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Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

This is a writing and poem by one of my 17 year old clients.  She and her parents gave us permission to print this for everyone to see.  The writer wants everyone to know that learning to love your body is a process.  I am very proud of this young woman and who she’s becoming! ~Becky


‘In society today, our image of beauty has become unobtainable. With media portraying the standard as being thigh gaps, protruding hip bones, and tiny waists, what message are we sending to our women? That the only way to be beautiful is through being skinny? Well, I beg to differ, and this poem does too. “Mirror, Mirror” by yours truly.

 
By the age of 10 I was eating out of measuring cups and knew all the tips and tricks to calculating calories when I should have been learning how to love myself. My scale was a fortune teller because it told whether or not that day I would hunch over and shrink myself from the world. Mirrors were car wrecks that I couldn’t bring myself to look at. Changing rooms were torture chambers lined reflections of everything I hated. My stretch marks were the track marks of my fingernails trying to scrape away the imperfections.  I hated myself.
 
But a lot has changed since then thankfully. Part of the reason I’m doing this today is because I never had anyone to tell me this 7 years ago. Media and society has conditioned women to shrink. Shrink their bodies, their ideas, their power. It’s normal to hear young girls say, I’m so ugly, but when a girl thinks she’s beautiful it’s kind of out of the ordinary. And I think that’s really sad. And for so/ long I fell into this self loathing cobweb trap of I’m ugly. You do not have to tell yourself or anyone that you’re ugly. You do not have to believe someone that says you’re ugly or you’re fat or you need to lose weight. Your body image is yours and no one can decide that for you. And the people who tell you these things, are just forcing their own insecurities on you. Prove them wrong. The most beautiful thing you can wear is confidence. Don’t hunch over, don’t shrink down. Own it.
 
I’ve decided I’m tired of seeing these “how to get a bikini body” tabloids. Guess how you get a bikini body? You buy a bikini, and you put it on. Bam. Tabloids do not get to regulate what is normal or not. Wear what makes you comfortable: cover up, flaunt it, do what ever makes you feel good. Confidence is not a bad thing. If wearing make up makes you feel great, do it! What people think doesn’t matter. It’s what you think that matters.
 
A few days ago, someone asked me what I would change in the world if I could. I think I would change how much beauty means to us versus who we are as people. I mean, what if instead of the normal compliment being on your looks or you clothes it was something like, “I think you are a warm, thoughtful, funny person and I’d like to get to know you more.” I would rather someone tell me something positive about my personality than my body any day of the week. We judge people so quickly based on their appearance alone before they say a word to us. Which, this is pretty normal since we see someone before we speak to them, but it’s important to try to see someone as they are without seeing just their physical appearance.
 
I’ve learned a lot of things since I was ten.
I’ve learned to listen, and I’ve learned to ignore.
I’ve learned that chunky can be beautiful too.
I’ve learned that one size fits all is crap.
I’ve learned to see beauty in all shapes.
I’ve learned I am my own worst critic.
I’ve learned that red velvet cake is a gift from god and therefore not consuming it at large quantites is blasphemy.
I’ve learned that not everything looks good on every body shape.
I’ve learned that looks are definitely not the most important thing.
I’ve learned to accept short skirts were made for short small girls.
I’ve learned I cannot rock short skirts. Especially when you can see my underwear.
I’ve learned imperfections are beautiful.
I’ve learned the saying beauty is on the inside is not just a stupid saying.
I’ve learned that for me, it take work and a lot of positive thinking for good body image upkeep.
I’ve learned to surround myself with people who accept me.
I’ve learned to follow their example.
 
