How to Put the 5 Love Languages to Work in Your Relationship

Photo by  Evan Kirby  on  Unsplash

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

January is a month of reflection. Let’s take a moment and consider your relationships… Are you feeling fulfilled and satisfied by your partner? What about your closest friendships? Do people around you swear that they are trying to please you, or show you love, but they are consistently missing the mark? What feedback have you been given? Have you found that you are consistently being asked to “do more” in your relationships, but are feeling unsure how to “give” anymore of yourself? As we move out of the holiday season and into the “season of love” (aka February), it is normal to begin to re-evaluate some of your relationships. For some, the holiday season is an opportunity for people in their life to “make up” for past wrongs and lackluster celebrations, often in the form of some grandiose gift or gesture. For many, that gift or gesture doesn’t meet the expectation, and then they are left with disappointment.

Enter Valentine’s Day: another opportunity for those close to us to show us love. But if they/we follow the same recipe from the holiday season, we are bound to fall short. Why are the efforts of those around us, as well as our own, not communicating the love and commitment that we are intending? In today’s blog (part 1 of 2), we are going to explore Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages, and how, even with your best effort, if you and your partner (or friend) are not speaking each other’s love language your (and their) communication of love is going to be seen as “not enough.”

So what is a “Love Language”? Essentially, Dr. Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, describes the way we show others love (and expect love to be shown in return), as our love language. Often times, people assume that the only way to display your love is to give a physical gift, but if everyone only utilizes gifts for love, there will be a lot of exhausted and unfulfilled couples. Understanding love languages gives couples, and relationships in general, an opportunity to thrive when the specific language of each individual is being “spoken” or met.

Imagine this: You come through the door at the end of a long day. What action from your partner would have the most impact on you?:

  1. They immediately tell you that you look great, and how important you are to the family unit (Words of Affirmation)

  2. They approach you, place your coat on the rack, and hand you a snack or meal (Acts of Service)

  3. They stop the task they are working on, sit with you, and engage in a full conversation about your day (Quality Time)

  4. They present you a card they have made with designs and funny sketches (Gifts)

  5. They approach you, give you a kiss and quick shoulder rub (Physical Touch)

While all of these options sound like a nice way to come home at the end of the day, not all of them are going to provide you with the same level of satisfaction and fulfillment. This is the idea behind The Five Love Languages. It is not that you or your partner are completely void of the need for any of the five languages, but instead, one or two love languages will have more value to you and to your partner. As you read the possible options, did any of them stick out to you as a way that you or your partner consistently attempt to show love? Consider all of the ways that you have reached out to increase closeness and intimacy with your partner, as well as some of the actions that they use to reciprocate that love. The best part of Love Languages is that they allow you to work smarter, not harder. If you knew how to make fewer, more personalized attempts at affection that would make a bigger impact and satisfy your partner more, would you?

Here is a breakdown of the Five Love Languages. As you read the descriptions, try to identify which one or two resonates most with you. Now consider which love language most closely matches the way you show your love and affection to your partner. Are they the same? Different? Take a moment to sit down with your partner, and go over the five languages in detail. Which Love Language do they most identify with? Have they been attempting to express themselves to you in a language other than your preferred Love Language?

Words of Affirmation - Compliments, loving language and notes, verbal (and written) appreciation for partner

Acts of Service - Completing jobs and tasks that reduce the workload and burden on partner

Quality Time - Undivided attention; spending time to fully be present with your partner

Gifts - Whether bought or created, giving items to your partner (this includes free items, such as a flower picked from the yard)

Physical Touch - Physical affection such as hand holding with your partner, giving them hugs, kisses, and back rubs (not to be confused with sexual intimacy, which is desired in most romantic relationships)

If you and/or your partner are struggling to narrow down a specific love language, I invite you to consider the most recent times you or your spouse “nagged” at one another. What was the topic of contention? Is one person feeling neglected, as if they are not getting enough “face time”? Or is someone looking for more help with tasks around the house? Whoever was doing the “nagging” is likely feeling as though their love language is not being spoken in the relationship, and the complaints that they have expressed in the past are great insight into what needs are not being met for that individual. If you find that you and your partner are still struggling to decide which love language best suits each of you, or you have several that seem like they may be good fits, I encourage you to take the Love Languages Quiz on Dr. Chapman’s website. As you answer the questions, remember that you want to choose the one that you MOST prefer, although both options may feel like acceptable choices. When finished with the quiz, calculate the results (instructions are at the bottom of the quiz), and determine which language best suits both you and your partner!

**Note: You and your partner may have different Love Languages, and that is okay! Keep in mind that Love Languages is not a matter of compatibility. Every relationship has the option to evolve and adapt with the identification and implementation of the Love Languages Principles

Now that you have identified your Love Language, join me for Part 2 of the Love Languages series to find out how to apply that information into meaningful actions!

