Secrets: You’ve Got a Secret

Do you have a secret? 

You go through your days and no one suspects it. You have this under control. Its been a long time, you know how to handle your secret. As long as you keep it quiet, it doesn’t hurt anyone else. <—- This is what your secret tells you. 

Lets look at some lies that secrets tell. 

1. If they don’t know, it won’t hurt them. 
A secret would have us to believe that someone finding out is the only way for the secret to hurt them. People are hurt by what they don’t know because a secret changes you in a way that others don’t understand. They don’t understand why you are irritable, why you are so stubborn about some things, or why you can’t be around someone. Even worse, when people don’t understand a problem they usually attribute that they are the cause. Maybe you know it is about your secret but they think it is about them. 

2. Telling would be too catastrophic. Things would never be the same again. Telling would just create problems. 
You likely envision your secret coming out and life changing forever and nothing good happening from that point on. The truth is that if you tell your secret, everything may likely change for a time. Things may fall apart in the short term but will stabilize in the long term. Things might not ever be the same but it doesn’t mean that it will forever to bad. For secrets like affairs, addiction or abuse, the fall out can be big but the recovery will happen. The immediate aftermath will be rough but the only way to have a better long term is to go through this step.  

3. Keeping it doesn’t really affect me. I have it under control.
This is the biggest lie about secrets. You believe that you are okay or at least you can manage it. The truth is you are not okay. Most people do not understand how much energy keeping a secret takes, how much it changes your mood and behavior, and how much it keeps good parts of you locked away. I hear it over and over again “I didn’t realize how much if affected me until after I told.” Secrets can produce irritability, depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and tiredness. When a secret is locked inside of you it takes up room and there is less room for joy, peace, fun, and connection. And it is always taking up more room than you think. 

Now some truths about secrets

1. It will be easier to deal with a secret if you tell it instead of it being discovered. 
The biggest problem with a secret is the breach of trust. You can start the recovery off on the right foot by telling so that those who are involved can know that at this point you decided and wanted to be honest. The worst situation is for a secret to be uncovered, you deny it and then are proven to be a liar twice over. It makes so much more to overcome. 

2. There can be more healing and good than you can imagine. 
Because a secret is taking more from you and your relationships that you realize, being free from it will open up a lot of room for positive growth and change. I know that everything within you believes the opposite but I see the good side of telling all the time. 

3. There is help along the way. 
If you are struggling with a secret, I think starting with a counselor is a great place to begin. A counselor will not be hurt or upset by your secret. Telling a counselor can help you see the benefits of coming clean and can help you figure out the next steps. (Disclaimer:telling a counselor doesn’t mean that you won’t need to tell someone else in time.) 

Think about it. 
Next post: You’ve Learned a Secret. 

Considering Counseling in the New Year?

With new year in full force, you might have considered whether counseling should be part of your new year’s resolutions. Many people question whether they should go or if therapy will help. 

Here are some questions to hep you decide what is right for you: 

  • How long have you been trying to stop, change or struggle with the issue? 
    • If its been longer than a few months, then you have likely tried all that you know to do to solve it and counseling could likely help. 
  • How many times have you tried to stop or change what is happening with limited to no success?
    • More than 2 previous attempts might indicate outside help is needed. 
  • Have other people mentioned that you should get counseling?
    • As much as we don’t want to admit it, sometimes others can see issues in our life better than we can.
  • Have you thought that you should go and then talked yourself out of it?
    • Call and make an appointment before the change your mind again. 
  • What will this year be like if things don’t change?
    • Don’t risk things getting worse!
  • How often is this problem an issue and how severe is it when it is? 
    • If it is a weekly problem or if it totally disrupts your life and your day when it happens, counseling is likely indicated. 
  • Have you thought that you should go?
In short, if you are questioning whether to go or not I would recommend going. If you are unsure, commit to yourself to go for about 4 sessions to see if it helps. If people come in early, often they can experience a lot of relief in just a few sessions. Usually, the longer you wait the worse the problem gets and more intensive work will be needed (although its never too late). 

2014 is a great year make changes. 


A Calm Mind

An anxious mind is a powerful force. It was spin and swirl thoughts, worries, and fears around at a mighty pace and handicap your ability to focus, make decisions and be at peace The most common initial strategies for dealing with anxiety I use are: 1. accept that you are anxious. 2. manage your thoughts. 

