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Guaranteed Way to Reduce Stress

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reduce stressBelieve it or not, stress isn’t caused by a situation itself, but instead it comes from how we think about the situation. For some parents, their child is about to start applying to colleges for the first time. This is an exciting, but also stressful time for most students. The student’s worrisome thoughts include “what if I don’t get into my dream school?”, “what if my resume isn’t good enough” or “should I have taken that extra AP class last semester?” Their minds can be consumed by the “what ifs” instead of dealing with “what is.” One way parents can help their child reduce stress is to model a skill called mindfulness.

In a nut shell, mindfulness is being consciously present in what you’re doing, while you’re doing it, without analyzing it or judging.  In order to manage your mental and emotional state, you simply recognize and acknowledge your emotions and thoughts in each moment-to-moment experience, without judgement. Mindfulness is the opposite of multi-tasking. As life continues to get busier and technology tries to keep you more connected, it may feel counterproductive to slow down and only focus on one thing at a time. However, research shows that practicing mindfulness regularly can actually improve concentration and increase productivity, reduce the symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression, reduce impulsivity, and increase overall happiness. One study even found that students who engaged in a mindfulness meditation before taking an exam actually performed better than students who did not.

Parents: When you notice your child starting to worry about the “what ifs” of getting into college, acknowledge and validate their feelings of worry and doubt. They’ve spent the last 4 years of high school preparing for this, so of course they’re worried about this next step! Then, in a supportive and loving way try to redirect their attention to the “what is” of the situation, meaning what do I actually know for a fact in this very moment? For example, this is a new experience and they don’t know what to expect. What they do know is their GPA and the admission requirements of the school they are applying to. They’re freaking out, and you probably are too! Helping bring their attention back to the present moment will keep their brains from going down the rabbit hole of worry.

Redefining Success

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Redefining SuccessEach of us innately have a definition of success, which we carry around as an unspoken measuring stick.  We use it to make decisions about ourselves and others regarding performance.  We use it to make decisions about relationships, jobs, family, religious congregations we attend, neighbors, cars, schools… the list is unending.  Each interaction draws our measuring stick out. This measuring stick evolves as we interact with more people and get feedback from our environment.

For most of our life, this is helpful.  It spurs us forward and upward.  It keeps us from giving in to our inner desire to lay on the couch all day and watch Netflix.  It reminds us that we need to get up, get going, keep striving.  And it helps us to evolve, to achieve and to contribute to the world in which we live.  As long as life is bringing events that we have expected and approved of, we can use our inner measuring stick to our benefit.

However, there are times in our life when this inner measuring stick begins to work against us.  When things do not go as we expected, when life hands us things we don’t like, that hurt, that disappoint, that paralyze us, how then do we use this tool?  Unfortunately, during those times, it would be wise to pick up a different tool. It is a different set of circumstances, so a different set of expectations is warranted.  But we don’t do that, do we?  We expect ourselves to have super-human strength, to carry on as though life is not painful or nearly impossible.

Daily, I am asked, “why can’t I function like I used to?” Or “Why can’t I function like they can,” as they compare themselves to others who are not experiencing life as they are. These are the people who have come in for help, for support and for solace from a life that has handed them a set of circumstances and emotional challenges beyond what most of us experience.  They are the brave.  They are the hurting.  Yet, they are not trading in their mental measuring stick for one that is more appropriate for their circumstances.

Mindfulness is a tool that many of us, facing circumstances we never would have asked for, utilize in order to become successful in spite of all that we face.  It allows us to redefine success, to evolve or change our measuring tool.  Instead of asking a global assessment question of functioning, it asks, “for this moment, in my current circumstances, what does success look like.”  Often success becomes much smaller wins.  And often, they carry much more weight than any of the “big” wins we experience outside of unwanted circumstances. Because, in those moments, it takes that much more strength, effort and determination to reach it. It frees us from drudgery, from pushing through.  It gives room and breath and allowance for rest, for emotions, and for small steps.

