Meet Savannah!

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Hi there! 

I’m so excited to join the GT Therapy team and I’m eager to share more with you about my journey as a therapist. I grew up in the delightfully small town of Tomball, TX, a rural suburb of Houston. Ever since my days as a “peer mediator” in elementary school, I knew that I wanted to be a therapist. I loved helping other classmates sort out their problems (and getting to miss class probably didn’t hurt). My heart has always had a special place for kiddos and families. When I was in high school I babysat and taught ballet to three year olds, and in college I worked at a preschool and nannied. 

I studied social work at the University of Texas as an undergrad, which sparked my passion for mental health and social justice. From there I went straight into graduate school for social work at UT, eager to continue honing my skills as a clinician and advocate. After graduating with my Masters of Science in Social Work, I worked in various jobs within the non profit world, supporting and training foster parents, facilitating group and individual counseling to survivors of domestic and sexual assault, offering family counseling and play therapy for children, and working as a school based therapist in middle and high schools across the Austin area. I’ve lived in Austin for quite a while now, and there’s no place I’d rather be. I love spending time outside with my dog Boone, catching up with friends over a meal, and when at all possible- not taking life too seriously.

I am so thankful for a career where I get to connect with people, hear their unique stories, and offer them genuine empathy. Getting to see my clients grow in self compassion, laugh with me (or sometimes at me), communicate more effectively, or mend a broken relationship makes my so heart happy. I’m continually inspired by the people that choose to take the brave step toward healing and seek out therapy, and am so thankful for each of the clients I have the privilege of working with. If you want to take the next step toward healing, please reach out, as I’d be honored to walk with you on your journey. 

Meet Austin!

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Hello!

My name is Austin. Thank you for pulling up this post and letting me introduce myself to you.  I’ll start by how I got here. I was born in Chicago and grew up in Chicago, LA, Dallas, France, and a couple of countries in central Africa.  I went back to Illinois for college and majored in Psychology and Philosophy. I also spent 6 months of my senior year in Rwanda working with a local organization that promotes reconciliation between perpetrators and victims of the 1994 genocide.  My psychology studies and experience in Rwanda strengthened my desire for a career in mental health. After college, I moved to Austin for love, following my now wife as she started a PhD program at UT. I have spent the last 6 years working for various nonprofits around central Texas and getting my MA in Professional Counseling with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy from Texas State.

I love to travel but spend most of my vacations enjoying time with family.  I almost always prefer listening to other people to talking myself. In my free time I am usually reading or playing a game of some sort.  Following many years of throwing out the dry, brown remains of plants that didn’t make it, I have kept two different plants alive in pots for more than a year and counting.  I play video games but have only ever owned Nintendo game consoles because for me the main purpose of owning a video game console is to play games with friends. I have a puppy who embodies the mixing and melding that makes Austin (the city) so wonderfully weird.  

Probably as a result of moving around so much as a kid, I love variety and chances to learn new things.  In the last several years I have worked with everyone from kids who were going in and out of the mental hospital to kids and families grieving the death of a family member to people of all ages who have experienced trauma to kids and teens and adults who are feeling anxious or depressed to couples at every stage of a relationship. I don’t love the variety of pain that people experience. What I do love is being able to hold a safe space for people, provide some tools, and watch the strength and courage and compassion and growth and humor and ingenuity that shows up.

Thank you for taking the time to get to know me better.  If you want to know more about me, you can read my bio and get in touch at the link below!

Sync Up and Parent as a Team

Imagine parenting to be like managing a ship. You plan a route, assign tasks to your crew and hope that everyone pitches in. The crew relies on the co-captains, or parents, for guidance and reassurance. Now imagine if the co-captains are sending conflicting information. This approach leaves the crew confused about how to proceed. Often, what ensues is chaos, stress, and a crew that either attempts to benefit from this discord or proceed with discouragement.