Accept that you are anxious.
This might initially sound counter-intuitive. People often try not to be anxious or to ignore that they are worried. This results in the equivalent of ignoring a bear in your living room.  If you are anxious, then you ARE anxious. It is wasted energy to try not to be anxious when you already are. 

Manage your thoughts. 
Anxious thoughts are like a wayward pilot on auto-pilot. You don’t intend to be worrying or be thinking about things but you just find yourself doing it. We must take the plane off of auto-pilot and learn to steer manually. You can steer straight into the thoughts and worries or you can steer clear of these issues. 

To dive straight in, spend some time purposely thinking about your worries and concerns. I strongly recommend you do this by writing out your thoughts. First, identify one worry and write everything associated with that worry. While doing this, you will identify another worry. Write it in the margin and write about it after finishing the first worry. Do this process until you have written through what is on your mind. Don’t try to be logical or fix your worries as you write. Just write down your thoughts. 

When you are finished you might find that the process of writing it down, alleviated your concern. If you still feel anxious, reread it. Are your fears realistic? Proportional to the situation? Is situation changeable? What’s the repeated theme of your anxiety? Is there a core fear? 
Option two in managing your thoughts is purposeful distraction. When you catch your mind on anxious auto-pilot, tell yourself to stop those thoughts. For example: I am not going to think about that now, I have already thought about all of it. I am not going to think about it now, I will think through it all tonight. I have already thought about all of it, I just have to focus on ______. Switch over to different thoughts (i.e. favorite memories, plans for this weekend, what task you need to do next) or a new activity that requires more focus. The anxious thoughts will probably creep back in. Every time you find it there again, you have to tell yourself to stop and switch over again.

Keeping a calm mind is difficult and requires focused effort. You have to work with your anxiousness regularly to keep it in check. The goal isn’t not to worry but to worry in control and in proportion. 


A Calm House

How do you keep a high octane culture from changing your household? Two main principles: go back to the basics and focus on keeping your calm.

The Basics
When starting therapy with children, most therapist will start with the basics:
    — Is the kiddo getting enough sleep?
    — What development changes are going on?
    — Do you have an established, predictable routine?
    — Do parents and children have fun, positive time together?
    — Is there a consistent plan for discipline? Does that plan work?

A lot of family therapy is re-establishing the basics of discipline, positive time together, conflict resolution and communication. Often when things gets stressful and problems arise, we overcompensate and overreact and make the problem worse. Shoring up the basics of your family helps remove the stress of the unknown and of change for kids. It can not be emphasized enough how sensitive children are to change and to ongoing tension. Even if they don’t know what is going on, they feel it and their behavior will show it.

My easiest recommendation for families dealing with stress, change or conflict is to sit and play with your child for 20 minutes. Give your kids an opportunity to reconnect with you. YOU are what makes them feel normal and stable. Parents are a child’s attachment base which means when they feel stressed, uncertain, or anxious, they need your presence to feel calm again. Give their your presence by giving their play your full attention (sit on the floor, turn off the TV, put the phone away). Follow their lead in play and don’t add your ideas unless asked.

Focus on Keeping Yourself Calm.
It goes without saying that children will be trying to your patience. How you respond is just as important if not more than what your response is. Yelling a perfectly crafted logical consequence to your child will have no impact. Your child will be focused on your reaction instead of focusing on their wrong actions. So let’s debunk some myths that cause us to lose our calm. 

Must respond immediately. Often parents feel the need to respond to their children immediately when they misbehave. If you have to chose between responding promptly or responding calmly: choose calm. 

Must always have it together. No one is level headed enough to respond to everything our children throw at us at all hours of the day and night with the most logical, calm head on our shoulders. If you have been worn to the end of your rope, feel free to give yourself a time-out. A person has their quota of “no”, tantrums, whining, arguments, and attitude she can effectively respond to without a break. 

Must always have the right answerKids can really surprise you with how they manage to misbehave. You can’t expect yourself to have the appropriate response primed at all times. You might have to think over how to respond. For example, what’s the logical consequence for giving the cat a haircut? 

Must go with first response.  Often our initial impulse is often the wrong impulse. The right response often requires a greater calmness and thought than we have in the moment. Allow yourself to walk away for a minute.  Also our children need to see us model how to regulate ourselves in stressful situations so they will learn to do it too.


A Calm Culture

A Calm Culture

This is the first post in a series about anxiety. Taking solution focused mindset, it will focus on the positive: being calm instead on the negative: being anxious. 

