The Importance of Connection and How Therapy Encourages It

I have been a Licensed Professional Counselor for over 8 years now. I am a professional in my field, but I still have a lot to learn.

Recently a life altering event changed the trajectory of my life and my profession. People used to ask me why I became a therapist. My answer was fairly simple, “I knew what it was like to hurt, and I knew what it was like to discover healing.” Life had placed me in the path to be a therapist. God had placed me in the position to be one. Years ago, I met with an amazing counselor after experiencing a cancer scare. I was able to walk through the trauma and grief of this due to my faith, a whole lot of prayer, a wonderful therapist as well as a supportive community—church, job, friends, and family. I believed that I would never be the same after that season of my life. Yet, God did a big work and used others to help me heal through it.

I was in a place where I felt I could be used to encourage others, since pain had been a part of my life. Little did I know, that that pain would not be a one-time event-- it would be intertwined into the tapestry of my years before, and, my years to come. But, so would unending joy.

Every time I meet with a new client, I try to explain to them the importance of counseling. I share that their first step is to acknowledge their need for help, and how proud I am that they did. It is important that I also share that counselors themselves often need counseling as well. To whomever is reading this, we (as counselors) see therapists for our own well-being. We are all human and experience our own struggles. There are times when it is beneficial and it is healthy to say “I am not okay and I need help.” It is imperative that we spread this message and shake off the negative mindset surrounding mental health issues. It is essential to know that you are not alone, and that there is healing and support available if you simply reach out.

With years of education, practice and life experience, I continue to learn that life changes—that trauma can be relived— that some things need to be said out loud and processed with someone outside of family and friends. I’ve also learned that healing isn’t only possible, but it’s attainable. Throughout my years of study and hearing the life stories and heartbreak from others, there is a central theme in every person—the importance of connection.

One of the main goals we seek to accomplish in therapy is connecting the client into community and into relationships with others. There was a Ted Talk recently that discussed how the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but connection. I believe this to be true in many areas of our life. Connection has the ability to uphold us and allow us to not walk this journey alone.

Connection in the Counseling Relationship

As therapists, we have the unique honor of hearing life stories from those who choose to entrust us with them. When I see someone begin to break free from some of the burdens of their past or their pain from life experiences, it is a true blessing. It becomes evident they are finding their way, seeing light in the darkness, and working through their struggles and frustrations. Each person who sits in front of me shows so much strength and courage to show up week after week. They are actively working through their fears and personal battles. For those reasons and more, I care deeply about the relationships I establish with the people who come to see me for therapy. 

Connection in the therapeutic relationship is so significant. This is why there are so many studies showing how important this connection is. 

Laurie Myers wrote in Counseling Today: Connecting with Clients, “All Counseling approaches and techniques have at least one thing in common — their potential effectiveness is likely to be squelched unless the counselor is successful in building a strong therapeutic alliance with the client.”

Mental Health Professionals acknowledge the importance of the relationship with our clients as well as their relationships with God and others.

What does the Bible say about connection?

Connection with Jesus

We declare that Jesus Christ—who lived, was crucified, was raised from the dead, and who will come again—is the Living Word of God. It is to Christ that Scripture points. It is through Christ that we have life (John 5:39–40). These are truths to live by. We must have connection through Jesus first in order to have connection with others. Our connection with Christ is at the foundation of who we are as humans. God created us in his image (Genesis 1:27). We were never meant to be separated. Sin separated us from God, but we were given the chance to be connected to Him again through his son, Jesus Christ.

Through this, we are adopted and accepted into the family of God. Rick Warren said “Christianity is more than a belief system. Christianity is a belong system.” The Bible says we were born again into God's family when we became a follower of Jesus. It also says that we've been adopted into God's family. Both are great metaphors for what it should mean to be a part of community.