I’ve learned that in your body is a good place to be, because at the end of the day it’s the only place to be. If you stop and think about it, our bodies are pretty amazing. All the crazy functions your body does every day just to keep you alive. Your body is this intricate machine, and the least you can do is find beauty in that. Your body is the only thing that’s been through it all with you. It was there when you fell off the swing, it was there when you hiked through the woods for hours, and it was there when you had your heart broken and you ate that gallon of ice cream. Your body probably resents you a little for that one though. Your body is what carries you through the day, it is your vessel for this crazy thing we call life. And whether you like it or not, you are stuck with it till the end. So why not love your differences? If everyone looked the same, we’d be pretty boring. Someone loves your differences. This is a call to all of those who have ever doubted the awesomeness their body. Own your thunder thighs! Rock that face of freckle constellations! Claim that flat butt! Flaunt those curves! Be your individuality! Love your body. Because we will not subscribe to the idea of photoshopped skinny perfection.’
 

Feeding Your Child’s Brain from the Bottom Up

Last week Theresa, Amy, and I were lucky enough to attend a training with Dr. Bruce Perry. In short, Dr. Perry is a brilliant guy who has spent years researching how the brain works and takes in information, and how therapists, teachers, and all of the systems that work with children in our country can use this information to better support children and their families. If you are interested, here is Dr. Perry’s bio: http://childtrauma.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/BDP_Bio_2013x.pdf

The brain is amazing and complicated, and there is still so much we don’t know about how it works. Dr. Perry identified one idea as being the most important he would share with us at the training (if he had to pick one “most important thing”) and I wanted to pass it along. Please note these ideas are all Dr. Perry’s with a few thoughts from me of how I have seen them play out in my own experience.

Reason

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Relationship

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Regulate

Our brains process information from the “bottom up.” So first, our brains have to be Regulated. This means our physical basic needs have been met- we are not hungry, thirsty, or tired. And we have to feel safe both physically and emotionally. What children (and adults) need to stay regulated is individual for every person, and depends on their temperament and the experiences they’ve had in their lives, both positive and negative. Here is a video in which Dr. Perry talks more about the need for regulation and ways children can regulate themselves (and we can help them): https://www.youtube.com/watch/?v=ZVRO7PdYRnM

After regulation comes Relationship. Our brains are hard wired to make connections with other people, and how strong the relationship we have with the person is will impact our ability to use our upper level brain and retain information. More thoughts from Dr. Perry about the importance of relationship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3cz-QlPkOo

Finally comes Reasoning. This is what we expect our children to do all day long when they are in school. This is what we expect when our child misbehaves and we say “why did you do that?” And according to Dr. Perry, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for us to use this part of our brain without regulation and relationship.

Brain

So, in short, talking to a child, teen, or even adult who is not regulated about a reasoning task is pointless. They can’t process information with the top part of their brain until the parts underneath it are taken care of. In fact, trying to reason or use a behavior modification program with a child who is not regulated or whom you do not have a relationship with will often escalate their behavior. Have you ever tried to “reason” with a child in the middle of a tantrum? Have YOU ever had a conversation with someone when you were really hungry and realized later you didn’t have a clue what they said to you? What teachers did you learn the most from when you were in school? For me, it was the ones I felt like I had a stronger relationship with. And do you want to talk and reason through difficult or personal things with someone you don’t have a strong relationship with?

According to Dr. Perry, once basic physical needs are taken care of the best ways to regulate ourselves are through rhythmic activities that give us some sensory input- listening to music, walking, running, rocking back and forth, drawing, even chewing gum. This will not be the same for every person, and you are probably thinking right now of what you choose for yourself or what your child prefers to “regulate” themselves. So many of the children and even youth I work with walk into my office and head straight for my sandbox just to put their hands in it and rhythmically pour and fill their hands with sand. Some walk or jump around my office during our entire session. They know when they need a little bit of regulation! Try building these into your day- right after school before homework time, or during times of the day that can be particularly challenging for your child. Don’t forget to build some regulation in for yourself, too! When I feel my level of stress start to build and I am having a hard time focusing, going for a run is what helps me get regulated again.

