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The Poverty of Pity

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Back view of loving mom hug teen daughterAs someone who holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, I’m very aware of how tricky words can be.

For instance, pity is often used synonymously with the term compassion, but the two couldn’t be any more different.  Compassion is what keeps the counseling profession alive while pity kills friendships, marriages, families, and communities.

Having pity for someone means you come at him or her in the spirit of superiority while the recipient is led to feel inferior.  Meanwhile, compassion comes with two parties meeting as equals with one more in the position to assist in a level-headed fashion for the moment.

Examples of pitying someone would be cycling through dismissive statements such as you’ll be okay or you’re fine, or saying you’ll pray for them and your thoughts are with them.  And, then, it’s followed up with no action (other than the pity-ers patting themselves on the back after these all-too-common empty exchanges).  Other examples of pity could be charitable actions disguised as compassion (such as donations, bailing someone out of a situation for the umf-teen time, or even service projects) if it’s done with a checklist heart and not a habitat heart.

A habitat heart has a way of welcoming hurting souls without judgement and superiority – that’s compassion.  Compassionate acts take no shortcuts, wait the whole process out with genuine follow through, and has the feel of someone joining you in the struggle.  That means not only listening, but also responding with discernment and humility (which sometimes means deferring to someone or something else as a better fit to help a person in need).  Jesus is the best example of compassion in action, and I picture him to this day spending more hours than the Bible give him credit for, joining wounded people in their misery before performing well-documented miracles or routinely going to battle as an advocate for their cause.

In short, no one wants to be pitied.  It’s insulting at best and shaming at worst.  And, unfortunately, I hear more stories of my clients feeling pitied by people in their support system than anything that even remotely resembles compassion.  So, choose compassion the next time you find a loved one or a community of people hurting in the spirit of doing onto others as you would have them do onto you (Jesus 24:7).

Self-Care: Taking Care of Your Body

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beautiful caucasian middle age woman with curly hair working at home and relaxing on the sofa with a tablet and internet. drinking tea or lemonade. happy relaxed leisure activity indoorSelf-care is doing activities to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health. Practicing self-care helps us reduce stress and manage our emotions better. Lack of self-care can lead to increased stress and illness overtime. While taking care of our physical health is only one part of effective self-care it directly impacts our mental and emotional health. This makes taking care of our body important!

Perhaps you’re interested in doing more self-care but you’re not sure where to begin. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches a skill called Taking care of your mind by taking care of your body and can be remembered as the PLEASE skills. This skill has 5 steps that when followed help you become less receptible to stress and improve your well-being!

  1. Treat PhysicaL illness
    If you’re sick, go to the doctor. Take your medication as prescribed. Stay up to date with yearly check-ups.
  2. Balance Eating
    Eat food that nourishes your body and gives you energy. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
  3. Avoid mood-Altering substances
    Stay away from illegal drugs and limit/be mindful of alcohol intake (if at all).
  4. Balance Sleep
    Try and stay on a consistent sleep schedule where you get about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night or where you’re getting the amount of sleep that helps you feel your best.
  1. Get Exercise
    Try to engage in some type of exercise every day! 20 minutes of daily exercise can help with stress levels and mood.

 

If you or a loved one are struggling please consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist at the Summit Counseling Center by calling 678-893-5300 or contacting us via our website www.summitcounseling.org.

How to Encourage Social Skills with your Children

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Arts and Crafts at NurseryThe phrase “social skills” is how we describe interactions in relationships that can be verbal or nonverbal behaviors that communicate our thoughts and feelings. Verbal expressions can be a statement by the child of “I don’t care” or constant talking about a subject without asking the listener their opinion. Nonverbal expressions can be little eye contact or turning your back on the listener. Childhood is a sensitive time to create connections between caregivers and friends and develop healthy social skills.

What are some signs social skills may need to be encouraged?

These are a few signs that social skills may be more of a challenge to your child. If a few of these signs sound like familiar behaviors, it does not mean your child has a definite problem. These are just guidelines to seek additional help.

  • If child avoids eye contact, when culturally appropriate
  • If child avoids interact with others
  • Does not attach emotion to relationships, for example will use the adult for a functional purpose instead of a comforting purpose
  • Often appears to be withdrawn or in their “own world”
  • May seem emotionally detached in general
  • Little empathy towards others
  • Signs of extreme anxiety or sadness in difficult social situations
  • Has difficulty with transitions or changing topics
  • Has “black or white” thinking that appears rigid
  • Appears to have little friends, even if attempts are made to be social
  • Has trouble interacting with peers of the same age
  • Try’s to gain friends through fundamental ways that could be below developmental levels, such as asking a friend “Do you want to be friends?”
  • Have experienced bullying

What Can Caregivers do to help?

