifications. Here are some examples of harmful misconceptions:
It is generally believed that if a child does not want to be with their parent it means they have done something to deserve it. However, the reason could be that the alienating parent programmed the child.
It is generally believed that the child would not align with the abusive alienating parent. However, children are vulnerable to manipulation. The targeted parent often tries to enforce appropriate discipline and fill the hole left by the alienating parent. In so doing, the targeted parent is looked at harshly and viewed as not respecting their child’s wishes and feelings.
Enmeshment (blurred boundaries between two individuals) can be confused with healthy bonding. When children feel that they are not recipients of unconditional love they can be manipulated into doing what the alienating parents desires.
Professionals who have these or other misconceptions may come to the conclusion that the alienating parent is stable, whereas the targeted parent is not; this instability, real or perceived, is often the result of depression, anxiety, and anger that’s developed from the trauma of being alienated. Another example is if the targeted parent is falsely accused of abusing their child; the parent may exhibit instability due to the fear being jailed, losing their children, or financial pressure. The unfortunate reality is that even strong, emotionally stable individuals may become anxious, depressed, and angry when under the pressures of alienation.
Mental health professionals play a critical role in high conflict divorce cases and have the power to make things much worse or better. Given the high stakes, families are encouraged to carefully select a professional with the proper skills and training.
About the Author: Carol Kim is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the past 6 years practicing in several cities across the United States, including Boston, San Francisco, and now, American Fork. She is passionate about applying the principles of therapy to improve lives and relationships, and is committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment. Carol specializes in individual, couples, and family therapy, and has extensive clinical experience treating depression, anxiety, ADHD, addictions, domestic violence, trauma, children/adolescents and relationship issues. She has also utilized her deep understanding of parenting and marriage to teach and facilitate community parenting and marital enhancement groups. Carol received her Master in Marriage and Family Therapy from Brigham Young University, where she was clinically trained and conducted extensive research in improving marital satisfaction. After graduating and before dedicating herself full-time to therapy, she was awarded the prestigious Kaiser Fellowship and worked for the San Francisco Bay Area’s most popular news station, KTVU, as a broadcast journalist focusing on mental health related issues. She is a member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy and the Asian American Journalist Association.
We all have those days when it feels like we woke up on the wrong side of the bed. For whatever reason we are just in a bad mood. Often times these bad mood feelings are associated with difficult or stressful events in our lives such as trouble at work, financial problems or disappointment. Sometimes these bad mood feelings last for only a few hours, but sometimes they might linger for days at a time. There are many simple strategies to improve one’s mood in spite of what it is that might be bringing us down.
Be With People
Often times when we are feeling low just being with a trusted friend or family member and talking about our feelings can make all the difference. Having a sympathetic listener or someone that can get us laughing or looking at the bright side of things can make all the difference. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about our mood or admit that we need help. In fact, many times isolating ourselves can be one of the biggest culprits in a lingering bad mood.
Whether its a brisk walk through the neighborhood or a trip to the grocery store, getting out of the house can do wonders for improving our mood. Sometimes we just need a little sunshine or to breathe in some fresh air. The sights and sounds of everyday life can get our mind off of things and be a beautiful distraction.
When a bad mood strikes we might find ourselves not even wanting to do the things we normally enjoy, but doing them anyways can take our minds off of negative thoughts and often times will help us feel better overall. Think of simple pleasures like reading, exercising, cooking or baking, shopping or just watching a funny movie or show.
Talk to a Professional
Feeling sad or moody are normal human emotions that we all experience from time to time. Depression is different from these emotions primarily because depression is a pervasive feeling of sadness that impacts our entire life and doesn’t just go away even when things in our lives are good. We should not hesitate to reach out to a professional to help us understand our feelings and deal with them appropriately.
Source: Psychology Today
About the Author: Alberto has worked in healthcare for over 10 years. He began as a CNA and then worked as a registered nurse until completing his Master’s Degree in Nursing. Alberto has been been working as a Nurse Practitioner since April of 2013. In addition to his work as a Nurse Practitioner, he also teaches online classes for the Dixie State University Nursing Program. He is currently working at the St. George Center For Couples & Families.
