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How to Make Relationship Counseling Work for You and Your Partner

By - blog,Couples Therapy

relationship counseling

We have previously discussed the topic of “does couples counseling work?”  This is a common question therapists receive and is also a great source of fear and apprehension for many couples who want relationship counseling. It shouldn’t be! 

Since we know that relationship counseling can be an extremely helpful tool, let’s shift our focus on how to make couples counseling work for you and your partner. There are many things you can do to make relationship counseling successful, or more likely to be successful, for you and your situation.

One important step in making couples counseling work for you and your partner is don’t wait! Couples, on average, spend six years of being unhappy before reaching out for help and most couples wait too long before seeking counseling. The sooner you begin to tackle the problems, the more likely you are to achieve a positive outcome.  

Steps to take to make couples counseling work for you and your partner:

  1. Have realistic expectations for what you’re looking for in counseling and what you’re hoping to achieve.
  2. Realize conflicts are inevitable. Choose your battles wisely and distinguish between petty issues versus important ones.
  3. Be open minded! Be willing to learn basic skills and become more self-aware, as well as emotionally vulnerable with your partner.
  4. Stop seeing each other as the opponent, but as a team working towards a mutual goal of cooperation and contentment.
  5. Have a desire and the ability to be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and to feel compassion for your partner’s vulnerable feelings and past emotional traumas. 
  6. Be willing to own your part in the problems, as well as your ability to bring about positive change in the relationship. Couples counseling won’t work unless both individuals are open to change some aspect of their behaviors and interactions. Assume you’re as much a part of the problem as your partner.
  7. Do what your counselor tells you to do! You would not go to the doctor and get a prescription to feel better then not take it, right? Therapy only works if you do the work. 
  8. Keep your problems between the two of you. Complaining to family members, co-workers, and others outside the relationship promotes negative energy in the relationship, encourages a victim mentality, and keeps you locked in negative patterns.
  9. Don’t threaten divorce. This can trigger more defensiveness and stress from your partner.
  10. Don’t look around at your other options. This prevents you from seeing your partner in the same way and only brings the same issues to a new relationship. Nothing gets solved. 
  11. Be sensitive to how scared both you and your partner may be at the prospect of a breakup of the relationship. Relationship breakups are a big deal and a life altering experience.
  12. Keep coming as long as your therapist thinks it’s beneficial.

Relationship counseling has shown to be effective for at least 75% of couples and decreases the number of complaints and distress among partners, and these results remain consistent for at least two years after the conclusion of treatment. Partners can learn to identify toxic patterns of behavior and communication, they can explore problems from a different perspective and learn ways to resolve conflicts more effectively. Couples counseling can also improve the overall quality of interactions and increase intimacy among couples. 

Remember, counseling is a preventative process. It only works if you keep practicing what you’re taught and what you have learned from the experience. Most importantly, make sure you find a therapist that both you and your partner feel comfortable with. Connection with a counselor that both of you feel is fair, equitable, and listens to both of you is key to a successful couples counseling experience. We are here to help you and your partner and we are happy to help both of you have the best relationship possible. 

 

References

Brooke, M. (2016, November 04). 10 Things You MUST Do for Marriage Counseling to Work. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/marriage-counseling-will-not-work-unless-you-do-these-10-things-dg/

Gaspard, T. (2018, April 03). Timing Is Everything When It Comes To Marriage Counseling. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/timing-is-everything-when-it-comes-to-marriage-counseling/

Grande, D. (2017, December 06). Couples Therapy: Does It Really Work? Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-it-together/201712/couples-therapy-does-it-really-work?eml

 

Does Therapy Work?

By - blog

does therapy work

Statistics show that most people will develop or experience mental health symptoms or a mental health emergency at least once in their lifetime. What if I told you that the chances of someone experiencing a mental illness are higher than developing a serious health condition including but not limited to heart disease, diabetes or any type of cancer. Most people are more willing to take care of their physical health than their own mental health. 