For those of us found in circumstances that hurt, I encourage you to consider a mindfulness exercise.  Think of a person whom you love and care about.  If that person was in the same circumstances and the same pain or disappointment, what would you expect of them?  Ask yourself what you would say, what you would expect, how you would react to them.  Would you be more kind to them than you are to yourself.  If the answer changes as you think of this person for whom you care, I urge you to allow that to become your new tool.  Allow that exercise to evolve how you speak to yourself, how you care for yourself and how you approach each moment.  Redefine your definition of success.  Write it down and put it up in your home, maybe on your mirror, as a reminder of this new perspective.  And rest in the space this creates in your mind from the chaos you were preciously involved in. You are enough. You are capable.  You can take the next step.

4 Ways to Stay Mindful

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4 Ways to Stay Mindful - Summit Counseling CenterMindfulness is the practice of fully engaging in and being aware of the present moment, being nonjudgmental, and not clinging to moments including thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness helps lower anxiety, stress, and depression by enhancing an individual’s mind and body connection which improves understanding of emotions and thoughts. Wanting to try mindfulness? Keep reading to get tips on getting started.

1. Re-focus when you’re feeling distracted

Mindfulness can help you reset your focus to work on the task at hand and pay attention to one thing at a time. When you’re focusing on one thing at a time you will be less likely to be lost in thought of focusing on your worries. In our fast paced world, we are so used to multitasking. Try focusing on only one thing at a time. Yes, you heard me! That means putting away your phone when you are having a conversation, watching a TV program, or sending an email!

2. Stay in the present moment

Practicing mindfulness helps you keep your thoughts in the current moment. Try observing your surroundings, describing what’s in your environment, and/or fully participating in an activity of your choice.

3. Let it in and let it go!

Acknowledge the feelings and thoughts you are experiencing that are taking away from the present moment, but don’t cling to them. Allow them to come and go freely. You can imagine that the feelings and thoughts are being washed away by the ocean, floating away down a river, moving by with a cloud, or another image of your choosing. This allows you to have thoughts and feelings without getting stuck or distracted.

4. Practice Non-judgment

When you judge yourself or others you unintentionally create ineffective thoughts and feelings such as feelings of shame or guilt. Instead of labeling experiences as “good” or “bad”, try saying exactly what you mean. What is good to one person may be bad to another. Replace “I did so badly on the test” with “I don’t like my grade on the test” or “I’m awful at relationships” with “I don’t like my behaviors in relationships.” Saying what you mean helps you express yourself, understand yourself, and ultimately identify what you want to change.

If you are having difficulty managing your emotions try incorporating mindfulness into your daily life. You can do this 10 minutes a day by practicing centering prayer, guided imagery, or simply observing your breathing. Mindfulness helps teach us to pause and check in with ourselves in a non-judgmental and accepting way.

Dialectical behavior therapy is a unique treatment that incorporates mindfulness. If you or your loved one are struggling with relationships, regulating emotions, or have difficulty managing distress make an appointment with one of the Summit’s Intensively Trained DBT clinicians – we’re here to help. Make an appointment by calling 678-893-5300 or visiting!

5 Ways to Avoid a Power Struggle with Children

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5 Ways to Avoid a Power Struggle with ChildrenThe new school year is almost here and for some families that means children are excited about having a more structured routine, but for other families children can be resistant to the changes that come with going back to school. Adjusting to the new pressures of school can add a lot of stress for children, which may result in more defiance.

We’ve all been there, the climax of a power struggle with a child— we know we’re losing (we’re almost always losing), we wonder how we got there and how we can make this stop. Sometimes it starts small, maybe your six year old refuses to take a bath, an hour has gone by and you’ve threatened they can’t watch TV for a month, no toys for a week, they can’t date till they’re 21, and you swear someone has taken over your body because you just heard yourself say something like “BECAUSE” even though your rational self remembers from public speaking class or English 101 that argument has no legs to stand on. This scene probably ends with both you and your child going to your separate rooms, closing the door, and crying.  To help avoid escalating a situation into a power struggle with your child, here are 5 questions you can use to assess the situation before it spirals out of control.