This is similar to families when the co-captains, or parents, are not aligned. Each partner is working hard and making decisions based on their own goals, often unaware of what their co-captain is delegating at the same time. Let’s be clear, this is typically done with the best of intentions and belief that you are steering your family in a great direction. Yet, if the ship is being steered in two different directions, not much is accomplished. If you notice your children going behind your back to ask your partner permission, the rules often shift, or perhaps there is no family mission in place, this can be a fantastic opportunity to reflect with your partner on how to sync up. This can feel like a big undertaking. Many of us did not grow up in homes that had consistent structure and a transparency in why our parents operated the way they did. However, this is an opportunity to grow and learn. Remember: perfection is not the end goal here!

A great starting point is to sit down with your partner and discuss what values you are wanting to instill in your family. Whether that be adventure, honesty, selfless service, etc., start to discuss why these values matter to you. Really hear each other out and try to connect with your partner’s point of view, even if your lists differ. Second, reflect on how your current “rules” or guidelines at home either support or deviate from these values. You want to both be clear on how each guideline directly promotes your top values. Once these guidelines are clearly established, they also need to be written out so that all ages can understand what is expected. When spelling out guidelines think “SMART” - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely. For younger kids, pictures are also effective.

It can be helpful to call a family meeting and sit down with your kids to discuss, especially when changes have been made. Now with the family present, explain what is the purpose of each guideline. For example, we will spend each Sunday morning together as a family at breakfast for one hour, without phone/tablets to include quality time, holidays and vacations included. If you have buy-in about the purpose of this, there is more likelihood your children will have buy-in as well. Allow for questions and even for a respectful discussion to ensue. With teens, it oftentimes helps to allow some flexibility for feedback or editing the guidelines together so everyone can feel invested in the process. Having everyone sign the list and posting a copy for reference can symbolize this commitment of the entire family.

Now, the most important piece: FOLLOW THROUGH. Louder for the people in the back!! CONSISTENCY is key. If you and your partner agree to establish a rule or guideline, stick to it. It can be tough, but it’s so crucial to make sure you’re honoring your co-captain and the mission you’ve laid out for your family. If you slide, that actually means you are going against your commitment. This lends to anxiety and confusion.  It is crucial for your children to learn that you are true to your word and that what you expect of them is consistent. Perhaps this feels like something too big to take on without some extra support or you and your partner feel way off track. This can be common, especially with separated or blended families that are trying co-parent and are struggling to communicate. Know that family therapy is an option. There are wonderful therapists who can patiently walk parents through this process, and help clarify how to work together to steer the ship in an intentional direction.

Approaching Life with a Beginner's Mind

Photo by  Max Andrey  on  Unsplash

Photo by Max Andrey on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself making assumptions about the way your next history exam will go, how a conversation with a parent will transpire, or how you will perform in your next soccer tournament? Often times we cultivate expectations of ourselves, others, or situations in general based on past experiences. While this is a natural and adaptive aspect of human nature, it can also inhibit us from being open to the potential of experiencing something new and different. Furthermore, assumptions based on our experiences sometimes take us away from the present moment and transport us backward into the past or forward into the future. Again, while not entirely unhelpful to reflect on past experiences or consider our futures, living in the past or the future can bring up unhelpful emotions. It can also inhibit our ability to experience the here and now and furthermore to be effective in the here and now. Today I offer you the concept of “Beginner’s Mind” as a means of cultivating the opportunity for new experiences and practicing mindfulness of the present moment.

What is a beginner’s mind? It is what it sounds like! Remember the first time you made a new friend, got an A on your exam, went on a rollercoaster? During any of these “firsts” you approach the experience with an unknowing and open mind because you have not yet had that experience. Beginner’s mind is a way of approaching an experience that, while it be familiar in many aspects, has the potential for a new and different outcome. Perhaps you have had several conversations with a parent on earning privileges back that have not gone in your favor. These experiences build on each other and cultivate an assumption that this type of conversation will always transpire in the same fashion and have the same end result. This assumptive mindset, while seemingly accurate, inhibits us from being creative and experimenting with a different approach and outcome. It can feel hopeless, defeating, and other unhelpful emotions when we get into our assumptive mindsets. If we are to shift our perspective to utilizing a “Beginner’s Mind”, we might consider approaching this conversation in a different manner with an open mind about the result looking different. In doing so, we allow for the possibility of change and new experiences. Cultivating the opportunity for a new experience may foster emotions such as hope and optimism.