As a caregiver, you are a secure base for your child to connect yet feel comfortable to explore the world around them. Therefore, modeling healthy social skills to children is one of the best ways for them to learn. Here are a few skills to encourage at home.

  • Encourage eye contact and open body language during all conversations
  • Encourage child to ask peers questions during conversations and be flexible in subjects
  • Promote empathy and respect while talking
  • Seek extra help or support when needed

Suicide Prevention

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Yellow ribbon symbolic color for Sarcoma Bone cancer, Spina Bifida Awareness Month and suicide prevention on helping hand (isolated with clipping path)Suicide is an epidemic that has been impacting our nation and community. It’s important to take some time to touch on this difficult topic. A big part of this is learning to be intentional about noticing things in your children and feeling comfortable having conversations with them about these things. It often feels difficult or uncomfortable to do this, but talking and creating an open environment really is the most important thing you can do to keep your child safe.

Before we launch into what some of the warning signs of suicide are, it’s crucial to take some time to explain that no one thing leads to someone wanting to take their own life. It is usually many things at once that have added up to make someone consider suicide. I say this to reduce any guilt that might be felt by reading these. It is also true that many are very good at covering up symptoms or emotions and that can also make it very difficult to notice.

Some warning signs to pay attention to are a change in appearance or affect. This means that if your child or someone else usually gets up in the morning and showers and puts makeup on and suddenly, they stop doing that for a significant period. This would be the time to check in on how they are feeling. In the same vein, if your child usually has a happy/joyful demeanor and lately they have seemed “down,” a conversation should take place. If your child has started to lose interest in something they used to love (ex. a sport, hobby, etc), it’s time to check in. If your child seems tearful or hopeless or reports feeling “like a burden,” pay attention. If your child is sleeping significantly more or less than normal, ask them about it. Basically, we are looking for significant changes in patterns of behavior. The goal here, again, is just to have some conversation starters and to let your child know that you are paying attention and that you care.

The following are some risk factors associated with suicide: a mental health diagnosis, family history of mental health issues, a significant life event (a death of a loved one, parental divorce, a breakup), exposure to suicide by a family member, friend, or someone in the community, bullying, a history of abuse, and access to lethal means. This is another reminder that no one thing leads to suicide. If any of these are involved in your child’s life, it may have had an effect on them and a conversation could be really helpful.

Now that we have helpful information about how to know if your child is at risk for suicidal ideation, we can dive into how to support your child. First, to stay on message, conversations and open relationships are everything when it comes to this. If you are intentional about checking in, asking open ended questions, and making sure your child knows you are there if they need to talk, you are doing a phenomenal job. I’ll add to that though that teaching your child coping skills is also extremely helpful. Some of these coping skills might include: planning ahead, taking a break, reading a book, taking a bath, listening to music, calling a friend, doing some deep breathing, journaling, etc. The more you can model these healthy coping skills to them, the better they will be at incorporating them in their own lives.

 

To sum this up,

Notice changes in patterns of behavior

Acknowledge them to your child

Attempt to have a conversation about it

Model/teach coping skills as early as possible

Tell your child that you care about them

 

Resources:

Georgia Crisis Line: 1-800-715-4225

National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

Summit Counseling Center: 678-893-5300

More information: Screenings for Mental Health & CDC.gov

Teens and Vaping

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woman smoking electronic cigaretteVaping is a trend that has been on the rise recently, specifically for adolescents in middle school and high school. This trend of using various types of e-cigarettes is an addictive process that more adolescents are engaging in or are curious about. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, levels that are comparable or higher to that of a traditional cigarette. The nicotine in these products puts our teens at risk for addiction and use of other tobacco products. Talking with our adolescents to educate and help them navigate peer situations where this is occurring is important for their health and development.

With this trend becoming popular quickly, it can feel overwhelming in attempting to talk to your teen about their experiences and knowledge about this product. Vaping may not be a topic some parent are entirely familiar with, but this conversation is like many others you have had or will have with your teen. To help in getting started, here are a few tips for addressing this with your adolescent:

  1. Ask questions from a curious perspective. We all can become defensive when we feel that we are being lectured or assumed of doing something we haven’t. Though this conversation may be difficult and unclear at times, maintaining a curious and interested perspective in your teen’s experience is the first step to fostering open communication.
  2. Stay educated. There are online resources, including the Surgeon General’s website, that can give you more information on e-cigarettes, their ingredients, risks, and more that will allow you to be best informed and able to answer any questions your teen may have.
  3. Set an example for your teen. A great deal of how children and adolescents learn is by what they see others in their lives doing. Modeling open and effective communication, straying from tobacco products, and being a listening and understanding adult in your child’s life enables them to do the same.