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Once regulation is taken care of, don’t forget to focus on relationship. I often talk to the parents of the children I work with about the importance of building a positive relationship with your child. A strong relationship carries you both through the times that are difficult. Do activities with your child (looking at Facebook or texting while they are playing video games in the same room doesn’t count- play a game, get on the floor with the Barbies or cars, read a book together; whatever your child enjoys that lets the two of you interact), give them positive attention when they are working hard or making a good choice, and show them through your actions that you love them unconditionally and will be there consistently for them even when they make a mistake.

Only when these first two things are taken care of can your child have a chance of reasoning through situations. And even then, our upper “reasoning” parts of our brain don’t fully develop until we are well into adulthood. So when you ask your child why they acted a certain way and they say “I don’t know,” they truly may not know. And by the way, we therapists have to go through this process when we first start working with clients and sometimes during every session.  Our job is to create a space where children (and adults) can feel safe, where they have access to things that allow them to regulate themselves, to build a caring, trusting relationship, and then do some “reasoning” through the issues they are dealing with.

This blog just summarizes the tip of the iceberg of Dr. Perry’s Neurosequential Model. If you are interested in reading more about it, visit www.childtrauma.org.

This Therapist is in Therapy

I have been a licensed therapist since 1995. (I often joke I started when I was 10!) Everyone has heard the adage that most therapists become therapists because they need therapy themselves. I believe there is truth to that. I will tell you I have done a lot of my own personal growth work over the years. I have gone to individual counseling and therapy. I have gone to family therapy. I have gone to couples therapy. I have learned a lot and have applied it to my life throughout the years. I will have to say working with a group of other therapists, having a group of true friends , and growing in personal faith has helped as well.

Where I still struggle is with anxiety. I go through bouts of it when I am around people I do not know, when I am asked to do something I have never done. I am an outgoing, silly person. Many people who find out I have this problem think I am kidding. I assure you I am not. A close friend of mine urged me numerous times to come with her to CrossFit. She is a beast, freakishly strong; I told her I was afraid to try it because I am not as strong. She assured me I would not feel like I was weak and I would be given positive reinforcement. I kept putting her off. I had been working out at a gym. I was working hard and had come a long way on my own. I finally promised her I would go in January. Exercise is an excellent way to decrease anxiety and depression and I was doing just fine. But, I kept my promise.

I started at the same time the CrossFit gym was beginning a 7-week challenge. The male and female who made the most changes in their workout, weight, etc… would win a month free of CrossFit. Unfortunately, I did not get to start the first week due to a family emergency. Fortunately, it did not ever occur to me I was not in the running to win until the day we re-did our measurements and weight. I look back and wonder if I would have tried as hard. They asked us to do the Slow Carb Diet as written by Tim Farris. This diet meant no dairy, no wheat, no sugar. I could have one “cheat meal” per week. The rest of the week it would be meat, beans, and vegetables. Ugh, I thought. I decided to go all in. I love to cook so I started looking for new recipes.

These workouts have been more intense and painful than any other workout I have done in my life. Both physically and emotionally. The physical pain is something I can handle; it is a way for me to tell I am doing some good work. It is the emotional pain that has been the hardest for me. I was not an athlete as a kid. I hated PE. My brother still teases me about the one season of Parks and Rec softball I did because I was so bad at it. CrossFit is touching on all of that shame and fear I had as a teenager in middle school and high school PE class. I was never pushed physically by my parents. I was not a child who was encouraged to do sports. I have struggled with my weight from nine years old. I have found an area of my life where I have not done justice for myself. It is therapeutic and my therapist is a long-time PE and sports coach. Here was my biggest fear right there in full color, pushing me, coaching me, encouraging me, scaring the sh** out of me. So I keep going. At least four times a week for therapy. I get nervous every morning when I go because I know I am going to have to try something new. I go anyway and I am so excited and happy when I leave because I am getting stronger, faster and more confident.