Connection with Others

Throughout Scripture, the Bible address the prominence and the meaning of connection. From the beginning, we were created for community. The first thing God said was, "It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God said that humans were not made for isolation. We were made for connection. Why? God created Eve to be a helper and a suitable companion for Adam (Genesis 2:18). This tells us that God intended us to be in community with others when he created humanity.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says,

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  

This passage addresses several reasons why we should be in relationships with others. We were made to live in connection with others as one body.

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:4-6).  

We are the body of Christ here on earth. Each of us plays a part and carries a purpose. However, we must work together for something bigger than ourselves. We must stand in community, alongside one another, and support each other.

Call to Authentic Connection

As a society we are more “connected” than we’ve ever been. We have unlimited access to phones, computers, internet, and social media. Yet, we still feel disconnected and isolated somehow. Connection through social media and through online forums cannot fill our inherent need for personal relationships with others. This is an important reminder for us all. A screen can only get us so far. We must be in face to face community with others. In turn, we must also invite others to be in community with us. We need to be open and mindful of those who are hurting around us. We long for authentic relationships, for acceptance, for love, and for realness. We long to alleviate the plague of disconnection. Through true connection and community, we can start to feel less alone and see healing in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Hopefully this article will help you see the importance of connection and the role it plays in your day to day life. Recognizing our own needs helps us walk through each day. There was never a question of our need for community, but there should be an active lifestyle of creating and accepting that need. If you are struggling, if you are overwhelmed, if you are hurting and/or feeling the weight of life on your shoulders, please seek out help. We (Medical Health Professionals) are here to listen, to support, to encourage and to be a safe place for you. 


 

The Necessity of Hope

The Necessity of Hope

Julie David, LPC

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite movies was Hope Floats, starring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick, Jr. I loved the actors and the soundtrack, and it was filmed in East Texas. What’s not to like? But even beyond that, even as a young person, I understood and appreciated the concept that “hope floats, always rising to the top.” If you have hope, you can go on even in the face of insurmountable difficulty: grief, loss, betrayal, depression, or any of the other tragedies of this life. Many things are lacking in our culture today, and I believe that hope is one of them. Narcissism is rampant, selfishness destroys families, and our busyness keeps us from connecting with what or who is truly important.

An example from ministry

I see this especially when working with couples. Granted, when a couple comes to counseling they are usually past the point of needing a nice little tune-up. They have lost hope that their marriage will weather the current storm and last for a lifetime. They have lost hope that there is Someone greater than the two of them that will keep them going and keep them together. When I lived in the Dallas area I had the privilege of working with a wonderful marriage ministry called Cornerstone. It was tailored for those couples who had lost hope and were on the brink of divorce, but were making one last-ditch effort to try to make it work. The one thing that stands out to me from those weekends is the change from hopelessness to hope that happens in the hearts of those individuals who come and do the work required of them that weekend. Couples who have filed for divorce, are already separated, or who count their marriage as distressed leave the weekend renewed with a sense of purpose, reconciled relationships and – here’s that word again - hope for their marriage. What really makes the difference? It’s not that the hurt of the affair goes away or that trust has been completely restored, or that forgiving one another creates a holy amnesia, but they find something more powerful than themselves at this weekend. They find hope. Not just hope that they can mend the marriage, but hope in person of Jesus Christ.

An example from Scripture

Most of us who have grown up in the church are familiar with the story of the bleeding woman as told in Mark 5. Jesus was on his way to bring back to life the Jewish leader Jairus’s daughter and large crowd had gathered around him, as usual. The Mark account tells us:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (5:25-29, NIV)

Put yourself in this woman’s shoes for a moment. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about her, but we know that after so many failed attempts at healing that she must have been desperate. According to Jewish law she was ceremonially “unclean” and therefore had to avoid contact with her religious community. She undoubtedly heard the stories about Jesus’s miracles. Maybe she had even witnessed some from afar. I can just imagine that she was willing to try anything else in order to be accepted back into her Jewish community and be freed from her suffering. Why not just see if she could get close enough to touch Him without actually bothering Him? She may not have realized that she was placing her hope in the Son of God, but that’s exactly what she did. And what a blessed decision! Jesus’s response to her was “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:34)

What does this mean for counseling?