Leave New Years Resolutions in the Past. This Year Reset with Intentions!

Photo by  Cathryn Lavery  on  Unsplash

Naturally at the start of the New Year we often think about our “New Year’s Resolutions.” Resolutions can vary from setting out to accomplish a specific goal or making a commitment to change in some way, shape, or form. The New Year seems to be an organic time to reflect on our past year and look forward to the next. We might take an inventory on what we accomplished (or didn’t), and assess how we might want to be different moving forward. While setting New Year’s resolutions can be a wonderful way to create personal and professional goals, it may also set precedents that can be unrealistic, sometimes difficult to measure, and hard to manage during the unexpected turbulence that life seems to throw at us. Because of this, I invite you to re-frame the idea of establishing your resolutions into intentions.

I first must credit a yoga instructor in the Austin community whose class I was fortunate enough to attend on December 31st. She spoke of intention setting in the New Year and inspired me to reflect on how setting an intention, rather than a resolution(s), can influence our mental and emotional well-being. An intention is a state of mind that symbolizes a dedication to following through with purpose. The idea of committing our year to purpose rather than tying ourselves to any particular goal, can be a liberating and intentional way to cultivate an open mind about changing goals throughout the year while maintaining the consistency of following through with our ambitions utilizing a mindset of intention.

I am not suggesting abandoning the process of taking inventory on the past year and creating meaningful, inspiring goals for the New Year. Goal setting and living with intention are not mutually exclusive; actually, the two ideas go hand-in-hand. For example, we might create a health goal that is rooted in intention (i.e. being active, practicing body kindness, getting outside, etc.). If we apply our intentional mindset to this goal, we consider the purpose of this goal and how it fits into our life. This allows us to create both structure and flexibility around this goal so that it can be something realistic based on our lifestyle and flexible enough to allow re-evaluation if the structure does not seem to work for us. If you feel lost or defeated about your goals, come back to intention and purpose. Perhaps there is a different avenue for you to pursue your intention without the limitations of your predetermined goals.

As you begin to incorporate intention into your everyday choices, you may notice that you are making decisions and creating goals that align with your values. Perhaps you begin to notice that not only are you following through with the goals you created at the New Year, but you are continuing to create additional goals that support your purpose and your values.

Wishing you a happy and healthy new year filled with intention!

How To Let Go of Your Own Stuff and Parent Your LGBTQ+ Kid With Unconditional Love

The emotional support and unconditional acceptance from the caregiver/parent of a youth is imperative in promoting a positive and successful life for the youth. Each and every one of us have navigated through our own identity formation stage in life. Through this stage, we recognized and eventually embraced all of the pieces of ourselves that create our own identity. For some, that period included the construct of heterosexuality and for others that stage included: homosexuality, bisexuality, sexual fluidity, or any other construct that is not within the parameters and confines of heterosexuality. Our gender identification also occurs during this period. Whether it be the two binary gender concepts of male and female or gender concepts that fall outside of the binary constructs such as: non-binary, gender fluid, agender, or transgender. Regardless, though, of what is learned and embraced, each and every one of us were provided with an opportunity to learn and appreciate who we are as individuals. Kiddos need that same opportunity as well as the unconditional love and support from their parents/caregivers.

I could sure get academic and rattle off the various studies that have been conducted to assess the emotional well-being of youth who consistently received that support from parents compared to youth who did not receive that love and support, but I’d rather talk to you as a person and not a research study. Yes, each study identifies grave disparities between the two groups and the well-being of those where the love and support was withheld resulted in poor mental health, school performance, struggles in maintaining healthy relationships, and substance use issues. More important, though, individuals who don’t receive that unconditional love and support from their parents are often left floundering and feeling abandoned by their foundation – their parents &/or caregivers.

Within my practice, I often hear parents say, “I just want to love my kid but now that they’ve told me (I’m gay, I’m non-binary, I’m transgender, etc.) I feel like I just don’t know how to show him that I love him anymore.” I’ll often respond with a question of how the parent showed love to her child prior to the ‘announcement’ and how is it that the love of yesterday can’t be displayed today? What often is discovered is that the parent &/or caregiver has gotten caught up in her own struggles with the youth’s identity which has caused a rift in the relationship between parent and child. Through positive support, education, and processing, parents are able to work through their own biases and return to a place where their love is no longer hindered by their fears.