Many cultures negatively stigmatize mental health symptoms/illness and believe that it is nonexistent. What would happen if we took this same approach to physical illness’ such as high blood pressure or the flu? We would have ill people going to work, grocery shopping, caring for our children, leading our countries and making big decisions all while they are physically ill. According to the National Institute of Mental Health only half of people with mental illnesses receive treatment.  This means that the other half are trying to function normally when they are unable to do so.

Most Common Mental Health Conditions

According to the World Health Organization, the two most common mental health conditions are depression and anxiety. 

Research shows that depression affects over 350 million people worldwide. Symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to:

  • A two-week period of feeling consistently sad 
  • Experiencing loss of interest 
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in energy level 
  • Changes in concentration

Anxiety affects over 284 million people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, China, India and the U.S. are the countries most affected by anxiety. These countries also have the highest levels of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Symptoms of anxiety consist of, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • An increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Trouble sleeping

Anxiety can interfere in day to day life and can be extremely difficult to control without proper mental health treatment. 

The Research on Psychotherapy

So, the question becomes does therapy work? Can therapy address mental health conditions? According to the American Psychological Association, research indicates that psychotherapy has been found to be very effective in treating mental and behavioral health issues for a wide range of individuals and mental health diagnosis. 

Psychotherapy has been found to be more effective than medical treatments that are used to address mental health issues. Psychotherapy has been shown to:

  • Decrease psychiatric hospitalizations 
  • Improve overall functioning at work 
  • Teaching client’s skills that last once they are no longer in treatment. 

Combining psychotherapy and medication has been shown to be more effective than just medication by itself. Results of psychotherapy are known to have a longer result than using medication, which at times can have harmful side effects. 

Please remember that a therapist is not there “to fix you”. A therapist is there to help you develop insight into your thoughts, worries, problems, and mental health condition. If you find yourself wondering does therapy work and you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, please contact us at Olney Counseling Center at (301) 570-7500 to begin working with one of our qualified mental health therapists.

How to Support Someone Struggling with Depression

By - blog

Just as it is hard to be an individual struggling with the heaviness of depression, it is often hard to know how to support someone struggling with depression. As a therapist, I work with adolescents and adults struggling with depression, which can be long term (often called Dysthymia), or shorter-term (often called Major Depressive Disorder). Depression can flare up due to biological factors, social factors, and psychological factors, often leading to extreme sadness and/or hopelessness, loss of interest in usual hobbies or activities, and negative thoughts about themselves, others, or the world.

 Here are my 5 most recommended tips to help someone struggling with depression.

  1. Validate and make sure they are safe- Acknowledge that you recognize they are struggling and let them know that you want them to be safe. Simply say, “I care about you and want to ensure that you are feeling safe right now, both to yourself and others?” If they express imminent concerns for the safety of themselves or others, help them to get emergency intervention – contact your local crisis center, call 911, or get them to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  1. Be Present- Although it is difficult to do sometimes, put away all the distractions, including technology, and truly be present with the person who is struggling with depression. Ask “How can I support you?”. Sometimes they may just need you to listen, sometimes they may need physical touch, or sometimes they may just want you to sit and “be” with them, even if it is in silence. Letting the person know, “I want to be present with you during this difficult time. How can I support you?” can go a very long way and show this person the love and care that they likely need.
  1. Be an engaged listener- If the person you are supporting does want to talk about their experience, be an active listener. Although you may not be able to help them through their issue, listening and being compassionate can make a world of difference. As renowned author Lori Gottlieb states, “People start to heal the moment they feel heard”. You do not need to solve their problem, just be there to listen.
  1. Encourage them to receive professional help- People struggling with short- or long-term depression can often benefit from seeking professional support with a trained psychotherapist and/or medication prescriber (Psychiatrist, PNP, Primary Care). Some of the symptoms of depression may hold a person back from being motivated and following through with seeking help.

If they already have a therapist or other mental health professional, encourage them to reach out to schedule an appointment.  Let them know that although you are here to listen, a trained and licensed professional is better equipped to help with effective and evidence-based therapeutic techniques.    