At the end of the seven (six for me) weeks, I have lost 6.5 pounds and 9.75 inches. This is the bonus to the “head work” I am doing. I write this on the first day of my second six weeks of CrossFit. I am going to keep going. This is the beginning of my therapeutic journey into my biggest fears. Stay tuned.

~Theresa Dotson Alexander, MS, LPC, NCC

Back to School: Using Assertiveness Skills to Deal with Bullying

Back to School: Using Assertiveness Skills to Deal with Bullying

Child Climbing

Bullying is a growing issue, not just in schools, but in all settings for both children and adults. If your child has a history of being bullied, they may be feeling scared and nervous about going back to school. You can help your child feel more prepared and confident by teaching them some assertiveness skills.

 

Assertiveness is the quality of being self-assured and confident without being aggressive. This can be displayed through communication, posture, and actions.

 

Assertive communication:

  • Make eye contact.
  • Use “I” statements to let a bully know how you are feeling:

When you______________ I feel______________ and I need for you to ________________.

(When you call me names I feel sad and I need for you to stop calling me names.)

  • Use a strong voice, don’t whisper or whine. Be confident in what you are saying and say it so it can be heard.
  • Use assertive communication to let adults know what is going on and what you need from them.

 

Assertive/Confident posture:

  • Stand tall with your shoulders back.
  • Walk with a purpose.
  • Look around as you walk.
  • Make eye contact and smile at others.

 

Assertive actions:

  • Identify and maintain boundaries. You can do this by putting your hands up in front of you, palms out toward a bully, if being approached in an aggressive manner.
  • Maintain eye contact but leave plenty of space between you and a dangerous situation.
  • Without running or looking away, leave a situation in which you are being bullied and use your assertive communication skills to get help from an adult.

 

Encourage your child to talk to you about issues they may be having with peers or teachers and practice these skills with them. Help them identify adults in the school or other setting to seek for support.

 

For more information on bullying:

www.kidpower.org

www.kidshealth.org

Back to School Part Two- Separation Anxiety and Young Children

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In Part 1 of our back to school series, we offered some suggestions for helping your child/teen transition back to school if they are anxious.  Many of the ideas we discussed can also help young children, but here are some additional suggestions to help your young child if he/she is having a difficult time separating from you:

  • Read books about going to school and separation anxiety ahead of time, and talk with your child about how the characters are feeling and how they cope with their worry. Some of my favorites that are good for preschool and kindergarten aged children are The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes.
  • When you attend back to school night with your child, take pictures of your child’s teachers, the playground, the classroom, etc. so they can look through them ahead of time again.
  • Young children sometimes find it helpful to bring a security object from home when they are anxious about separating from their parents/caregivers. This can be a favorite toy, family picture, etc., and often children feel better just having it in their backpack with them at school so they can get it when they feel like they need it.
  • When it’s time to say goodbye, don’t linger, but don’t sneak out of the door either. Say goodbye to your child, assure them you will come back, and then leave the classroom even if they are upset. Continuing to stay often makes children more upset in the long run, and teachers who work with young children have lots of practice in comforting them. Often creating a special ritual for saying goodbye can help with this transition- a special handshake, giving 2 hugs and a kiss, or whatever you and your child create together.

Overall, what is going to help your child (and your) anxiety the most is seeing that they can stay at school without you, you will always come back to get them, and they can have fun while they are there!

Look for part three of our back to school blog series next week- tips for helping your child be assertive and deal with bullying from Jessi Johnson, LPC.

 

Back to School Part One- Help Your Child Cope with School Anxiety

 

 

 

Over the next few weeks, we will be bringing you a blog series with some back to school tips for a great start to the school year!