Parents – love your kiddos. Whether they’re 2, 15, or 46 years old, they need to know that you love and support them. When you see your child struggling, talk to them. Don’t talk down to them, just talk to them. Educate yourself, reach out to someone to talk to, join a parent support group, or set up an appointment to meet with a therapist. Do something so that you are best equipped to be that core source of support and love for your child. Don’t allow your biases or struggles become your child’s torment. Rather, relish in the thought that your child loves and trusts you enough to show you his true and authentic self for it is within this authenticity that genuine love thrives.

As many of you know, working with LBGTQIA++ youth is a passion of mine. Once the holiday’s pass and things begin to calm down a bit, I will finally be starting up a processing/support group for high school-aged individuals who identify as LGBTQIA++. I’ve attached our groups flyer with additional information. Contact us by clicking the button below to start the enrollment process!

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LoveTip: How Starting New Holiday Traditions Can Add Shared Meaning to Your Relationship

Photo by  Ian Schneider  on  Unsplash

Since I was a small child, my favorite time of year has always been the time in between the week after Halloween and the week after New Years. My family has countless traditions, ranging from Thanksgiving Day meals to Advent Calendars, tree decorating, donating to those in need, and we even have step by step rituals for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These traditions have led me and my brothers to always feel connected to family, even when we live hundreds of miles apart. Each of us, in our own unique ways, have continued these rituals with our own families and have begun building even deeper connections with our spouses around this time of year.

Outside of my family, depending on who you ask, the holidays can be described with a smile, as “amazing,” or with a shudder, as “stressful.” Those in the first group will likely tell you all about the music, distant family, shopping, and ambience that contributes to their positive outlook on the season. Those in the latter will often cite expenses, traffic, repetitive tunes, and family drama as contributing factors to their “bah humbug” attitude. While traffic patterns and the music selections blaring at every department store, likely won’t change in the near future, I want to invite you to view the holidays as an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to build shared meaning and intimacy with your significant other. The best part is, this opportunity does not have to cost a fortune, and most of these tips can be done in very little time with an impact that lasts long after the holiday season.

Before we identify ways to increase intimacy and shared meaning, let’s further discuss the idea of “shared meaning.” Drs. John and Julie Gottman have created an entire theoretical approach to couples and marriage counseling, with one of the ultimate goals being that couples have shared meaning in life. This shared meaning is the deeper connection that binds you and your spouse, and is created through rituals, traditions, goals, dreams, and appreciation for one another. Couples who have shared meaning tend to be “masters of their relationship”, and feel stable and loved by their partner.

So how do you achieve shared meaning? The Gottmans designed the Sound Relationship House, complete with 7 levels that culminate in Shared Meaning. Along with the levels, there are skills and understandings gained at each step that help propel your relationship towards greater satisfaction and shared meaning. Today, I want to focus on “creating rituals of connection,” which is one way to increase your shared meaning. The holidays provide a unique environment to incorporate and create new traditions and rituals that will fuel and connect your relationship for years to come.  

Begin by sitting down with your partner and talking about any current rituals you may already have in place (ie: birthday celebrations, daily greeting/departing affection, weekly dinners, etc.). Now examine the rituals and traditions that you have surrounding the holiday season. Which rituals have ties back to one or both of your childhoods? What were your favorite childhood traditions? Least favorite? What memories do these traditions evoke? How would you change these rituals to fit your current lifestyle? What meaning/symbolization do both past and current rituals have for you? How can you and your spouse continue to expand the traditions and rituals that you share? Consider the list below, as well as brainstorming together, to come up with new and exciting ways to celebrate the holidays, year after year, and to feel closer and more connected to your spouse, throughout the year!

Example Rituals:

  1. Plan a holiday meal or party together - Even if you spend the actual holidays away from home, plan a special dinner to enjoy at your house, with both you and your significant other contributing to the menu and preparation.

  2. Decorate your home in fall and/or winter/holiday décor together - Bonus points if you make the decorations, adding to your collection each year!

  3. Take Holiday Pictures- This one serves a few different purposes. Not only is this a great opportunity to create a ritual of getting dressed up or dressing in a theme with your spouse, but it will also give you the chance to look back at these photos in future years! With selfie-sticks, camera stands, filters and timed/remote photo apps, taking pictures at home has never been easier. And now there is no excuse not to include yourself in the pictures!

  4. Pull out your photo albums and reminisce on past holidays.

  5. Kiss under the mistletoe when you leave and return from work - This adds a holiday twist to a ritual you may already be doing (sending off and greeting your partner, when you leave and return home each day).

  6. Watch holiday movies together, or make a list of movies you haven’t had an opportunity to see this year, and use the extra time off from work to catch up together.

  7. Make cookies or gingerbread houses. Hate baking? Grocery stores now have pre-made ginger bread houses and sugar cookies with icing and candies included so you can save time on baking and focus more on decorating!