Bullying in Middle School

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Unhappy Girl Being Gossiped About By School FriendsWe often hear this word being thrown around but what is bullying really? Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

There are three types of bullying:

  • Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Verbal bullying includes:
    • Teasing
    • Name-calling
    • Inappropriate sexual comments
    • Taunting
    • Threatening to cause harm
  • Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:
    • Leaving someone out on purpose
    • Telling other children not to be friends with someone
    • Spreading rumors about someone
    • Embarrassing someone in public
  • Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:
    • Hitting/kicking/pinching
    • Spitting
    • Tripping/pushing
    • Taking or breaking someone’s things
    • Making mean or rude hand gestures

The most important thing we can teach our children is how to be an upstander instead of a bystander. We can do this by teaching empathy and perspective taking in daily situations. Help your child practice seeing all sides of a situation or disagreement by making talking out other perspectives, views, and opinions; even if they do not align with your own. If your child is being bullied it is important to help give the child choose to problem, solve conflict instead of immediately going and fighting the battle for them. In the long run giving our kids the tools to be assertive and confront hard situations will lead to empowerment. However, if the situation is severe, harmful, or life threatening it is always important that an adult step in and take immediate action.

Gaining Connection with Your Child

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A young family with two toddler children outdoors by the river in summer.We are all busy, let’s face it. As adults we are working, parenting, and squeezing in “adult time”; and children are studying in school, doing activities after school, and playing with friends. With our busy schedules, we feel guilt or anxiety of continually choosing these activities over spending quality time as a family. But don’t fear, there are easy ways to add in connection time to any schedule that is fun. Research has shown increasing quality time over quantity time spent together can help decrease behavioral outbursts and anxiety or depression in your child.

The difference of quantity time vs. quality time is quantity time is just a number of time spent together and quality time being intentional no matter the time frame. Though the quantity of activities can still be fun, such as going to sporting events, movies, entertainment arenas, trips, shopping, play dates, etc, the outings are less about face to face time with parent and child talking to each other. Quality time is spent with the purpose of the focus on the child and building their confidence because they feel heard by the parent. This can have a positive effect on the parent child relationship and a decrease in behavioral concerns in the home.

What are some of these ways to add in quality time to create connection?

  1. Spend intentional time each week for 30 minutes with an activity your child picks. This activity should preferable be done in the home and allow your child to lead. During this time reflect your child’s actions and ask very few questions
  2. Set small amount of time daily to be with your child- hopefully face to face- but if this is not possible you could Facetime or write your child a note to let them know you are thinking of them
  3. Eat a meal together during the day at the table where you share with each about the day.
  4. Create a special habit between the two of you that is done daily- reading a book, saying a prayer, a special handshake, etc
  5. Express your feelings of love towards your child in verbal words
  6. Compliment and reinforce positive behaviors when your child has done something that you want to see them do again
  7. Create as many opportunities for play and laughter as possible- this is a child’s natural language
  8. Put down technology when you are with your child. This will allow them and you to feel like you are present and model good technology behaviors

These steps can be as simple as you make them, but the affects can be a greater connection with your child and lower behaviors or emotions in your house. Also, by creating a strong parent- child connection, you will an increase in your child’s self-confidence and positive influence. Release the guilt over busy schedules, because there is always room for quality time!

Why Your Kids Should Be Allowed To Tell You No Sometimes

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Mother Having Serious Conversation With Teenage Daughter At HomeOne of the skills I end up having to teach almost all the kids I work with, no matter their presenting problem, is assertiveness. An anxious child may be too afraid to express how they feel and be passive in uncomfortable situations. A child with big emotions may also feel afraid to express how they feel but then end up yelling or saying something hurtful to stop the undesired thing from happening, which comes across as aggressive. Most often whether the child leans toward passive, aggressive, or passive aggressive, it’s because they didn’t know there was another option, or they haven’t had real practice using assertiveness.  I define assertiveness to parents and kids as expressing what you think and feel in a way that respects yourself and respects others. Most of the kids I work with worry that they are being mean, disrespectful, or will hurt someone’s feelings to tell them no or that they disagree.

An example:

A friend asks my client to go tell another friend they are mad at him/her and don’t want to be their friend anymore. Client does not want to get involved. A passive client may say something like, “well, I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” but after the friend asking a few times they will eventually say okay. A client with aggressive communication, may say they don’t want to do it at first and then if pressured may respond by saying something like, “Don’t boss me around! You’re a mean friend and I don’t like you anymore!” Neither child has much practice saying assertive statements like, “I’m sorry he/she hurt your feelings. I don’t feel comfortable getting involved because they are my friend too. I hope you two can work it out.” That statement respects the child’s boundary but isn’t mean or disrespectful to their friend.

One reason kids don’t have a lot of practice with assertive statements is because they aren’t allowed to say no at home. I’m not suggesting that children should run the house, be disrespectful, or that they never have to brush their teeth, take a bath, or eat their vegetables because they don’t want to. I’m suggesting allowing kids to have choices and be able to say no in low risk situations.