What if we actually approached the throne of grace with such confidence? Hebrews tells us that we can, and we will find “mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 4:16) Hope has the potential to float to the surface exactly at the time when our perceived need intersects with faith. Dictionary.com defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust.” This is one of the many things I love about my role as a counselor. At a time in life when hopelessness seeps in, I get to offer something beyond the circumstances. This is different than blowing smoke, or offering shallow platitudes like “It will all work out in the end,” or “Just let go and let God.” The hope I get to offer sounds more like “There is a God who loves and sees you, and hasn’t forsaken you in this.” Or “While life might really stink right now, I choose to believe for you that Jesus can get you through this.”

In all fairness, I am generally an optimist, particularly in the counseling room. And I’m reminded of the way God uses that personality trait every time I see the stuffed Energizer Bunny given to me by one of my long-time clients. I don’t believe that it’s just me, but it’s the Jesus in me. He is the only constant. He is the only source of hope. He is the only one that can really keep going and going and going and going…

 

Sources:

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hope

https://www.marriageministry.org/

 

From One Parent to Another: Discipline that Actually Works

By Rebecca Schall, MS, NCC, LPC-Intern

            When I was a child, my parents did not have a consistent parenting plan when it came to raising my three siblings and I. They lacked intention, and while my mom was adamant she would not discipline with corporal punishment, my father was physically and emotionally abusive. Unfortunately, this parenting method of inconsistency and/or abuse is far too common in our society today, and the number of kids experiencing trauma at the hands of their parents are far too great. For this reason, there is no shortage of literature attempting to help parents find the most appropriate method of discipline. So many parents (myself included) find themselves overwhelmed by all the experts who promise to share life-changing strategies for their family, and a lot of it can feel too difficult to master or even try. Because of this, I would like to take the time to point to a voice in the wilderness that helped me clear the air and provide a few simple and practical steps you can begin using today to help train your children up in the way they should go.

            A few years ago, my two sons were involved in an ugly custody battle, which left my oldest son, now 9, completely traumatized. We were honestly at a loss with how to help him, and none of the strategies we had previously used in disciplining him were working. He is seeing a wonderful Licensed Professional Counselor in the area that recommended a book to me that I personally and professionally recommend to every friend and client I see struggling to help their children. Written by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Bryson, PhD,  No Drama Discipline offers an effective and practical method of disciplining children. I give Dan and Tina all the credit for their method, and use it in my practice, as well as in my own home. It is my prayer that you see the value this has for you and your family as well.

            No Drama Discipline focuses on discipline, and not punishment. The idea behind discipline is to teach your children, not to punish them for making you angry. When our motivation is to teach, our discipline moments become opportunities to connect with our children and deepen our relationship, instead of wounding it. We do so by being intentional, connecting, and then redirecting the behavior. 

Intentionality

Before engaging with any child in a discipline moment, it’s critically important to be in the right head-space. If what has just taken place has your blood pressure rising, take a time out (you, not your child). Say a prayer, take a walk, take a breath, count to 10. Do whatever you need to do to move your brain from reactive to responsive. No effective teaching is going to be had if you’re doing everything you can to just contain your frustration.

While you’re taking a minute, you’ll want to examine any baggage you’re bringing to the table. Is this the 10th time your toddler has spilled his juice, making you want to scream? I’ve been there. Is this the first time your new teenager has slammed her door in your face, and deep down you fear she’s going to turn into the monster you were when you were a teen? No Drama Discipline refers to these thoughts and feelings as “Shark Music.” You know, as in the scary suspenseful background music you hear when Jaws is about to pop up on screen. Every human brings their own background noise into their present experience. But my child is not me, and when I lash out at her for fear that I’ve lost control, I find I’ve only done the thing I was trying to avoid. So taking a moment to notice tension in your body, and taking a small time-out can help you turn down the shark music and stay in the moment with your 13-year-old, before you imagine her as an out-of-control, rebellious 17 year old (all because she once slammed the door in your face).