  8. Shop for extended family gift(s) together. Shopping often becomes a solo job, but when looking for gifts for hard-to-shop-for extended family, two heads can be better than one. Plus standing in long lines doesn’t seem so bad if you have company!

  9. Visit a Christmas tree farm - If a live tree that sheds in your living room doesn’t have you jumping with holiday spirit, lots of tree farms have other activities to enjoy (such as photo ops, petting zoos, corns mazes, festive gift shops, and delicious treats)!

  10. Sing Holiday Karaoke. Afterwards, every time you hear “Santa Baby” you will be inclined to laugh at the thought of your significant other belting it out in your living room or at the bar around the corner!

  11. Take a drive and listen to holiday music. Maybe singing isn’t your thing, but a scenic drive with spirited music can engrain the feeling of togetherness and bring back those feelings each time you hear those songs.

  12. Take a walk around your neighborhood after dark to look at the lights.

  13. Call family and friends together - Instead of you and your spouse calling or talking individually, facetime/skype/speaker phone friends and family to have group chat!

  14. Play in the snow or in the grass, depending on your local weather (snow: ski, snowboard, sled, snow ball fight; grass: bocci ball, horseshoes, washers, toss a ball or frisbee, etc.) ** The Gottmans describe play as, “dreaming while you are awake” and believe it to be a vital part of healthy relationships.

  15. Volunteer together. Whether you assist at a food bank, homeless shelter, or donate gifts to “Toys for Tots”/Angel Tree/Blue or Brown Santa, helping in your community is often easiest during the holidays because there are so many active organizations. This is a ritual that can also translate to your life after January 1st, with many organizations desperate for additional help after the holiday rush!

Keep in mind, when you are choosing rituals, you want to find activities that both you and your spouse can enjoy. If your ideas of holiday traditions are drastically different, try to find a balance between rituals geared towards you and your significant other’s interests - being aware that none of these new traditions should be “painful” for you or your partner, because that will likely only cause you to abandon them before you have an opportunity to recreate them year after year. As your repertoire of traditions and rituals grow each year, take time to discuss the ones you enjoy the most, the ones you enjoy the least, and discard unfavorable traditions, so you have time to introduce new rituals and spice up your holiday season!


LifeTip: Mind Over Matter

Photo by  Ben Sweet  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

Ever heard of the phrase “mind over matter”? This phrase refers to our mind’s ability to conquer infinite limitations brought on by external factors - our environment, the situations we are in, the challenges we face, our interactions with difficult people, and even mental/emotional barriers we experience. The idea of our mind being able to conquer the challenges we often experience throughout our lives, sounds quite appealing; however, as powerfully resilient as our minds can be, they can also be equally as self-destructive.

Our brains are an extremely unique organ in our body. In therapy, we often talk about the connection between our mind and our body. We draw attention to the way our body reacts to our emotions, thoughts, situations we are in, etc. to provide us more information on our experience and how to respond to such reactions. In considering the idea of “mind over matter” we may target our thoughts as a point of reference to the mind-body connection.

For example, perhaps I notice I’m having the thought, “I’m never going to get all of this work done.” If I sit on this thought I may have a second thought, “I should be able to do this” ...and so on. These thoughts may bring on emotions such as anxiety and distress. I notice that I experience anxiety and stress as tension in my shoulders or feeling a “pit” in my stomach. In this scenario, my distressing thoughts affected the way my body reacts (i.e. muscle tension and pit in my stomach). This is one example of simply how much power our thoughts have over our bodies and our emotional experiences. Maybe you have had a similar experience with unhelpful thoughts. Sounds unpleasant, right? The good news: while our minds can be extremely powerful (in this example in a self-destructive way), they can also be quite powerful in moving us forward when we learn how to manage our thoughts.

Life Tip: It’s helpful to first practice observing your thoughts. What thoughts come up for you? Are they encouraging, discouraging, neutral? Are they facts? Are they based in reality or in your emotional experience? Once we practice observing our thoughts with a nonjudgmental stance, we can begin practicing strategies to manage the thoughts that are unhelpful or do not seem to serve us. We might first notice the thought and ask ourselves, “is this a helpful thought?” We are not necessarily challenging the accuracy of that thought, because in the moment it might feel real. It is likely more realistic to evaluate the helpfulness of a thought rather than its accuracy. Another strategy might be to simply notice the thought you’re having and create distance between yourself and that thought. For example, I notice that I’m having the thought, “I’m not going to get my work done.” This allows me to take a step back, simply notice the thought, and let it pass; rather than becoming that thought or allowing it to impact my emotional experience.

Always remember: Thought challenging strategies take practice! They might not work the first time, the second time, or even the third time - so try not to feel discouraged if you struggle to challenge distressing thoughts. When in doubt, refer back to some simple thought challenging tips:

    • Practice observing your thoughts, without judgement!