Now what we know what Beginner’s Mind is, how do we achieve beginner’s mind? First, we must acknowledge that there is a part of our past experience that informs our current experience. For example, that last conversation with my mom did not go well. We might draw attention to the areas in which we felt this conversation was ineffective and tweak those areas to open the opportunity for a new outcome. We must then let go of that past experience with our tweaks in mind. Rehashing the past in unhelpful to our current situation. Similarly, we might envision what could happen in the future; however, we must acknowledge that we are not fortune tellers and therefor we cannot predict the exact outcome. In this scenario, make peace with the fact that we cannot with certainty predict the result of our conversation. Once we have made peace with our past experiences and our assumptions about the future we allow ourselves to come back to the present moment and furthermore be effective in this current experience.

Beginner’s mind can be challenging, especially if you notice your mind often wanders to a different time and place. I offer you the following tips in practicing Beginner’s Mind and cultivating more experiences in the here and now:

  • Practice self-kindness, do not judge yourself on your ability to stay in the present. Rather, gently remind yourself to come back to the here and now when you notice you have wandered

  • Make peace with what you cannot change about the past and what you do not know for certain in the future

  • Practice Self-Care and grounding strategies to help you move through difficult emotions

  • Remember that Beginner’s Mind is challenging and requires practice! Resist the temptation to give up on your efforts!

Behind the Scenes of Your Therapist's Maternity Leave

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We’ve had the good fortune of partnering with Work Muse for a series on how we (Blake & Tracy) stumbled into job=sharing the role of co-owning and co-directing our beloved team here at GT Therapy Group. (See Part One here and Part Two here). This week we’re diving into what it’s like when a therapist and small business owner goes on maternity leave and how our partnership supports our work/life balance, our group practice, and ultimately serves our clients.

As some of you know, I will be going on maternity leave sometime in the next 6 weeks (!!) and I can’t credit my partner Tracy enough with making the whole process smooth and comfortable for me, our clients and our team. This is our fourth maternity leave to navigate together, and we’ve grown and transformed from each experience, personally and professionally.

For clients, it can be unsettling and disruptive when your therapist goes on an extended leave. It’s common to experience anxiety and uncertainty, wondering: Will she come back? What if I need support while she’s out? Who do I turn to? Is it ok to see another therapist while mine is on leave? How do I even do that? With a partnership like ours, we can leave our clients in capable hands, knowing that whatever comes up while we are out, our partner and support staff will be there to guide and support them with compassion and care, including connecting clients with other therapists or resources when they are in need.

For business owners, the prospect of going on maternity leave can be daunting and anxiety-provoking. What will happen to my business while I’m away? Who will put out the fires? Who will hold it all together? What if it all falls apart?? Having a job share team means that we can take our time off to focus on our family, having trust in our partner to keep the ship afloat while' we’re away. This peace of mind is priceless.

As I enter into my last weeks before my leave, I’m filled with gratitude for my partner Tracy, my GT Therapy Group team, and my clients. Thank you for walking on this journey with me and enriching this experience every step of the way.

Work Muse  supports job-sharing as a means of achieving work-life balance while having a thriving career; something near and dear to our hearts. Follow all the awesomeness here !

Treating Parents is Key to Treating Anxious Children

Earlier this week in the break room, Blake and Tracy shared about a recent study they had read.  As one of the rare individuals who thoroughly enjoy reading academic research, I was PSYCHED – not just because I got to hunker down with my highlighter in hand, but in that it pertained to treating children with anxiety.  While these two things alone would bring a smile to my face, the results were tremendously powerful: TREAT THE PARENTS. While this may seem like a simple and maybe obvious solution to a family systems therapist like myself, you’d be surprised how little family/parental work is done when the main client is a young person with anxiety.  It is not uncommon for parents to believe that their anxious child is the one who needs therapy, which is certainly still true. However, if the goal of all involved is to support the child in reducing symptoms of anxiety, treating the parents is very much the key to success.