1. Is your child safe?

As always, first assess, “Is this an issue of safety?” If the answer is anything close to “No, not really,” then let’s move on.

2. Is this arbitrary?

Once I worked for a company that had someone donate tickets to a pro basketball game for us take our middle grades clients that were attending a summer camp group. We got hooked up with a private suite. At one point a few of the boys stood up to watch the game and a couple of the adults with our group kept yelling “sit down” followed by threats that they wouldn’t be able to participate in future events. These 12 year olds were looking around, confused about why they were in trouble. I, too, was confused. I finally had to speak up and tell these adults they were being irrational. Why can’t these 12 year boys stand up at a basketball game of all places? There was no answer; it was just an arbitrary rule. Sometimes we make rules just to have control or because we have a preference on the way something is done but there isn’t actually negative consequence if these “rules” aren’t followed. If your child doesn’t finish all the broccoli on their plate, will they stop growing? Will children in other countries stop being hungry? No.

My favorite parenting technique to teach is natural consequences. Most often the best way to stop a power struggle before it starts and still have a consequence in place is to let the situation play out. It’s 40 degrees out but your child doesn’t want to wear his jacket to school today because he isn’t cold? You could spend 20 minutes of your morning arguing about the jacket, he can be late to school, you can be late to work, or you could let him be really cold for a day and chances are tomorrow he’ll want to take his jacket. There is also a chance he actually isn’t cold without his jacket and maybe his body responds to temperature differently than yours.

3. Is there an alternative?

I once witnessed a child be punished because an adult was eating dinner at the same time a child was banging keys on a piano. The adult asked the child to please stop because the sound was bothering him. This situation played out very theatrically with lots of crying and screaming. From the child’s point of view he wasn’t doing anything “wrong” and he doesn’t understand why his actions were not okay. In this situation I see 3 alternative solutions: the adult could pick up his plate and move somewhere where the sound was less annoying, the adult could have compromised with the child (also great social skills training) that the child take a break from playing on the piano during dinner time and may play again in 15 minutes, or the adult could have given the child an alternative activity to do with his hands that would still be entertaining but less quiet. Sometimes the real problem is we don’t want to take the 2 minutes to work out the problem so we yell and make threats that the behavior stop now, which consequently usually ends up taking more of our time.

4. Can this wait?

For this one I’m thinking of situations in which it is an important lesson for you to teach your child and you so desperately want them to “get it” in the moment, but maybe this should be a conversation for later. This can be situations like your child hits another child and you want them to apologize, but it escalates into something very theatrical and you can’t convince your 4 year old to act like an adult and apologize. Another example is grandma buys your child a very expensive gift and the child will not say thank you nor give grandma a hug. This could be a situation in which the rules aren’t arbitrary. However, in some cases when you are on the brink of a power struggle, it may be best for you to apologize to the person, remove the child from the environment, talk to the child about kindness, respect, personal space, etc. Sometimes even helping the child act out how to make a situation right can be helpful. “Sarah, when you see Charlotte tomorrow, what can you say to let her know you feel really bad about hitting her today?” “John, what can you say to grandma to let her know you appreciate the gift she gave you?”  These are important lessons but maybe the child needs to calm down first and then apologize at a later time. It will probably mean more to the other person when the child is feeling more sincere.

5. Am I reacting to this situation or something else?

As parents you carry a lot of stress. If only your kids could understand that you really need to make this deadline with no distractions because that’s how you keep your job that buys them all the things they need and want. Alas, the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25 so you’re in for a long ride. The times that can be the easiest to escalate a situation into a power struggle is when you are really stressed and tired. During these times you feel like the easiest thing to do is to bark orders and have your child obey them or else they are grounded from fun for the rest of their lives. Most often what ends up happening here is a power struggle that ends up taking much more of your time and energy than it would to stop and think through your options and come up with a better alterative. Ask yourself am I really that upset their bed isn’t made up or is it all those other stressors that you are unleashing in that moment?