    • Ask yourself, “is this a helpful thought for me to have?” If the answer is no, move onto another more helpful and productive thought

    • Create distance between yourself and the distressing thought you observe - call a thought just that, a thought, and do not let it define you or your experience

    • Practice grounding techniques (i.e. deep breathing, 5 senses) when your thoughts get ahead of you and attempt to bring yourself back to a more emotionally neutral headspace


Mind over matter works for those who work on it. Believe in your ability to change your inner dialogue to be more helpful and productive!


LifeTip: The Dance of the Changing Seasons: A Meditation for the New Year

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For a few years I lived in a tiny town in the mountains of Northwest Montana. It is one of my favorite chapters of my life. It was a time of great stillness, hard work, adventure, and learning of a vast wilderness both inside and out. One lesson I learned while in Montana has met me every year since, at about this time of year and again in the beginning of spring.

The change of the seasons in Austin is hard to notice - some say we skip a couple of seasons all together. In Montana, though, the seasons can change back and forth with such wild fierceness (before making the full transition), you’d have to be void of all the senses not to notice. Perhaps the strangest and most beautiful thing about the changing of the seasons in Montana is that it is more like a dance than a turning of a page. It wasn’t suddenly 12 degrees or suddenly 98. It went back and forth. The change from fall to winter for instance started with the changing and falling leaves. You’d notice the tops of the mountains capped with snow for a day, then back to rock or trees the next. The snow would gradually stay at the top of the mountain, forming a line that slowly crept its way down the mountain and into the towns in the valleys. One day you’d see the sun shine so bright and warm you from within - it would melt any snow that had accumulated, giving you the hope that you’d have a little bit longer to frolic outside, drive on clear roads, and listen to the birds. Eventually though, the snow would stay on the ground, building up and up. The world around would be white and the wilderness that had bustled with the sounds of birds and wildlife, and bursted with berries and flowing rivers would grow silent. A silence and a stillness so perfect you didn’t notice it until spring started to dance with winter and you realized you heard a bird chirp for the first time in weeks or months. The sounds of spring arriving could be deafening after so many months of hibernation.

As a native Texan, I impatiently awaited spring and would become frustrated when I thought we were moving in the direction of warmth, only to have to put on my snow boots, zip up my 300-fill coat, and scrape my windshield, yet again. My dear friend and colleague gently and lovingly observed just how beautiful it was that the seasons danced with each other - neither was in a rush to take over or in a rush to let go. Neither demanded the other end so it could begin. There was no harshness to the changes. It was gradual, it was forgiving, and it was in appreciation for the work the other had just done so that there was room for this new seasons’ gifts. We could not have the rare and fragile flowers of the tundra at the tops of the mountains in summer without the fertilization of the compost fallen in autumn packed in by the intense cold of the winter, which very slowly gave way to the waters of spring, eventually welcoming the heat of summer, allowing their blossoms.

As we are in the midst of the chaos of the holiday season, and beginning to think about New Year's resolutions and intentions, I am especially reminded of this dance. It is so tempting this time of year to set our sights to the future, dismissing the journey we’ve taken thus far. We set intentions or goals to make major changes, forgetting to honor the process, the foundation, the failures, and successes. We forget, at times, that we are human. While none of us are perfect at being human, that never needs to be the goal. I am not suggesting it is a bad thing to set goals - quite the contrary. I’m suggesting that before we set ambitious goals aiming to change something about ourselves or how we live our lives, we allow the change to be a dance. That we honor where we’ve come from as we move toward where we are going. That we give ourselves permission to dance with the past as we create our future. So, I offer you this meditation - maybe you’ll keep it at your bedside or in your journal next to your list of resolutions. Maybe not. Nevertheless, it is my offering to you, in honor of you and your brilliance.

May you set your intentions with gentleness over eagerness.

May you honor the foundation and roots you’ve set in place for new growth to arise.

May you practice forgiveness and appreciation for your faults and failings when things take longer than you wish.

And may you always honor and love the greatness you have become and continue to grow into.

You are ever-blooming.


ParentTip: Helping Your Teen Through Anxiety & Depression

Teenagers: society often labels them as hormonal/moody, irresponsible, and addicted to technology. While some say these stereotypes exist for a reason, what happens if a teen is experiencing anxiety or depression? Do these labels change? How can you even tell?

For parents of teens, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize whether your teen’s behavior is “normal” or a sign of an underlying mental health issue, especially since many symptoms tend to be similar.