If they do not already have a therapist or mental health professional, encourage them to sit with you and find someone who may be a good fit for them. I often recommend the website www.psychologytoday.com, which allows you to filter out clinicians based on insurance, location, specialty, etc. and learn a bit about them. Sending the first email or making the first call is often the hardest part, especially for someone who is actively struggling.

  1. Participate in an activity together- When feeling depressed, it is common to “shut down” and want to lay low. Find a common interest or activity you can do together and encourage the person to do that with you. Oftentimes, even taking a short walk can help to release endorphins leading to increased Serotonin, which helps us to feel content and happy. There are many other activities you can do together that are just as helpful! 

If you know someone who is struggling with depression, contact Olney Counseling today.  

How To Meditate

By - blog

Meditation can be a “lifesaver” during COVID-19 and any other stressful times in your life. Meditation is a simple practice that is available to all, can reduce stress, increase calmness, improve clarity and promote happiness. We will examine how to meditate, quickly identify ways to meditate and get you started on a path towards greater acceptance and joy.  Take a deep breath and get ready to relax………

The Basics

As you learn how to meditate, the Breath Meditation is the easiest and most straightforward of the meditation practices and can be done in all settings.  Find a quiet and comfortable place to do your mediation practice.  When first starting the breath meditation, try practicing these strategies for 5 minutes.

  1. Sit – You can sit cross legged on a cushion or in a straight-back chair with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Posture – Place your hands palms up in a “open hand” position with your eyes open, letting your gaze rest comfortably about six feet in front of you.  If this is not comfortable, close your eyes softly and imagine you are looking at something calm and serene.
  3. Breath – Notice and follow your breath.  Pay attention to your inhales and exhales while remaining relaxed in your sitting posture position.  With each breath, imagine the air going through your mouth and nose.  Your environment will start to dissolve around you as you concentrate on your breathing.  Some people like to count as the breath in…one, two, three in…one, two, three out.  Try to remember to keep your body relaxed as you focus on your breath.
  4. Thoughts – Notice thoughts and feelings that arise.  When we notice a thought or feeling, we are moving our attention away from the breath and/or meditation.  Try to refocus your thoughts on your breath by saying “breath” and counting as you inhale and exhale.  It is normal for our minds to wander, especially during the initial stages of our mediation practice.  Remember to be kind to yourself, do not judge your ability and refocus on your breath and posture.
  5. Body Scan – This is an optional meditation step, but several people find the body scan to be helpful.  To initiate the body scan, make sure your breath is calm.  Once your breath is steady, start by focusing on the top of your head, slowing and deliberately moving down each inch of your body until you reach your feet.  Focus on each muscle group, attempting to release any tension in that body part.  The body scan will help you relax and assist in being “present” during the meditation.  
  6. Close with Kindness – Once your allotted time for meditation has ended, slowly bring your focus back to the room, open your eyes if you have closed them and notice the calm, peaceful feeling you are experiencing. 

As you learn how to meditate, some people struggle with the breath meditation and body scans.  For those people a guided meditation can be another great way to begin your meditation practice.  Listening to an experienced teacher can help us to remain present, let go of distracting thoughts and be kind to ourselves.

Below are some links for guided meditation from UCLA:

Guided Meditations:
Breathing Meditation (5 mins)PlayTranscript
Breath, Sound, Body Meditation (12 mins)PlayTranscript
Complete Meditation Instructions (19 mins)PlayTranscript
Meditation for Working with Difficulties (7 mins)PlayTranscript
Loving Kindness Meditation (9 mins)PlayTranscript
Body and Sound Meditation (3 mins)PlayTranscript
Body Scan Meditation (3 mins)PlayTranscript
Body Scan for Sleep (13 mins)PlayTranscript

 

How to Quit Drinking

By - Uncategorized

In July of  2020, over 10,000 people googled  “How to Quit Drinking.”  Why is this?  How did we get here?  And more importantly, what is the answer?  