According to Eli Lebowitz, the associate director of the Anxiety and Mood Disorders at the Yale Child Study Center, parents of anxious children almost always try to accommodate their child. She states, “For instance, if the child suffers from social anxiety, no friends are invited to the house; in the case of separation anxiety, parents sleep with their child or never leave the home. Parents constantly reassure a child with generalized anxiety. While the responses of parents are natural, studies have shown that they also leave children suffering from debilitating anxiety into adulthood”.  Currently, there are only two evidence-based treatments for anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT, which I provide and have written about in past blog posts - Embracing Self-Compassion and Let’s Talk About Teen Mental Health), and medication. Of those able to receive these options, however, only half of the children respond to treatment. Because of this, it has been vital for researchers to find additionally effective treatments.

Yale researchers randomly assigned 124 children ages 7 – 14 with diagnosed anxiety disorders to either receive cognitive behavioral therapy, or their parents were enrolled in the Yale SPACE program, or Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. For 12 weeks, parents attended weekly counseling sessions geared toward helping themselves cope with their anxious child.  While both approaches were equally effective in reducing the child’s stress levels and anxiety symptoms, the “accommodating” behavior parents typically engage in reduced significantly after receiving SPACE counseling.

For example, a parent assigned to SPACE was able to decrease the number of daily text messages sent to their child from “dozens” to about 2 – 3.  Also, parents who repeatedly kept their child out of school because of anxiety-related stomachaches learned to say, “I know you are feeling upset right now, but I know you’ll be okay,” and sent their child to school.

It is believed that the accommodating behaviors were reduced due to encouraging parents to validate their child’s emotions, while also creating and maintaining boundaries and consistent support for the child. In a 2013 study about Space, Lebowitz shared this example script:

“We understand it makes you feel really anxious or afraid. We want you to know that this is perfectly natural and everyone feels afraid some of the time. We also want you to know that it is our job as your parents to help you get better at things that are hard for you, and we have decided to do exactly that. We are going to be working on this for a while and we know it will probably take time, but we love you too much not to help you when you need help.”.


I am very much excited to share that I will now be challenging myself to learn more about the SPACE approach, and will begin engaging parents more frequently when treating their child’s anxiety.  Also, for you parents of anxious children out there, I’ve created a short and quick cheat sheet that may also help you in this process:

  1. Listen to what your child is saying, both verbally and with their body language!

  2. Validate your child’s feelings – “I see that you feel _______”.  

  3. Normalize the feelings – “Everyone feels _______ sometimes”.

  4. Support – “We are all working on this together, and I love you”.

Thanks for letting me share this exciting work with you, and as always, be safe, be peaceful and be kind ☺


Fighting the End-Of-School-Year Burnout

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

It’s often the same old story for students. You are counting down the days until the school year ends, and then freedom can begin! You have spent all year working hard and juggling so many moving parts in your life. Yet, finals are coming up and summer feels far away. Maybe you’ve already noticed your motivation dropping and your feet dragging when it comes to keep up with everything going on. The struggle can feel very real!

This feeling of “burnout” often pops up when we try to power through, without also taking care of ourselves. You may have received messages that you have to keep pushing on, even if you start to reach your breaking point. However, this is not realistic! Resilience, or the ability to keep going despite our circumstances, requires us to rest when we need to.

For some, burnout means feeling cranky, checked out, tearful or even shutting down. Things that used to be fun, can seem uninteresting or even overwhelming. Your body is actually screaming, “take care of me! Slow down!”

What can you do?? You have a couple months left a you still need to survive. Here are some simple tools you can use to help yourself recharge and actually get through this last hump until summer break. I challenge you to try some of these on, and see what works for you:

1.    Check in with yourself. What are you are feeling right now? Maybe: sad, irritated, nervous, numb… find the word that feels true. And then name one helpful thing you can do for yourself in this moment. And most importantly, DO it!

2.    Get your basic needs met. Are you hungry, thirsty, or tired? If these things aren’t being taken care of not much else will be able to help. It’s amazing the impact a glass of water or a 20-minute power nap can have.

3.    Find one moment each day that you are grateful for. Gratitude actually helps us see our life in a more positive light.

4.    Make a list of small things that energize you. And then write those into your weekly planner. Literally. Carve out time in your schedule to do at least 2-3 of those, along with your other responsibilities. It’s ok to be busy, and still take moments for you!

5.    Mix it up! If you are starting to feel like each week is dragging on, then find ways to do things a bit differently. Maybe change up your study spots, try out some new breakfast recipes, change up your route to school or find some new albums to listen to. Variety will help your brain stay present in the moment and less “checked out”.