Take, for instance, common symptoms of anxiety and depression:

  • irritability

  • social withdrawal

  • changes in sleep patterns

Now for comparison, let’s look at common developmental milestones and indicators of healthy teen development, particularly in terms of establishing autonomy and independence:

  • increased concern regarding self-image

  • wanting to spend more time with friends

  • increased need for sleep

When you read these, it may not appear that the two examples are similar. However, behaviorally, they are commonly expressed in the same ways; especially from a parent’s point of view.

So, at what point does a teen’s behavior go from developmentally appropriate to something more serious?  The chart below provides a few (though, not all) common examples to keep in mind.

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*Please note that this chart is not a replacement for professional consultation, and any concerns should be brought up with your child’s mental health care provider or primary care provider. If your teen has told you that they are depressed or if their behavior is concerning, professional attention is warranted and should be sought out as soon as possible.



If you are concerned that your teen may be experiencing depression, it is imperative to seek professional treatment as soon as possible.  In addition to professional care, there are a few things you can do as a parent to help:

  1. Be Supportive

    • Build empathy by putting yourself in their shoes.

      • While you may be frustrated that your teen is irritable, remember that even day-to-day tasks require significant energy that they might not have. If they are exhausted, it’s understandable that they may want to just retreat to their room.

      • Recognize that if they could snap their fingers and feel better, they would.

    • Validate their emotions, NOT the behavior.

      • Try saying, “It seems as though you’ve been really down lately. Is that true?” Make it clear that you want to try and understand what’s troubling them without trying to problem solve.

    • LISTEN

      • Ask questions calmly, gently, and without becoming emotional. Listen calmly and without judgment.

  2. Accentuate the Positive

    • Notice your teen when they are doing something positive, and let them know verbally and directly that you see the effort they are putting in.

    • Don’t weigh these behaviors on what they “should” be doing. We all like to be noticed for our efforts, even if they are expected.

  3. Help Them Get Treatment

    Some teens will want help, and some won’t. This is normal and expected when asserting independence.

    • If they don’t want help:

      • Respect their space and respond with something like, “I’ll give you more space, and know that I’m here for you if you ever want to talk or hear my suggestions.”

    • If the do want help:

      • Be prepared. Do your research. Find 2 or 3 therapists they can interview and let them know that they can choose who they feel most comfortable with. Finding a good fit is very important, and letting your teen choose gives them ownership over their treatment, setting the stage for it to be more effective overall.

  4. Take Care of Yourself

    • It can be emotionally exhausting to be a parent of someone struggling with depression.

    • Make time for yourself and ask others for support.

    • Remember the airplane mask rule: put your mask on first before you assist others. If you can’t breathe, then there is little, if anything, you can do to help. Same goes for emotions. Make sure there is enough in your tank to give 🙂  

LifeTip: The Power of Silence

Photo by  Joshua Earle  on  Unsplash

Often, when we think of silence it sounds like nothing, and it looks like nothing. On a superficial level this is certainly accurate; however, silence can be extremely powerful and meaningful. Silence provides us so much information about ourselves and about others. Our awareness of silence and what comes up during silence can be a helpful tool when used with intention. I have felt motivated by my therapeutic work to share how silence can be used in a beneficial and intentional way, specifically in relationships.

Both verbal and nonverbal communication offer us a means of sharing in addition to a means of understanding what is being shared. Silence falls in the category of nonverbal communication and in the silence there is significance to what is NOT being said. Allowing the space for silence in any interaction offers an opportunity for us to observe body language, facial expressions, physical distance between ourselves and others. Being mindful of how others present during silence can tell us a bit about how they are feeling, how the interaction seems to be going, and their comfort level in the current space/time. Silence also provides us an opportunity to notice what emotions stir up inside of us during silence. Maybe we feel uncomfortable, unsure, unsafe, self conscious, OR we may feel relaxed, relieved, neutral. We might also notice what is our “go to” response to silence in relationships: attempting to fill the space with words, avoidance, safety behaviors (i.e. playing with our phone, fidgeting). Rather than placing judgment on ourselves or others for what appears to come up during silence, I invite you to simply notice what happens both outside and inside of you when silence occurs.

Once we have practiced noticing silence and what comes up for us and others during silence, we are able to use it intentionally for a variety of purposes to enhance our relationships. Ever heard of the “silent treatment”? This is when we use silence to punish someone for doing us wrong. While this may or may not be an effective tool in any particular relationship, this is an example of how individuals may use silence with intention. Rather than using silence as a punishment, we can use silence in more assertive ways to promote understanding, safety, and mutual respect in relationships. See below for some strategies for using silence to enhance relationships:

  • Practice active listening in your relationships

  • Reflect on what you see and check in with others if your hunch on how they are feeling or what their experience is, is correct

  • Practice mindfulness of your emotions and mindfulness of others’ emotions

  • Practice sitting with and tolerating uncomfortable emotions

  • Demonstrate that you can not only sit with someone else’s silence but you can maintain the safety of that silent space without trying to change it

RECAP! Practice noticing the silence you experience in relationships, what comes up for you emotionally, what you observe in others, and reflect on how you can use silence as a means to deepen your connection with another person.