The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year with the sparkle of lights, family gatherings, and good food. However they can also remind us of what we may be lacking, and leave us feeling less than completely happy. We want so much to give of ourselves and yet often get overwhelmed with the stress that tends to accompany this special time of the year. If we are dealing with a major change or loss it can become even more challenging to feel the joy amidst the sorrow. One thing I have learned over the years is that no one is immune from pain and stress. Life is hard. However, I have also found that those tough times are when I have been pushed to dig deep and recognize what it is that matters the very most to me.
Here are some lessons I have learned that have helped me over the years to remember that which matters most.
Choose to Be Present
When life becomes challenging we often focus on the future or on things outside our control. We may tell ourselves that we will be happy when we land a different job, make more money, find a new partner… the list goes on and on. We waste a lot of time waiting for happiness to happen down the road and fail to notice the little blessings right in front of us. Choosing to recognize the moments of goodness today enable us to be more ready to embrace the moments of greatness when they do enter our lives. If we only keep our sights focused on the destination, we will miss much of the journey.
Choosing to Love Deeply
When we are suffering, we sometimes forget that we are not alone. There is strength in connecting with others. There is power derived from leaning on each other and receiving/giving support. Part of loving is accepting what another is able to give. It is also accepting what we are capable of giving and knowing when enough is enough. We may not always be able to extend ourselves as much as we would like, but loving ourselves gives us permission to give what we can and let that be sufficient. Loving those in our lives means slowing down and listening. It may be taking the time to notice the little things before they are gone.
Choosing to Slow Down
I cannot count the times I have been rushing around, checking if the kids teeth were brushed and gathering my stuff for the day when I have miscalculated the countertop and watched a cup of juice fall to the floor, almost in slow motion. It is in those moments that I am rushing, that I tend to make my biggest mistakes. Sometimes it is just spilt juice, but sometimes it is a hurtful word or a lack of sensitivity. Being hurried zaps the joy out of the little moments that draw us closer to others and hinders us from being more centered on those things that mean the most. Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe, sit with a child, laugh, and listen.
I hope that at this special time of the year, we will remember what matters most. May we each find ways to lengthen the fleeting joyful moments and nurture those around us by being present today and loving more deeply. These principles can be the greatest gift we can ever give, not just to others, but also to ourselves.
About the Author: Cecilie Ott is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist. She received her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Psychology and her Masters degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Utah State University. She has worked extensively in the area of addiction (substance abuse and sexual addiction), and loves working with couples to help strengthen and heal relationships. Cecilie is a native of Northern California and has called St. George home since 2006.
Do you have hope during the holidays?
A young couple is snuggled up by the fireplace as they watch their children open presents, smile, and laugh. There is snow falling, sweaters, Christmas pajamas, hot chocolate, candy canes, cookies, hugs, kisses, and even tears from such loving gifts and sentiments. This is the image that we see everywhere around the holiday season.
Although we are inundated with this vision of the holidays, I have never really experienced it. Is this actually the typical family? When we expect to celebrate the holidays in this way, are we all being set up for disappointment?
What if we spent this holiday season free of expectations? What if we were truly present with our friends, family members, and even ourselves? What better way to spend this time of year than being centered and at peace with who we are?
The holidays can be especially difficult when families experience divorce, loss of a loved one, or financial stress. Even positive changes can disrupt our vision of the “perfect” holiday season. Adult children may not be able to make it home, whether due to professional obligations or the forming of new traditions with their own family. No matter the circumstances, it is important to increase flexibility and embrace the following core values, especially at this time of year.
Research has repeatedly shown how gratitude combats symptoms of depression and loneliness. Gratitude can be expressed with your loved ones or even with strangers. If you are feeling lonely, with a hole in your heart this holiday season, sharing your presence and gifts with those in need will fill even the emptiest of spaces. Tipping your waiter a little extra, writing a thank-you note to your mail carrier, or even making a sweet treat for your co-workers can be small ways of expressing gratitude.
Stress is a killer around the holidays. Where is the “peace” in running from store to store and traveling to six different holiday dinners? Find peace this season by spending time in your spiritual life. Find time to relax and unwind by taking a bubble bath, enjoying a hot drink, and cozying up with a good book or movie. The gift of peace is the best gift we can give ourselves, our families, and our friends this holiday season.
When is the last time you felt truly joyful? Maybe it has been a while. Even if your year did not turn out the way you wanted, you still deserve the time and space to feel joy. Experiencing joy has to be very intentional. You may not be much of a social butterfly, but if you are looking for joy this season and having trouble finding it, gather the courage to call an old friend or attend a holiday party at work.