There is a notable rise in the mental health field of people seeking treatment for anxiety and anxiety related disorders. So much so that I believe it is fair to say that we are becoming an anxious culture. Think about words related to anxiety: keyed up, up tight, worried, stressed, tense, high pressure, constant. Are these not words that could describe an 21st century lifestyle? 

We are bombarded with things seeking our attention, things to decide to do or not do, things to learn about or ignore. There is always something to do, see, read, or watch. All of this noise has takes it toll. For many people, the constant nature of our culture, along with other factors, results in anxiety issues.

So lets flip the coin and focus on the goal. The opposite of anxious is calm: relaxed, mellow, peaceful, at ease. We need a grassroots effort to reclaim ourselves and our families for an anxious culture by creating places of calm and rest. We have to make effort to calm and relaxed because the natural flow of life is toward tension and stress. 

What does it look like practically? When was the last time you did this or what would it be like if you:
 — Sat in your car for 2 minutes before you get out – no radio, no phone, just sat.
 — Went outside and listened to every noise you hear. Its astounding what we tune out.
 — Stayed seated when you hear your text alert go off.
 — Reserved some time on your weekend to have no plans, nothing particular to do.
 — Visited someone you love just to hang out.

If as individuals we can start pushing back on our anxious culture, then we will start to see a bigger shift. More to come on how to create calm for yourself and your house. 


Finding the Right Therapist for You

Finding the Right Therapist for You

You decided its time to talk to someone and now you have to find that person. You might start with googling “therapist okc”, asking some friends, or getting names from you insurance company. But how do you choose? 

In my first phone conversation with people, they often say that they don’t know what to do or what to ask. If I were looking for a therapist or helping someone find a therapist, here are some things that I would do.

First, know that not all therapists work the same. If you need a doctor for a sinus infection, your treatment should be pretty standard no matter what doctor you chose. If you need a therapist for anxiety, your treatment could be very different depending on whom you chose. 

Generally, your mental health providers include:

  • psychiatrists – medical doctors who prescribe medication and most likely not do talk-therapy
  • psychologists – PhDs who focus on assessment and diagnosis of mental health issues and may provide some direct treatment or more likely will refer you to different treatment options
  • therapists/counselors – master’s level clinicians with differing areas of training and treatment approaches 
    • LMFT – licensed marriage and family therapist
    • LPC – licensed professional counselor
    • LCSW – licensed clinician social worker
    • LADC – licensed drug and alcohol counselor
Now some questions to ask a potential therapist on the phone or in your first session: 
  • Do you have experience treating this issue?
  • What is your typical approach to this problem?
  • How long would you estimate treatment to last?
  • Are you comfortable working with specific issues of my faith, culture, etc.?
  • Ask any question that you think may be important. 
These answers will hopefully help you start to determine if a therapist is a good fit for you. If on the phone or after one or two sessions, you are not feeling comfortable or something isn’t working well, raise the issue with your therapist. A good therapist will be very open to hearing your concerns and work to correct the issue. If the problem isn’t remedied, don’t stop therapy all together but feel free to find another therapist. 

Research on therapy has repeatedly shown that one of the biggest factors to positive change is the client-therapist relationship. How well you fit with your therapist is critical. When it works, you  feel comfortable, you believe that your therapist understands and knows how to help, and you can see positive changes happening or on the horizon. Don’t settle for anything less. 


**Side note for parents**. 
For teenagers: Often parents are in the situation of “dragging” a teenager to counseling. This is fine initially. Talk with your therapist about their approach to this situation. Often teens don’t want to come initially but can buy in after a few sessions. If the struggle continues, you might consider if it is a good fit or if there is more productive work you can do with the therapist to help your teen. 

For children. Therapy with children is very different from working with adults. To ensure that your child has a good experience with therapy choose someone who utilizes play approaches (i.e. child-centered play, story telling, games, puppets, drawing) as the main mode of treatment instead of just sitting and talking.

Being Where You Are.

Being Where You Are.

I often come across the misconception that as a therapist I give a lot of advice. I do a lot of listening. Usually in my sessions I talk far less than my clients.  Even though I do have and use different interventions and strategies, I am still a little surprised when people end our time together and say that it was just being here, just talking, that helped. I’d like to think it was something fancier that I did. It reminds me that usually people don’t need to be told what to do, how to get better, or what is wrong with their situation. Often they already know this. What people don’t have is someone that fully listens to them, that meets them where they are, that is just there with them.