“Silence is the most powerful scream”


LifeTip: How to Have an Enjoyable, Stress-Free Holiday

Photo by  Simple Co.  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simple Co. on Unsplash

The holidays are upon us! Think back to past years... What do you remember the most? Is it the family time? The food? The presents? The movies? The traditions? The crippling anxiety and stress? Yep, you read that last one right. Like anything in life, many people tend to forget the negative parts of such happy celebrations, and in turn, risk suffering the same feelings of anxiety and frustration year after year. Have you ever experienced the “holiday blues” or found yourself dizzy with nerves and exhaustion while on your quest to find the perfect gift or prepare the perfect party/event?

Consider the tips below to help you manage stress and truly enjoy the holidays this year, so those happy memories can be an accurate picture of your experience!

  1. Plan ahead. Whenever possible, give yourself plenty of time to buy presents, prepare a special meal, or decorate your house. If you are not feeling the pressure of the clock, you will have more opportunities to step back and enjoy the process.

  2. Make a to-do list! Yes, I know, we often have a mental checklist of what we need to complete, but having a tangible list can help you organize your time, celebrate the tasks you have accomplished, and allow you to delegate specific jobs when you need an extra hand.

  3. Stressful family? Have an ally! Before attending (or hosting) a dinner, gathering or an event with friends or family, where you know there may be contentious conversations brewing, talk with a friend, spouse or family member about how you want to approach those situations. Knowing you have a game plan and someone who will help you carry out that plan, should you need it, will allow you to attend the social event with more confidence, and less apprehension and anxiety.  

  4. Be prepared when you shop. Make a list of items that you want to buy. Compare prices (Amazon’s “scan” feature makes this super easy to price-compare items in the store to online options), use cash (whenever possible) to avoid going over budget, and have a back-up plan for any “tough to find” items. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to be fully engaged and present with them. While that gift doesn’t cost anything, it can sometimes be tricky to do if you are hyper-focused on giving them the perfect physical gift and hoping that their reaction matches the effort you had to put in. Ease the gift buying process and enjoy some of the “untangibles” of the season by starting to shop early, create (and stick with!) a budget, and find time to connect with the recipient, whether that is in-person while they open the gift or afterwards over the phone.

  5. Engage in gratitude! Research shows that gratitude can help you maintain a positive outlook, and has benefits for your overall well-being. Throughout the season take moments to stop, take in your environment, and, with intention, consider the things you are most thankful for, in that moment. Also, write thank you notes! This not only showers other people with appreciation, but it gives you a few moments to reflect on the people and the details that make the season so special.

  6. Consider your closet! One of the most unexpected stressors of the holidays can be finding appropriate outfits for holiday parties, luncheons, tacky sweater contests, and family pictures. If you have a few “go to” pieces, that you know you look and feel good in, you will spend less time agonizing over what you are going to wear, and more time looking forward to the event itself. Don’t have anything in your closet? Choose an “off time” to hit the mall/store, such as later in the evening (an hour or two before stores close) or first thing on a Saturday or Sunday. With fewer people in the store, you will feel like you have more time and space to clearly choose something that suits your taste and budget.

  7. Nourish yourself. By all means, enjoy the festive food and drinks of the season, however, be sure to replenish your system with healthy options, whenever possible. Not only will this help you avoid the stress and anxiety associated with holiday weight gain (can you say anxiety in January, when your clothes no longer fit?), but can also help prevent you from exhibiting food-induced symptoms that mimic anxiety (low blood sugar, dehydration, etc). Instead of forgoing the cookies, try to mix up what you are eating by throwing in a few vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots, that are rich in magnesium and probiotics.

  8. Practice Mindfulness! Using an app such as “Headspace” or “MINDBODY” can help calm your nerves, and allow you to remain present and in the moment. These apps make it really easy to choose a time length (some as short as 2-5 minutes) and follow a guided meditation. Don’t have time to stop and fully engage in a mindfulness script? Take a moment to practice 5-2-7 breathing. In order to do this, breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and release the air completely for 7 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times. Focusing on your breathing can be done anywhere (can you say Black Friday shopping lines?), and is a quick and easy way to de-escalate in times of stress and anxiety.

  9. Talk to someone. While we are often surrounded by people during the holiday season, it can be difficult to talk about feelings of anxiety or stress, for fear of “bringing down someone else’s cheery mood.” Keep in mind that many people struggle at this time of year, so you are not alone! If you don’t have a family or friend that you feel like you can talk to, or your anxiety and stress has become overwhelming, consider calling a professional.