These 5 questions could help you quickly assess if a situation is even a problem, if there is a way to keep things from getting out of control, and could save you from wasting time that could be spent reading an extra bedtime story.  However, there are some factors that when applied to these scenarios are not solved as easily. If you are repeatedly having an issue with power struggles in the home then be sure to follow up with a pediatrician or therapist.

What is “good mental health?”

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What is Good Mental Health?Good mental health.

As a therapist, I’m often asked by clients, friends, and general questioners about their personal mental health.  These questions come in many forms, mainly along the lines of, “am I crazy for thinking (or doing) this?”  Of course not, in most cases.

However, there are many good reasons for asking this question.  All of us, at times, wonder about our own mental state.  There is a wide range of good mental health, and most of us fall within this range.   In fact, there is a guide book, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry, Version V (DSM-V), that details abnormal psychology – thoughts, emotional states, and behaviors that fall out of the wide range of normalcy.

So, what is good mental health?

Good mental health is feeling and behaving appropriately to your current situation in life.  It IS NOT about feeling good all the time (this is called addiction).   For example, if you lose someone close to you, then feeling sad and grieving is appropriate and considered good mental health – even though you do not “feel good” at this time.  It is the right set of feelings appropriate to your current situation.

Conversely, someone who is chronically depressed or anxious – without a here-and-now event that invokes these feelings, is not exhibiting good mental health.  It is not to say one is in “poor mental health.”  However, there is a list of criteria and diagnosis in the DSM-V indicating chronic depression or anxiety is a clinical issue requiring treatment (anti-depressants are the number one prescribed medicines).

I recommend checking in with yourself, meaning at some point every day focus inward and conduct a general inventory of how you are feeling and behaving.  If you are not sure, ask another person whom you trust for their observation and opinion.  See if you are generally aligned with mood, thinking, and behaviors with current situations you are facing.

If you have an extraordinary situation you are experiencing (death of loved one, physical trauma or discomfort, loss or change of career or relationship, etc.), expect to be “off of your game.”  Prepare yourself and others you care about that you are not “going to be yourself” for a few days or weeks.  As always, give yourself a break and allow the not-so-comfortable feelings to run their course while you act appropriately.

In other words, exhibit good mental health.

Five ADHD Home Remedies

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Five ADHD Home RemediesWhether your child has been officially diagnosed with ADHD/ADD or just shows certain ADHD/ADD tendencies, there are certain strategies you can try to get your child through a challenging school year.

Structure and routine

As parents we have to be disciplined and consistent enough ourselves to routinely implement and enforce bedtimes for adequate sleep (8-10 hours), set clothes out the night before, a select few chores to conquer in the morning (make the bed, put dishes away), a select time and place to do homework/study, and an injection of breaks/rewards for completed work/chores.

Video games in moderation

Any child, especially an ADHD/ADD child, will play video games all afternoon, evening, and nightlong if you let him, so set boundaries of no more than an hour of video games during the weekdays, and no more than 2-3 hours a day during the weekends (including Fridays).

Get active

Every child (or adult for that matter) should find time in a day to sweat for at least 15-20 minutes because of the benefits exercise does for the brain, especially the ADHD/ADD brain.  When parents are more active themselves and make it a point to routinely exercise, it increases the chances of their child following suit.

Nutrition and diet

It’s really not necessary to totally revolutionize your fridge or pantry, but it is important increase your child’s daily protein intake (especially with breakfast) and decrease sugars and carbs (again, moderation is key here).  Proteins can be made fun for children too because they include beef jerky, chicken and sausage biscuits, cheese sticks, and even cold pizza (thin crust preferably).

Get involved

It’s key for not only parents to get involved at their child’s school, but find ways to get your child involved too.  This just doesn’t mean clubs and sports, it also means finding ways for your child to help the teachers out during class by helping them run school errands or hand materials out in class, especially the inattentive ADHD child that bores easy.

For more information on how to help your child strive in school and families cope better with ADHD, feel free to call 678-893-5300 to set up an appointment with one of our child and adolescent therapists.