My wish for you this holiday season:
May your gingerbread cookies be a little deformed.
May your Christmas carols be out of tune.
May you have a “snow day” (or “ice day”) that prevents you from working.
May your old memories chip away into new ones.
May your child throw a tantrum (if you don’t throw one first) that makes you quit shopping.
May your traditional holiday movie be a funny one.
May you take a vacation to somewhere warmer…even if it’s hiding under the covers.
May you find gratitude, peace, and joy in these moments and more.
About the Author: Alyssa Baker is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. Along with practicing at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families, she works as a Behavioral Specialist as a part of an Integrative Medicine fellowship with UTMB Family Medicine in Galveston. Alyssa has experience working with individuals, couples, families, and groups with a variety of stressors; including, mood disorders, chronic medical conditions, substance abuse, and relational struggles.
A wise person once said, “We make our habits, then our habits make us.” So we set goals and make resolutions, but our good intentions and resolutions often end in disappointment. Isn’t there an easier way to create a good habits? The answer is “Yes!”
In three simple steps, a new habit can be formed in just a few days.
1. Anchor your goal to an existing habit
2. Start small with an easy behavior
3. Validate your efforts
First, use an existing behavior as an anchor for your new habit. For instance, if you wish to develop a habit of doing daily push-ups, and you already brush your teeth every morning, use brushing your teeth as your prompt for your new habit. After you finish brushing your teeth, begin to do the pushups.
Second, start with something ridiculously easy like one push-up. Or, if your goal is flossing your teeth, start with flossing just one tooth. While you do the behavior consciously tell yourself that you enjoy the activity: “I like the way my muscles feel alive when I do push-ups!” or “My teeth feel great when I floss!”
Third, after you complete your small goal, validate your efforts aloud. It can be as simple as saying “Great job!” or “Awesome!” Saying it aloud is more powerful than just thinking the words, so don’t be shy. Throughout the day make sure to keep telling yourself you did great when you think of your goal. The great thing about this type of self-validation is that it doesn’t cost anything, it’s legal, non-fattening and immediate.
That’s it! After a few days, you will find yourself looking forward to engaging in the new behavior. Gradually, you can increase your small goal into a bigger one.
Since I try to practice what I preach to my clients, I have used this technique in my own life. My goal: Develop more upper body strength through morning push-ups. First, I thought of my existing morning habits and the first thing that came to mind was simple – opening my eyes! It’s hard to do push-ups while lying on a mattress, however, so I had to come up with another anchor habit. I chose to anchor my goal to my current habit of making my bed.
After tucking in the blankets and tossing the pillows on the duvet I dropped to the floor on my hands and toes for three standard push-ups followed by three modified push-ups (knee style!). I told myself, “This is very cool!” Easy, right?
Afterwards I said, “Awesome!” My sleeping husband pulled the bedspread and pillows off his face and called out, “What’s awesome down there?”
“I’m doing my morning push-ups, honey,” I told him.
“Good grief, all that grunting woke me up.”
“Wait till you feel my biceps,” I bragged.
“Keep working on it, Sweetie,” he said. “Someday you’ll find them.”
But it was too late. I couldn’t be discouraged because I had already validated myself and was looking forward to the next session! I haven’t missed a day since before Christmas, and the really cool part is that I don’t dread exercising. Hey, don’t mess with success, right? As my son who is a cadet at the military academy at West Point said, “Not bad for a 50-year old, Mom.”
“Fifty-one,” I said. I want every kudo I can get!
About the Author: Joan Landes is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. She feels that therapy should be an adventure for her clients and (gasp!) actually fun. Joan loves learning the latest neuroscience underpinning human resilience and is enthusiastic about skill development in her clients. She has been married for 32 years and is the mother of 7 children who make this world a better place.
What is a Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety? As a family therapist, I often meet with parents who want to know if their child has anxiety and my quick response is “I hope so!” Today the mere mention of the word anxiety tends to induce stomach knots, racing hearts, and cold sweats. However, a proper dosage of anxiety is a key component for healthy and successful children. On the other hand, excessive anxiety and the absence of anxiety are debilitating. Since the launching of school can also launch levels of anxiety for many students, here are a few points for parents to consider as they look forward to a successful year.