6.    Name the hard days. Having a tough day? Call it out. You can start by admitting this to yourself or talk to people in your life that you trust.  It can help you accept that you are being challenged and realize that others are in the same boat. This doesn’t mean you’re weak, only human. Plus, you’ve already survived ALL of your hard days up to this point. You’ve got a pretty great track record!


Feeling stressed? Learn more about our therapy services today!

Bring BRAVING to Your Relationships

One of the biggest struggles in navigating through relationships is building and sustaining trust.  Being able to fully trust another person involves vulnerability and accountability – two components that can elicit feelings of fear and dread in even the strongest of people.  I was recently re-introduced to one of Brené Brown’s concepts called BRAVING and responded to it as if it were the first time that I’d been exposed to her teachings. I recognized that I had feelings of fear, disappointment, regret, and anxiety in hearing this concept again.  Not that these feelings were rooted in concern that I had done anything wrong or that anyone else had done me wrong, rather I allowed myself to hear her reinforce the importance of trust within a relationship. I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to allow myself to wear the ‘victim hat’ and focus on how someone else has broken my trust.  If I haven’t clearly established my ‘BRAVING’ components though, how can I hold anyone else accountable for theirs? The answer is that I can’t; I can only hold myself accountable for something that I didn’t take the time to establish at the beginning of the relationship, and take steps to embrace BRAVING in the present.

Brené breaks down BRAVING as such:

BBoundaries - establishing clear boundaries for yourself and for your relationship.  Are your limits respected within the relationship? Are you respecting the other person’s limits?

RReliability - is the other person there for you you when they said they would be?  Are you there for others when you said you would be?

AAccountability - are others accountable for their mistakes and misgivings?  Do you hold yourself accountable for yours?

VVault - are others able to hold things that you’ve shared with them in complete confidence?  Are you able to do the same?

IIntegrity - do the actions of others match their words?  What about for yourself?

NNon-Judgement - is there an air of compassion and non-judgment when engaging with others?  Are you able to listen to others without quickly jumping to judgement?

GGenerosity - does the other person assume the best about your words, actions, and feelings? Are you able to do the same for the other person?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all of the above, grab a hold of that person tightly and don’t let that relationship go!!  All joking aside, if you genuinely can answer yes to all of those components, the trust between you and the other person is steadfast.  If, though, like most of us, you struggled in saying yes or found yourself confidently saying no, there is a path forward and this is where the work begins. As with any human connection, there is always hope for change. The first step in creating any sort of change is in identifying the problem, so congratulations! You’re halfway there!

Re-read through the BRAVING components (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgement, and Generosity) and parse out the pieces that don’t feel strong.  Ask yourself what may be going on that’s causing some shakiness for you.  Are there ‘yucky’ things from the past that are coming up within your current relationship or is the ‘yuck’ being born out of the relationship itself?  Stop and ask yourself - “what is it that I need?” Your answer will be the doorway into your repair.

It Takes a Village: Understanding How Systems Shape Us

Photo by  Duy Pham  on  Unsplash

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

We are all part of a system, several systems in fact. Systems range from our partner, family unit, school/work/organization, community, culture, and everything in between. Systems often develop patterns of functioning that support the system in accomplishing tasks, moving forward, and maintaining balance. The evolution of patterns can be intentional, they might present an imbalance in who the system serves, or perhaps they came about over time through events and experiences that shape patterns without members attunement to the helpful or unhelpful results. I have felt inspired by my work and personal experience to reflect on the systems in which individuals exist, how systems function, and if that function is serving individuals and the systems as a whole.

To further understand the operation of systems, I offer the example of coming to therapy (coincidence?) … Perhaps you chose to begin therapy or maybe that was a choice made for you by someone in your life who cares about you. Whatever the circumstance, you are the client in the room. Maybe you or a loved one identified that you can benefit from having an unbiased, safe space. This sometimes implies that you bear the sole responsibility of making a change or committing to yourself. While this can absolutely play a role in what therapy looks like, it would be a disservice to ignore how the systems you exist within also impact your experience and furthermore how the other members contribute to your identity & well-being and that of the system at large.