The Secret to Making Friends

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The Secret to Making Friends - Summit Counseling CenterBeing a teenager can be stressful at times. As a teen, you are working to develop your identity and creating a value system that makes sense to you. The teenage years might be a time where you feel insecure or uncomfortable in your own skin, you might feel like everyone is judging you or you don’t fit in. These thoughts and fears can make creating friendships difficult at times. Don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. Keep reading to find out tips on approaching new people!

Identity your interests

Take some time exploring the activities you enjoy and the things that are important to you. This may be small group, a sport, a club, online interests, or various other activities. Identifying the things you like and feel passionate about will help you meet people who may share those some interests or it can help you talk about your interests to other people.

Let go of your judgments and assumptions

It can be hard to approach people and start a conversation when we are worried about what the other person might think about us. Try telling yourself that the other person might be as nervous as you are and is unlikely to be judging you. It will also give you a confidence boost to remind yourself of previous positive experiences you’ve had interacting with other people.

Be interested in the other person

Let’s be honest, we all like the opportunity to talk about ourselves. When meeting a new person try shifting your focus to them and ask them questions and act interested in what they’re saying. Try to acknowledge their responses and be light hearted. Doing this will allow the other person to feel interesting and will likely encourage them to ask you questions and learn about you! As friendships continue you can both taking turns participating in each other’s interests through conversations and activities.

Just keep breathing

Doing something your scared of can be intimidating. Try using structured breathing if you start getting nervous. Being mindful of your breaths can help shift your focus to your breathing and conversation instead of your anxiety.

Practice makes perfect it easier

It’s okay to be nervous when you’re trying to make friends. It can seem easier to avoid the opportunity out of fear of failure, but the more you do it, the easier it will become to approach new people. Try reframing the phrase “I can’t do it” to “I am scared.” This will help you practice patience and compassion with yourself. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect for someone to enjoy your company.

onsite_school_based_counselingIf your teenager needs someone to talk to please call the Summit Counseling Center to make an appointment with one of the licensed School-based Therapists located in Alpharetta, Centennial, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek, Milton, and Northview high school at 678-893-5300!

Starting Kindergarten with a Bang!

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Starting Kindergarten with a Bang!Sending your baby off to big kid school for the first time can be daunting, emotional and exciting all at the same time. Starting kindergarten is a major milestone in every child’s life so it’s important to make that first day as great as possible for them. As the parent, you can’t control how the school day goes but you can control whether they get off to a good start. Here are a few tips to make your kindergartener’s first day of school a super success:

  • Don’t rush through the open house. Give your kiddo plenty of time to explore the classroom, meet the teacher, and meet a few classmates if possible. The more they explore, the more secure they will feel on that first day.
  • Buy school supplies together! Let then have a say in what their new book bag or lunch box looks like. This is a great way to get them excited for the first day.
  • Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep for several nights leading up to his or her first day of school. If the summer bedtime schedule has been a bit more lax, get back into the school routine for at least a week prior to school starting so that their little bodies can adjust.
  • Get up a little earlier than usual to make them a hearty, healthy, and special breakfast. Starting the day right is always important and there is no better way to do that than with breakfast.
  • If they are riding the bus for the first time, do a test walk to the bus stop the day before so that they feel more comfortable. If possible, find a buddy in the neighborhood for them to ride with on that first day of school so they don’t feel alone.
  • Save your emotions for after they are on the bus or in the school building. This can be a very emotional morning for parents full of nerves, sadness, joy and excitement. Keep that first goodbye short, excited and encouraging. You can bust out in sobs later.

Some kids are excited about the first day of kindergarten while other kids are very anxious. If your child is excited, be excited with them! The longer we can keep them excited about school the better. However, if you have a child who is anxious about kindergarten, role-play as much as possible. Connect with their teacher and get details about that first day- schedule, activities, snack time, and more. Once you have the details, you can rehearse the different parts of the day to make them feel safer and more secure.

I wish you all a fun, exciting and successful first day of school! It’s going to be a great school year for all!

Why Seek Counseling?

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Why Seek Counseling? - Summit Counseling Center

Have you ever seen a piece of furniture that looked worn and damaged but at the same time was mysteriously beautiful? One that had dents and scratches from years of use, yet still had something redeemable about it?