While the holiday season can present challenges that can leave you feeling anxious and stressed, keep in mind that it is a temporary time. By the 2nd week in January, your “regular” life will resume, and all you will have left is the memories of the season. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly to manage your stress and anxiety levels so that the memories you are creating are ones worth repeating!

ProTip: Being a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field

Photo by  Ember + Ivory  on  Unsplash

My February 2018 blog, “Should I Work with a Male Therapist?”, seemed to spawn a lot of conversation and provoke a great deal of interest from other therapists. The biggest question that I’ve been asked is - “How do you do it... How do you convince parents/females/other therapists that it is beneficial to work with a male therapist?” I could sure reach back to my grad school days and fill this blog with stats, quotes, and empirical evidence outlining the benefits of working with a male therapist, but I’ll save you all the doldrums of reading a research paper. Today, I’m just going to be me and share my story and experience as a male therapist working in a female-dominated field.

First and foremost, let’s talk about the concept of convincing others to work with you.  As therapists, we all ‘sell ourselves’ to a certain extent regardless of the age/identified gender/or presenting problem. How do I do this? Well, plain and simple, I remain myself – not someone that I think the client/parent wants to see, but just me.  I meet clients where they are and model authenticity and honesty. After all, isn’t this one of the core tenets of what we’re supporting our clients to do? Rather than trying to convince clients of working with me, I assist them in recognizing the potential benefits of working with a male therapist. In remaining objective with the client &/or parent, I’m able to remove my blinders and biases so to genuinely hear any possible concerns or trepidation. I’ve found that I’m able to have genuine and rich conversations surrounding the individual’s/parent’s initial thoughts on working with a guy. I refrain from attempting to convince of anything, rather I present the facts as well as my professional experiences and successes as a male therapist.

Much of my work with clients, regardless of their ages, focuses on authenticity – letting your real and true-self shine through.  I embrace this same mentality for myself. I’m just me and I’ve come to embrace that my authentic-self is my best-self. This is the individual that I bring into each and every session and I like to believe that it is through this display of authenticity that I’m able to connect with all individuals regardless of age or gender identity.  As therapists, we all navigate through our journey in becoming licensed professionals by launching into our own world of self-reflection. With this, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy looking back at my own reflection and learning to appreciate and love the person that was staring back at me. Sure, the journey wasn’t always glamorous and I had some pretty significant “yuck” that I had to work through on my own, but I made it through.  This, I believe above all else, is what has made me the professional that I am today and who individuals trust to support them as they work through their own life struggles.

Now, let’s get to the million-dollar question “how do you convince others that it’s okay to work with a male therapist?”  Before I launch into that, let’s take a step back and look at our own beliefs and biases. What are your own thoughts/beliefs in working with or referring a client to a male therapist?  Do your beliefs change at all depending on the identified gender of the client? How about the age of the client? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, there’s some internal belief exploration to do.  Yes, I possessed my own thoughts and biases regarding male therapists and internalized my own anxieties in working with adult and adolescent female identifying clients. The identification of these anxieties was paramount for me in finding success as a male therapist.  I began asking myself questions: “What is it about working with a 13-year old girl that provokes stress for me when I’m at complete ease in working with a 13-year old boy? Why am I feeling trepidation when speaking to a parent of a high school daughter but feel utter confidence in speaking about their son?”  I could dedicate an entire post just to these emotional disconnects, but for the sake of today’s post, I want to draw back to the concept of authenticity. As long as I’m remaining true to my authentic-self, my support and compassion does not waiver depending upon the identified gender or age of the individual that is sitting on my couch.

As I highlighted in my initial post, there are numerous benefits in working with a male therapist.  Here are a few of the take-aways from that post – male therapists can:

  • provide individuals with a safe man to speak with

  • model healthy boundaries and dynamics with a guy

  • display that males do have the capacity and ability to appropriately and effectively show emotion express feelings

  • dispel concepts of hegemonic/toxic masculinity

This all begins, though, with the therapist’s self-reflection and self-awareness.  Just as I’ve come to embrace my authenticity, I encourage each of you to embrace yours.  We ask our clients to bring their true-selves into each session therefore it’s only expected that we bring ours.

Today’s post is focused on my experience as a male therapist and how I’ve navigated through any hurdles or potential obstacles that I’ve encountered.  Branching out to a broader level, I’ve also had to be mindful of the systems surrounding me and how these structures impact my success. I’ve purposefully left this area out of today’s blog as I feel that it warrants its own post so be on the look out for a future edition of this topic and my adventures.  The new year just may bring about some new trainings/workshops/webinars on Succeeding as a Male Therapist in a Female-Dominated Field.