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Back to school time can be an exciting time for children and their parents, but if your child/teen struggles with anxiety it can be a stressful time as well. Here are some tips for helping your child start off the school year on a positive note:

  • Talk with your child ahead of time about what specifically they are worried about. Often knowing more about what to expect reduces anxiety, so help your child/teen write a list of questions they have about the upcoming school year (“what will my schedule be?,” “what do I do if I get lost in the hallway?”, etc.). Then help them find the answers to those questions. If your child is older or a teenager, help them figure out how they will find the answers to those questions- doing this on their own will help them feel empowered.
  • Attend open house/ back to school night with your child so they can meet their teachers and see their classroom ahead of time. Encourage your child to use this night to find the answers to some of the questions they have about school.
  • If your child is worrying about a specific situation happening (“what if someone teases me?” “what if my teacher is mean?”), help them problem solve what they would do in these situations. Focus on helping your child figure out how to handle problems themselves- NOT you doing it for them.
  • Encourage your child to use positive self-talk when they are worrying, like saying to themselves “I can do this,” or “Everyone makes mistakes; I will try again.”
  • Avoid giving your child “mental health days” or letting them stay home from school because they are anxious about going. They will enjoy the day they get to stay home, but that will not help their anxiety in the long run, it just teaches them to avoid situations that make them anxious. Going to school, seeing that it can be fun, and dealing with challenging situations are what will ultimately help your child worry less.

 

Coming next week- additional tips for supporting young children as they get ready to start school or daycare.

 

Warm & Comfortable Counseling Setting

Exterior of our comfortable office

The Center for Counseling & Training offers a warm & comfortable setting for our clients.

I started the Center for Counseling & Training in 2008 because I saw a need in rural Missouri that was not being filled.  First, I just did groups for domestic violence offenders.  That grew into seeing a few individual counseling clients.  About a year later, a friend of mine asked if she could join my practice.  Practice??!! I have a practice?  I sure did and it was growing quickly.  Since then we have built a thriving practice that includes several therapists who see people ages 3 years old and up.

We have been told over and over again since moving to this location how “cozy” and “homey” our office is.  With several fireplaces and warm, inviting colors, our office seems to automatically put people at ease.  Our clinical team works closely with one another to ensure the best care for each client we serve.  This is reflected in the relationships we have with our numerous referral sources who trust us to care for their clients as well.

It feels good to make a difference in the community and I think we have and continue to do so.  I invite you to come by and meet us  and see what you think about our office if you haven’t already.

 

Amy Dobson, PLPC, CPT

28_TCCT_Aug2015Amy joined The Center for Counseling and Training (TCCT) in January of 2014. She recently completed her masters degree in counseling psychology at the University of Central Missouri.  She is a Provisionally Licensed Professional Counselor and under the supervision of Theresa Dotson Alexander, MS, LPC, NCC.   Amy has completed the requirements as a Certified Play Therapist and is currently finishing up schooling and supervision to become a Registered Play Therapist. Before coming to TCCT, Amy worked 9 years for the Lexington School District as an educator and four years as a Professional School Counselor In-Training at the middle school.

Amy believes that the foundation of effective counseling is building a positive relationship. She works hard at making the client feel understood through active listening, reflection of feeling, and accurate empathic understanding. She has experience with non-directive play therapy and utilizes person centered and cognitive counseling theories. She works with children and adults of all ages and is accepting new clients.

Get off the Fence!

We often hear,

“Get off the fence and make a decision”

… as though being on the fence is a bad thing.

I’d like to encourage you to stop straddling the fence and take time to stay on the fence.  It is so easy to straddle the fence, with one foot in the past and one foot in the future.  The past frequently becomes something we use to judge our choices and decisions in a negative way.  The future can be filled with worry and fear.  As we judge how we’ve lived our life in the past and worry about how we’re going to live life in the future, we neglect to truly live today.

Take a moment on the fence.

Take time to get on the fence and be mindful of the present moment.  The present moment is what counselors refer to as the here-and-now.

Notice your surroundings, acknowledge you circumstances, be grateful for your relationships, and accept your life as it is.  Real living takes place in the present moment, so be mindful, get on the fence and choose to really live today.