Many people find themselves scarred by circumstances that life has thrown their way. They struggle to cover up the scars that loss, trauma, and mental illness have given them. They walk around with a cloud over their heads feeling present but not alive – involved, yet alone.

Fifty-nine percent of people fighting symptoms of grief, trauma, depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles do not seek help. They don’t talk about it. They don’t share their hardships. After all, they can’t, right? Who would listen? Who would want the honest truth about their struggles? Who asks, “How are you?” and dares to hear honesty in return?

Sometimes we aren’t “good”, even though that’s the response that we give when people ask. In reality, we might be struggling. The bills are piling up and we don’t know what we’re going to do. Our marriage is in shambles, but who can we trust to tell? Our loved one has been diagnosed with an illness, but we are supposed to stay strong.

It is true – life can be hard. We tell white lies so that we can spare the other person from hearing how “real” things truly are. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to keep your struggles to yourself. You don’t have to bury your thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to hide that you feel as though you almost can’t go on.

There are people professionally trained to help you. These people ask how you are doing, and they want the honest and ugly truth. They are familiar with the unique struggles associated with loss, hard times, and bad circumstances. They are individuals who went to school specifically to learn how to help others cope with grief, suicide, mental illness, or whatever challenge that is plaguing you.

We are therapists. We have a heart for helping people overcome these obstacles. We believe in healing, finding purpose, and gaining hope. We believe that just like that worn out piece of furniture, you can be redeemed. Yes, you may have scars. Yes, healing may mean hard work. It might take time, but the end result of reaching out is far more beautiful than fighting the fight alone.

If someone with a heart condition visits the cardiologist to gain understanding and develop a treatment plan, they are considered wise. Going without seeing the cardiologist would be considered negligent. The same is true for those who seek counseling. The brain is as much an organ as the heart. When emotions are high, when life is hard, when you feel like giving up, there is someone out there who wants to help.

Counseling provides a safe place for you to share, explore, and challenge your emotions and thoughts. There is an alliance between therapist and client, which becomes the catalyst for change. This relationship is different than a friendship, familial relationship, or marriage. It differs because it comes without advice, judgement, or resentment of your true feelings. It offers understanding, acceptance, empathy, and clinically derived feedback.

So, while friends, family, and spouses may recognize the change in your personality, your agitation, the fact that you’ve withdrawn, or your hopelessness – they may not know how to help or when to step in.

That is what we are here for. Allow us to help you. You are a treasure, after all, and sometimes treasures just need to be restored.

How to breathe: A simple way to lower anxiety in 5 easy steps.

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how to breathe - lower anxiety - summit counselingAnxiety can come out of nowhere. One moment you feel fine and then you remember that one assignment, relationship, email you didn’t send and suddenly it’s there: fear. Your chest tightens. Your mind races towards worst case scenarios. You feel trapped, out of control, suffocated, and frozen in fear.

Anxiety is a powerful enemy that steals away our feelings of control.

One simple way to take back that control and manage that fear is mindfulness. Mindfulness therapy focuses on awareness and helps to bring us to the present and deal with difficult life situations. A simple mindfulness technique for anxiety is:

  1. Stop and step back. When you feel anxiety coming on, pause and visualize yourself taking a mental step back from your anxiety.
  2. Check in. Take a second to recognize where you are. Anxiety can take us far into the future or the past. Take a moment to see your present.
  3. Take a breath. Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Continue this breathing and allow it to get slower and deeper.
  4. Add some words. As the breathing gets more natural, tell yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “OK” as you breathe out. Continue this mantra as you feel your heart rate slowing down and your chest slowly getting more relaxed.
  5. Come back. Once you feel relaxed and in control, you can come back to your normal breath. Now you can visually step back into the situation that brought on the anxiety in a more calm and controlled state. You are in control, not anxiety!

This is just one simple tool, but there are many other ways to take power back from anxiety and fear.

If you or a loved one is struggling with issues related to anxiety, then we are here to help!

Please contact the Summit Counseling Center to make an appointment by calling 678-893-5300 or visiting our website

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