The better question about anxiety is “does my child have excessive anxiety?” All healthy individuals experience at least some anxiety, but excessive levels of anxiety can lead to harmful behaviors. In order to diagnose an individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder they must meet certain criteria which include excessive anxiety or worry more days than not for at least 6 months, difficulty controlling the worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or muscle tension. These symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, educational or other significant areas of functioning. So, a helpful question in determining excessive anxiety is — “has my child been significantly impaired for an extended amount of time in important areas of their life because of the anxiety that they feel?”
The beginning of the school year is a fitting time for parents to consider the possibility that their actions might be creating additional anxiety. One parental trend that often leads children to experience greater anxiety is an excessive family emphasis on achievement. Children who feel like they have to achieve in order to win the approval and respect of their parents are often filled with anxiety. Their motivation for achieving becomes less about personal growth and more about fear of letting parents down.
The opposite of anxiety is apathy or carelessness. Children who are apathetic give off a vibe of indifference, laziness, boredom, and unconcern. Faces are unflinching and tones are flat. The default response for many questions is simply “I don’t know.” There is not an official term of diagnosis to describe these characters but they are easily identifiable.
One parental trend that could lead a child toward apathy is a parent who is inconsistent, indifferent, and un-opinionated about their child’s success. I see exceptions to this trend, but I am often unsurprised by a child’s apathy after meeting both parents and understanding that a child is simply following the example of at least one of the parents. In these cases the apple really doesn’t fall that far from the tree.
Achieving the Right Amount of Anxiety
A great question from parents is ‘how do I help my children have the proper amount of anxiety?’ One of the best ways of helping kids reduce to a healthy level of anxiety is by maintaining high expectations while also assuring children both verbally and non-verbally that parental love is not dependent on child outcomes. In other words, parents need to convey that regardless of achievement level their children will always be genuinely loved.
One of the main ways that parents can increase the anxiety level of their apathetic children is to get actively involved. Parents who sincerely check-in and follow-up with their children are likely to see the kind of anxiety that will help motivate their children to succeed.
Although anxiety is often viewed in a negative light, a healthy dosage of anxiety helps children to be successful. Of concern are children who are experiencing excessive anxiety or no anxiety at all. Great parents are those who feel appropriate anxiety about helping their children to be balanced in their anxiety.
About the Author: Brent is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. During his Master’s Degree at Brigham Young University he worked at Wasatch Mental Health where he gained experience in working with families who have children that struggled with depression, anxiety, autism, trauma, or addictions. Learn more about Brent at st.georgefamilies.com.
Life can get super busy. There are so many things we have to do in a day… make breakfast, feed the kids, change diapers, clean, make lunch, feed the kids, clean, work, clean, go shopping, put toys away. And we do it all over again the next day and the day after that. When we get into this kind of routine, it feels like there is no room to make time to connect with our children. We often feel stuck or too exhausted to problem solve. We don’t have to make drastic changes in our routine. The secret is that little moments every day add up. Here are several simple things you can do to better connect with your children.
1) Let your children help out. This can be challenging. For example, I’ve found that involving my toddler in the kitchen makes tasks longer and often creates a big mess. However, I know that she loves helping me mix things and measure ingredients. I also know that I feel happy when we spend this time together. In addition, helping can also teach kids things such as math and motor skills.
2) Talk with your children while driving. Engage them in conversation. Talk to them about how their day is going. Sing songs with them or sing to them if they are too young. They will enjoy it.
3) Watch TV with your kids. I sometimes find myself needing a break and put the TV on for the kids. This break time can be a great time to connect with your kids through cuddling or talking with them about what they are watching.
4) Take 10-15 minutes out of your day to have one on one time with your child. This can be challenging, especially for mothers with many children or who work. Be disciplined in scheduling 10-15 minutes a day for the purpose of connecting with your child. If 10-15 minutes isn’t feasible, try 5 minutes, or if circumstances demand it spend time with one child a day . The important thing is consistency. During this time, play with them and give them your undivided attention.
5) Bedtime. Make it meaningful and a time you look forward to. Chat, tell each other stories, read books, sing, pray, or any other calming activity that allows you to connect..
As parents, sometimes we feel like we are in survival mode. Life gets busy but it is important to mindful of being present with our children. If we practice being in the here and now, our children will take notice and we will have a stronger relationship.
About the Author: Carol Kim is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the past 6 years practicing in several cities across the United States, including Boston, San Francisco, and now, American Fork. She is passionate about applying the principles of therapy to improve lives and relationships, and is committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment.
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