Once you’re out of your momentary freak-out, examine the situation logically. This is called “Chasing the Why.” Ask yourself: Why did my child act this way? What is going on inside of them? What’s behind their behavior? And when you’ve got a handle on that, remind yourself that the goal of discipline is to teach, not punish. Ask yourself what you want to teach in this moment, and determine the most appropriate method to do so. Now you’re ready to connect.

Connection

            This is the part I love about No Drama Discipline. I wholeheartedly believe that connection and redirection - not punishment - is at the heart of God’s relationship with us. When was the last time you were struck down by God’s fiery wrath because you sinned against Him? We all deserve it, no doubt, and yet He is relentlessly patient and ridiculously loving to us, even when we make the same mistake over and over again. He is our Heavenly Father, providing us with a perfect example of how we as parents can interact with our kids when they are at their worst.

            There are so many benefits to connecting with our children. It helps them to develop their prefrontal cortex (a fancy word for the part of your brain that controls, logic, reason, and upper-level functioning), learn to regulate their emotions, and build a sense of morality, intuition, and empathy. If you want to build resilience in your child, connection is the way to do it. If connection is at the core of our relationship with our kids, even in disciplinary moments, our children will grow with a secure foundation of love and trust.  So how do you connect when your kid has temporarily lost his mind?

  1. Start with body language. Whether your kid is 6 or 16, standing over them with a pointed finger is probably only going to increase their negative emotions. Instead, try getting on their level, and give them your full attention with eye contact. If appropriate, make a funny face, and demonstrate empathy with your facial expressions. This will help them remember that you are on their side.

  2. Validate their feelings. Even when you don’t agree with their behavior, their feelings should always be validated. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it right? Just like adults, children are entitled to having a bad moment, even a bad day. Life is sometimes overwhelming. Acknowledging their feelings can help them feel heard and understood.

  3. Listen to what your child has to say. This isn’t the time to lecture your child. Instead, try hearing their side of the story. You may find out you’re missing vital information (which can really save you from some embarrassment later).

  4. Reflect what you hear. When your child has just told you he hates his brother for always taking the last apple in the snack tray, reflect back the meaning behind his words: “You’re frustrated that you didn’t get to have an apple.”

Redirection

            Once you’ve connected with your child, you are now ready to redirect. It’s important at this point to again remember that the goal is to teach, not to punish. You may find it is often not necessary to give a consequence. Your choice of teaching, and whether a consequence is warranted, will depend on the situation. Be flexible, but be consistent.

            If, during connection, you realize that your child is hungry or sleepy, there’s no harm in giving them a snack, a drink of water, or a nap. Because the goal is to teach, it may be counterproductive to try to address the situation when your child is unteachable in the moment.

            This method offers 8 practical strategies to redirect your child, which they creatively turned into the acronym REDIRECT.

  1. Reduce Words - don’t lecture. Most kids tune out after the first few sentences, so don’t waste your breath. This one has been a hard one for me. I’m a lecturer. But I have found so much value in keeping it short and sweet.

  2. Embrace Emotions - here’s that connection strategy again. Teach your kids its ok to have emotions, and help them learn to differentiate between them. This is a valuable skill they will need in adulthood.

  3. Describe, Don’t Preach - focus on the facts. Tell them what you observed, and give them an opportunity to recognize what they did and why it was wrong. This teaches them responsibility and accountability.

  4. Involve your Child in the Discipline - increase their buy-in and accountability by giving your children opportunities to choose what they should do to make it right. If your boys were in a food fight, maybe they will choose to clean up the mess. The punishment should always fit the crime.