In social settings lately I have been involved in several conversations about helping people who are facing severe trials and hardships. I  think our Midwestern, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality takes over and we try to think about what we can do, what we should say, or how we should help. Yet when the hard side of life comes to the door of a loved one, we come to the humbling realization that there is not a lot you can do to change it in the short run. So what we can do is just be with them, to sit and listen, or just to sit. To allow them to be where they are. 

I think we might be more helpful if we resist to urge to help by doing something and help by just being with someone. 


The Problem with Problems

The Problem with Problems

  • Money —-> there’s none left or you see the receipt from a shopping trip
  • Going on Dates —–> its Saturday night and you still at home
  • Division of Work —–> Wife’s had a hard day with the kids and husband comes home and needs to work after dinner
  • Kids doing things when they are told —–> its 9:30pm and he just started his homework.

One of the biggest problems with problems is when they happen. Timing. We start talking after the problem has already happened. You’re mad. You’re being blamed. Likely you’re busy and tired. In these circumstances, its easy to see how conversations quickly lead to arguments that don’t turn out well. 

And then when you’re not dealing with a problem, why rock the boat by bringing it up? Just deal with it when it comes up again. Right? Then you will be talking about what happened this time and the last 5 times and you’re upset. 

For problems that keep coming up, often a helpful strategy is to talk about when it isn’t happening right in front of you. This will help start your conversation off as best as possible. Research has shown how a conversation starts is one of the most predictive factors of how successful it will be. 

So for the problems that keep coming up, here are some ideas to tweak your approach…
  • Give a preview —> give each other some notice about what you want to talk about instead of just launching into the conversation
  • Put the weapons down —-> Start off with neutral or positive statements like “I want us to get better at….” instead of “we have to talk about how you never….”
  • Know your limits —> For issues that you’ve been dealing with for a while, there is likely a backlog of unresolved situations and feelings but know what you are going to focus on and stay there. It isn’t possible to work through everything in one conversation. 

Presidential Politics and Couples Quarrels

Presidential Politics and Couples Quarrels

When you hear a news clip of the Presidential candidates, mostly likely they are talking how the other guy has it wrong, did it wrong in the past, is being dishonest, doesn’t know what he is talking about or what the American people want, etc. Listening to a lot of that is draining and frustrating. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a politician say “here are my steps to improving this issue”, “I respect what my rival has done in this area”, “I made the wrong decision” or “I would have done that differently now”. 

Often couples find themselves making similar statements.  Arguments are about proving the other person wrong, assaulting their character, questioning their motives, and getting your point across at any cost. It reminds me of a line from a country song “nobody wins, we both lose, we’ve both lost this fight before”. Couples don’t want to continue to argue like this and it is hard to pull yourself out of this pattern once it starts. 

Just as it would be refreshing to hear Obama or Romney talk about their plan, their actions, their thought process and even their failures, a couple can make some crucial steps to restoring peace and connection by talking about themselves. Statements like “I hope we can improve…”, “I would like to try…,” “I feel better when….”, and “I should do better at…” are much more likely to get a positive response and make it easier for your partner to do the same in return. 

Typically we argue so passionately because we have been hurt and our needs haven’t been met but to move forward together it takes finding a way to deal the hurt without injuring our loved one. Talking about yourself instead of what the other person hasn’t done is a good place to start.  




To forget one’s ancestors is to 
be a brook without a source,
a tree without a root.
                      -Chinese proverb

My paternal grandmother wrote a family history and included this proverb at the end. She believed that it was important to remember and learn from our family’s past.  

Knowing and learning from your past is a critical element from a therapeutic perspective. Our families give us a blueprint of how to be in relationships, how to respond to problems, and how to show love to others. While your past is not your destiny, you are much more likely to repeat patterns from your family if you have not examined and learned from them. It is usually not enough to just want to be different. You have to understand how that pattern or characteristic is present in your family, what kept it repeating, and what will make you likely to do it too. 

I have told clients before that your past is most likely to hurt you if you are too afraid to turn around and look at it. 

All that being said, our families give us many things to celebrate and want to carry on the the next generation. Today I am thinking about how when you came to Grandma’s house, she would always say “Oh goody-goody! Come in and have a handout.” I hope I can make people feel as welcomed in my house and she did in hers.