 Since the COVID pandemic began in March of 2020, alcohol sales have increased 54% when compared to March of 2019. Online sales of alcohol were up nearly 500% in late April.  According to a Morning Consult poll given to adults in the United States at the end of March of 2020, 16% of participants reported higher rates of drinking since the pandemic began.   

 So…the question we need to ask ourselves is how to quit drinking or at least slow down our drinking during this pandemic?  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) suggests that the following steps may be helpful: 

  1. Put it in writing. Making a list of the reasons to curtail your drinking — such as feeling healthier, sleeping better, or improving your relationships.  Seeing this in writing can motivate you to make it happen. 
  2. Set a drinking goal. Set a limit on how much you will drink. You should keep your drinking below the recommended guidelines: no more than one standard drink per day for women and men ages 65 and older, and no more than two standard drinks per day for men under 65.  
  3. Keep a diary of your drinking. For three to four weeks, keep track of every time you have a drink. Include information about what and how much you drank as well as where you were. Compare this to your goal. If you’re having trouble sticking to your goal, discuss it with your doctor or another health professional. 
  4. Don’t keep alcohol in your house. Having no alcohol at home can help limit your drinking. 
  5. Drink slowly. Sip your drink. Drink soda, water, or juice after having an alcoholic beverage. Never drink on an empty stomach. 
  6. Choose alcohol-free days. Decide not to drink a day or two each week. You may want to abstain for a week or a month to see how you feel physically and emotionally without alcohol in your life. Taking a break from alcohol can be a good way to start drinking less. 
  7. Watch for peer pressure. Practice ways to say no politely. You do not have to drink just because others are, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to accept every drink you’re offered. Stay away from people who encourage you to drink. 
  8. Keep busy. Take a walk, play sports, go out to eat, or catch a movie. When you’re at home, pick up a new hobby or revisit an old one. Painting, board games, playing a musical instrument, woodworking — these and other activities are great alternatives to drinking. 
  9. Ask for support. Cutting down on your drinking may not always be easy. Let friends and family members know that you need their support. Your doctor, counselor, or therapist may also be able to offer help. 

If you have tried these steps on how to quit drinking and still are having trouble giving up alcohol, please reach out to our office, Olney Counseling, at www.olneycounseling.com or 301-570-7500.   

 

Does Couples Counseling Work?

By - Couples Therapy

Have you thought about couples counseling and wondered if it “works?” How is “success” measured when relationships are subjective?  Who can benefit from couples counseling?

Couples therapy is for anyone who is in a committed relationship and wants to address concerns and build a stronger relationship with their significant other.  At Olney Counseling Center, our Therapists work with couples who are dating, engaged, newly married, married for decades, and couples who are separated or divorcing.  OCC provides therapy on a wide range of matters within a relationship. Your Therapist will help you identify patterns that can use improvement with tangible, concrete steps to work on for a better quality of life. Visit the Couples Counseling page of our website to learn more.

It’s understandable that you might want reassurance that your time, money, and energy will be spent wisely when undergoing couples or marriage counseling. The Gottman Relationship Institute has 40+ years of data on what leads to successful couples outcomes. This study bases its data on physical measurements such as reduced heart rate and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. The study also looks at whether couples counseling decreases harmful communication patterns such as contempt, defensiveness, criticism and blaming. Successful outcomes of couples counseling look for increases in the ratio of positive interactions between the couple including turning towards each other, recognizing and responding to bids for attention, and showing interest, care, and concern for each other. Successful relationships include having trust, being committed to a significant other, feeling understood, being supported, the ability to manage conflicts, have shared meaning and physical intimacy. 

Licensed Therapists at Olney Counseling Center are trained to look for specific patterns within communication, connection, and intimacy that are harmful and to offer evidence-based treatments to turn these patterns around. Good candidates for couples therapy are individuals who want a better relationship and are willing to do the work. Like everything else in life, we get out of it what we put into it. So if we aren’t willing to do anything but show up for the scheduled appointment, you can expect a less than ideal outcome.  If you and/or your partner are not committed to the relationship and/or therapy yet, you can try discernment counseling.  This type of counseling helps determine the readiness for couples therapy.  For those not ready for couples therapy, additional recommendations can be made by your OCC Therapist.