Let’s say I come to therapy with the goal of enhancing my ability to be more assertive with my feelings in relationships. It might be helpful to look at what communication has been like in my family, for example. Perhaps I found it challenging to be assertive with family because I was expected to “keep the peace,” insert humor in place of vulnerability, or avoid rocking the boat at times it was on the edge of capsizing. This style offered my family a sense of protection, that everything will be alright, and that I am capable of “going with the flow” to avoid exacerbating conflict. While my willingness to mute or soften my emotional expression appeared to function well in our family system to keep us moving forward and establish rhythm, it also presented a later consequence of fear/hesitancy/confusion around how to be assertive in other relationships and areas of my life.

To avoid placing “blame” on any single family member, including myself, I might remember that this pattern of communicating was protective, and it supported my family moving forward and maintaining peace. Rather than viewing our family system as flawed, I might say this pattern functioned for a period of time for a particular purpose; however, that function no longer serves me or the system as a whole. It truly does take consideration of the systems we participate in to understand how patterns develop and how we might want to change a pattern that is no longer serving us. The shift in system function is not any single individual’s responsibility, but a product of all members role in that system; however, when one person chooses to create changes in how they move within the system, there's a ripple effect that can occur, offering an opportunity for growth for the whole system. In re-framing your experience, identity, and worldview to include how your systems have shaped you, you may notice you experience more self-compassion and compassion for the systems that you are a part of, which in turn connects us more deeply to our humanity and the humanity of others.

I offer some tips in considering your village, how it functions, and how it serves you:

  • Reflect on your systems - identify who and what your systems are, what your function is within the system, and the function of the system as a whole

  • Take inventory on what is serving you and what does not seem to work (anymore)

  • Communicate with members of your system on what’s working and what’s not

  • Practice approaching change to the system with curiosity, willingness, flexibility, patience, and compassion for yourself and others

  • Resist the urge to fall back into old patterns that you know are not serving you, practice a beginner’s mind with each situation you are faced with

Remember that it takes a village for your experience to shift, and you are neither the purpose for unhelpful changes in the system nor do you bear the sole responsibility of enacting change. Use your supports and practice self kindness 😊


Freeing Yourself from Thinking Traps

Recently, I read an article stating that the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day. “Is this true?” I asked myself.  Is it 100% true? As a research oriented individual, I immediately questioned this and sought valid and reliable support for this very specific claim. While I was unable to find any reputable scientific evidence to validate this idea, I can still confidently conclude that the number of thoughts one has in a single day is A LOT.

Not ironically, this whole situation got me thinking. I do know that our thoughts greatly affect how we not only see the world, but how we view ourselves.  I also know that there are thoughts that seem to just pop up on their own whether we want them to or not, and sometimes these thoughts can be pretty negative. You may look at a situation one way without considering the many other potential viewpoints, or you may think that you know how things will turn out, despite having any proof to support that idea. According to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, these are referred to as Automatic Negative Thoughts, but I like to call them A.N.T.s. Why, you may ask? Because they are annoying, they can sting, and they are MUCH stronger than they look.  If you have been in session with me before, you may have also heard me refer to them as “Thinking Traps.”

Take a look below to see what A.N.T.s you may find yourself using without even knowing it:

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While these may sound pretty awful, it’s important to know that everyone experiences these kinds of thoughts and likely engage in more than one type. Fortunately, researchers have been able to name the different types of A.N.T.s / Thinking Traps, and there is a huge amount of valid and reliable research showing how to effectively combat them.  One of the first and most important ways to defeat these thoughts is to recognize and acknowledge that the thoughts are even happening to you. So, if you found yourself relating to any of the thoughts above, congratulations! You’ve just completed Step 1 in defeating the A.N.T.s! Next, it is vital that you ask yourself, “Is this true?” Then, ask yourself again, “Is this 100% true?” More often than not, you might realize that there is very little evidence to support the claim you are making, and you may just happen to believe the false information you are telling yourself.

All in all, remember to be kind to yourself if you find that the A.N.T.s have taken over. You have the power and the ability to seek the truth of your words, and to speak more truthfully and compassionately to yourself.  You deserve it.