  5. Reframe a No into a Yes with Conditions - instead of saying no to a reasonable request, say yes with a condition. For example, if your child wants to go play outside with the dog, instead of saying no (because her room is still a mess from play), say “yes, after you straighten up your room.” You’ll find you’ll forego a LOT of arguments just by giving them more Yes, and less No.

  6. Emphasize the Positive - encourage your children by focusing on what they do right. Even in disciplinary moments, there can be something to praise your child for.

  7. Creatively Approach the Situation - kids love creativity, and they equally love humor. If you can find a funny way to fix a problem - do it! For example, if my daughter doesn’t want to get dressed in the morning because she’d rather be asleep, I might make funny voices and sing silly songs to get her laughing. It lightens the mood and increases receptivity in your kids.

  8. Teach Mindsight Tools - this is so important. Give your child an opportunity to explore how other people feel when they make bad choices. Help them identify ways in which they can make different choices the next time a difficult situation arises. Giving them a chance to think critically about their behavior, how it affects other people, and what they can do differently next time builds connections in their brain, and helps them buikd relationship - with you and with others.

           

I have used these strategies at home, at church, and in session with my own clients. I have seen the difference it makes to connect, then redirect. It has been an answer to prayer. You see, I believe that the Lord desires parents to take the time to carefully plan and practice their parenting, to be intentional. His desire is that each of us would bring the Kingdom to earth in the community around us, and in our own homes. I am not perfect, and there are many days that I have thrown the book out the window and really made a fool of myself. But I love that God is gracious, and so is this method. If we mess up, we try again. Because our kids are worth it. 

 

Resources

 

https://www.drdansiegel.com/books/no_drama_discipline/

 

https://www.drdansiegel.com/pdf/Refrigerator%20Sheet--NDD.pdf

 

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/570a82c74d088e29f6f59598/t/5bf58a6d032be41e8e4d48a7/1542818414357/NDD+for+Teachers.pdf

 

Rebecca Schall is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern at Tapestry Counseling in Tyler, Texas. She holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The Power of Shame

Who among us doesn’t have something in our lives that we prefer to keep secret.  It may be a life event, a behavior, some feeling, or characteristics that we hide.

Perhaps it’s that secret might be about a family member that no one talks about, it might be that DWI that has been diligently kept private, it might be something sexually inappropriate that happened one time and is over, it might be something that happened to us as children that we want to forget, it might be a secret addiction that regardless of how many resolutions that have been made… still controls our lives. 

All of the emotion that may arise out of personal secrets and feelings of needing to be someone we aren’t share a common attribute… shame. The feeling of shame might come from someone in the form of a subtle glance of disapproval, or as bold as a humorous joke focused on something about us. What we know for sure is that we feel that something is wrong with us. That’s what shame does… it invalidates who we are as a person. 

In the book “The Soul of Shame” by Curt Thompson, describes shame as having an impact on all our social systems. He says of shame that “this is not merely a felt emotion that eventually morphs into words such as “I am bad”… This phenomenon is the primary tool that evil leverages… As such, it is actively, intentionally, at work both within and between individuals. Its goal is to disintegrate any and every system it targets, be one’s personal story, a family, marriage, friendship, church, community, business, or political system. Its power lies in its subtlety and its silence.”

Thompson sees shame as a tool that is used by “evil”, and I think he is right. In the Bible, the Apostle John describes a battle in heaven in which Satan and his angels are cast from heaven. John describes Satan as “the accuser of our brothers…who accuses them day and night before our God” (Revelation 12:10). Since the activity of Satan in heaven was to accuse the people of God, we shouldn’t be surprised that he would use the tool of shame to attack and accuse us.

I appreciate the way Thompson develops the concept of shame. He describes four aspects of how shame works in our lives.