Many committed couples report growth, change, and better connection after working an evidence-based treatment that results in a better quality of life. If you have ever thought about trying couples therapy, start now. Research shows that better outcomes happen to those who seek help earlier rather than dragging their feet and waiting until things get really bad. Imagine if we did this with our car maintenance, lawn care, or physical health? Addressing issues when they begin is certainly less work than an entire engine overhaul. Don’t wait until a crisis to get some maintenance and spring cleaning.  Contact Olney Counseling Center today so we can help you get over the bumps in your relationship. 

 

 

Holiday Stress Management

By - Stress Management

occ-blog-image-thanksgiving

Turkey with a Side of DBT

The holiday season is upon us, and with that come the common stressors, whether it’s cleaning, cooking, and hosting or packing, traveling and visiting. This year, in particular, Thanksgiving comes on the heels of a tough election. Regardless of whether your candidate won or lost, chances are, somebody at your Thanksgiving table was rooting for the other side. And that can make a meal tense if feelings are not managed carefully.

Enter DBT, which stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Created several decades ago by Dr. Marcia Linehan, this well-researched and widely used branch of psychotherapy deals with emotional regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness. Here’s how it can help us enjoy our turkey without the unnecessary stress this year.

Among other things, DBT teaches us that our interactions usually have three possible priorities. Knowing what you want from an interaction determines how to enter into and maintain a dialogue.

Ask yourself how important is it for you to:

  1. Get what you want?
  2. Keep the relationship?
  3. Maintain your self-respect?

We don’t always get to have all three, but we get to choose at least one.

Pursuing the first goal means being assertive in having your rights respected and your wishes met. This is the objective you are after if your dinner guest insists that anyone who voted for your candidate is ignorant, or uses racial slurs to describe the current President. DBT approach would be to describe what is going on (“You are implying that I am uneducated and uninformed, and you are doing so in front of my children”); express your wish (“Please refrain from using labels that hurt my feelings and are disrespectful to me”); assert yourself (“I would really like it if we could have a civilized discussion about this, or changed the subject”); and reinforce your request by stating why it’s in your guest’s best interest to do so (“We will have a much more pleasant meal and fonder memories of this holiday if we show more respect for each other”). Repeat this as often as necessary until your wish is granted. If it doesn’t work, go to Number 3.

If your top priority is the second goal, you may choose to ignore the comments and explain to your children later why you did so. “Kids, your Grandpa is getting older, and he has very strong opinions. I did not like some of the things he said at dinner tonight, but I prefer to stay peaceful and not argue on those rare occasions when we get to be with each other like this. Sometimes letting a comment go by without a response makes it go away faster and takes power away from the person making it. He is not going to change, and I’d like to get along with the only father I have.”

Finally, if you feel that the person is not likely to stop the behavior you find upsetting, and the relationship is not something you want to preserve or improve, the third goal, self-respect, becomes the most important priority. This is where you may choose to take a stand, debate the subject you feel passionate about or make your opinion known. “You know, Uncle Joe, I find your political views and actions deeply offensive. Normally, people who think the way you do are not welcome in my house. I can’t tolerate the use of racial slurs, from you or anyone else. Please apologize. Otherwise, we’ll be happy to call you a cab.”

Of course, the third example is a bit extreme, but it’s helpful to know the full range of your options before deciding what your next step should be.

Whatever you choose to do, stay mindful and do whatever is the most effective in helping you remain calm and in control of your emotions. DBT has plenty of tips to offer on this, so if you’d like more information or resources, please feel free to contact Olney Psychiatric and Counseling Center.

From this author and the rest of our staff, here’s hoping your turkey is moist, your Grandpa is open-minded and your Uncle Joe has an Uber app on his phone!