The first concept that the author developed is that shame is more than a feeling. It is a sense within us that communicates that we are not enough and we don’t have what it takes. We can have a great theology of who we are “in Christ” and a biblical understanding that strength for living is found in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, yet this sense can strike us when we least expect it. It shows itself it the student who takes an exam and scores a 92, yet makes excuses for the other 8%. It’s there as a feeling we can’t explain when, as a professional, we diligently prepare and make a presentation and few people say something positive. It’s there when the stay-at-home mom is with her friends who are sharing their professional experiences, and finds herself questioning her choices in life.

The second aspect of shame is how it is wrapped up in judgment. Thompson describes it as a “spirit of condemnation or condescension with which we analyze or critique something, whether ourselves or someone or something else.” This “spirit of condemnation or condescension” is often directed not only to ourselves but to others also. I was challenged by the idea that many of the things that I criticize in others can grow out of those things I secretly struggle with myself.

The third aspect of shame is that it is great at hiding. The author describes shame as a sense that “leads us to cloak ourselves with invisibility to prevent further intensification of the emotion.” Regardless of who we are or what we have accomplished in life, we will go to extreme lengths to keep the information that shames us hidden away. This sense of privacy that grows out of shame is a challenge in Christian community. In our busy lives we often find that we don’t take the time to build a circle of friends who we grow to trust and who love us that we can honestly share the shame that we carry.

The last aspect of shame is that shame creates a loop in which shame begets shame. It creates is self-supporting cycle of isolation and disconnection. When we experience something that creates shame in us, we turn away from other people in our life as we avoid the reminder of the shame. This very turning away from others reinforces the sense of shame we experience. Thompson observes that, “this dance between hiding and feeling shame itself becomes a tightening of the noose. We feel shame, and then feel shame for feeling shame.”

If you are anything like me, you can identify with each of these four aspects of shame. Regardless of how old we are, we can remember that feeling when we were one of the last ones chosen to be on a team. As parents we can remember times when we were judgmental to our children, and pushed them to do things differently, so they could avoid what we experienced. And which one of us, when we are encouraged to “confess our faults one to another” is the first to speak up? How many times have we been hurt, and experienced shame, we make a vow that we won’t be hurt again.

Shame has had a crippling effect on our lives, and in the next post we will look at how shame can be addressed in a healthy and biblical way in our lives.

Story of Shame

Brené Brown did a TED Talk in 2012 entitled “Listening to Shame” that has had over 10 million views. Her TED Talk hit a nerve about shame that seems to resonate with each generation.  I’m curious if it resonates with you.   

 

It’s easy to recognize that shame can be good or bad. Shame can legitimately awaken us to actions in our lives that are not healthy and we need to be aware of, and for that we can be thankful. However, it is not the legitimate function of shame that usually dominates the lives of people, it is usually the feelings that occupy our thoughts after forgiveness has been given. The distinction has been made between guilt and shame. Guilt makes us feel bad for something we have done, and shame makes us feel bad for who we are.

 

 What is it about the story of shame that seems to never grow old? Curt Thompson in his book “The Soul of Shame”, reflects on the idea that the story of shame is woven into who we are as a human race. The story of shame is interwoven with the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we tell about God.

 

Thompson sees a connection between the story of shame in our lives and the story of struggle between God’s working with mankind and the power of evil. He makes the statement that, “shame is not just a consequence of something our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. It is the emotional weapon that evil uses to corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity.”

 

What I appreciate about Curt Thompson and Brené Brown, is their message that the story of shame in our lives isn’t resolved in the privacy of our lives and personal reflection. Thompson communicates clearly that shame is dealt with within a spiritual context where there is prayer, conversation, and community.

 

Practical Ways to Check Your Anger

Practical Ways to Check Your Anger

The world feels like an angry place. At times it feels like we are all walking on eggshells because we don’t know who thinks what or who’s on a hair trigger or what sensitivities someone might have. Certainly as believers we should always keep watch over the door of our lips (Psalm 141:3) and consider others worthy of the greater honor (Philippians 2:3). But some days, it feels a little like we’re all about to go off the deep end.