An example:

Your child is reading an assignment for school and you ask them to please take a quick break to take the dog on a walk or go pick up their toys. The child doesn’t want to because they fear they will get off track finishing the assignment. Children that don’t know how to use assertive communication may react by yelling no and having a tantrum, or they may be passive aggressive and say, “fine” and complete the task with tears in their eyes, leaving you confused. This is a low risk situation in which a child could have the option to say, “I can walk the dog when I finish this assignment, I don’t want to get off task.” Allowing children to have these kinds of responses teaches them how to have boundaries with friends. It may take a lot of patience and redirecting to teach your kids these responses. For example, a parent can model assertiveness by saying to their child, “I feel disrespected when you yell at me. If now is not a good time for you to walk the dog you can let me know that by saying, ‘I can walk the dog when I finish this assignment’.” If you notice your child struggling to communicate effectively or setting healthy boundaries, consider seeking a therapist to help them practice this skill in a safe and fun environment.

3 Tips to Enjoy Autumn, Even More

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Senior woman in park in autumnAutumn is my favorite time of year. I love everything this time of the year brings, especially the return of football, cooler weather, pumpkin spice, and the brilliant colors we see as the leaves turn around our area. However, many people, including myself, can experience an increase in anxiousness and sometimes a general low, tired, and emotionally off feeling as the seasons shift.

In today’s suburban culture, the months of August and September rather than January are known as the start of the new year. New activities, new jobs, new schools, new assignments. The fall also reminds us the holidays are coming, full of family gatherings, spending, and colder, shorter days. It makes sense that many of us during this time begin to experience physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g., feeling keyed up or tense, consistently elevated heartrate, difficulty concentrating, more headaches, and shortness of breath). Some of us may also experience symptoms associated with depression (e.g., fatigue or loss of energy, difficulty sleeping or wanting to sleep more than usual, and less interest or pleasure in all or almost all of the activities of the season).

In order to enjoy this fall, here are four things that can help us all keep a check on our mood.

  1. Say “NO.”
    In her article in Psychology Today, Dr. Judith Sills states how “No recognizes that we are the agents of our own limits.” She also says that while saying no costs us something, our “payoff in integrity and autonomy is huge.” With the newness fall can bring, something about the cooler temperatures leads us to say “yes” to too many things. We end up feeling overwhelmed, resentful, and experience some of the mental and physical symptoms stated above. As an experiment, from September through November, choose to say no to as many big, new requests as you can (i.e., new project, new team, new sport, new TV show, etc.). If it was not on the calendar before September 1, be an agent for your own health and say no.
  2. Get A Check-Up
    With the leaves falling, the hay riding, and the pumpkins spicing, Autumn is filled with as many allergens in the air as Spring. Allergies can attack our immune system which in turn can contribute to an intensification of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. According to a 2008 study in the International Journal of Child Health and Human Development allergens can increase the severity of a mood disorder. Sometimes our bodies cannot distinguish between fighting off an infection and experiencing a depressive or manic episode. Combine this with an increased amount of time indoors and a rise in cases of influenza, our bodies may experience a heightened level of stress that requires some medical care. September and October are great times to make an appointment and get a check-up with your primary care physician to stay on top of any medical and physical needs that contribute to mental and emotional health.
  3. Breathe and Breathe and Breathe, Again
    This last idea may seem the simplest, and yet it can be the hardest (and most effective). Most of us spend our fall running between games on Friday or Saturday, meetings Monday through Thursday, and the latest festival every other weekend. While we are on the go, we rarely notice that our quick shallow breathing robs our body of the calming and cleansing power that comes with several, deep breaths. The more we rely on shallow breathing, the more our body sends signals to our nervous saying something is not right. Even a few, periodic moments where you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four, breathe out for five seconds can signal to your body that you are in control and choosing to calm down. Try this now and notice how you feel before and after three or four times. You can also download an app, such as the Calm app to guide you.

If you notice yourself having some trouble regulating your mind and mood this fall, schedule a session and check-in with us at Summit Counseling. Either I or any one of our skilled clinicians can help you develop a plan to enjoy everything this season has to offer. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call the front office at 678-893-5300 or visit us at www.summitcounseling.org.

 

References:

Sills, J. (2013) The power of no. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201311/the-power-no

Postolache, T. T., Langenberg, P., Zimmerman, S. A., Lapidus, M., Komarow, H., McDonald, J. S., … Tonelli, L. H. (2008). Changes in Severity of Allergy and Anxiety Symptoms Are Positively Correlated in Patients with Recurrent Mood Disorders Who Are Exposed to Seasonal Peaks of Aeroallergens. International journal of child health and human development: IJCHD, 1(3), 313–322.

Calm App. Retrieved from: https://www.calm.com

10 Fun and Unique Ways to Show Kindness

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Kindness word from wooden blocksWe have all heard of the golden rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Today we are going to lay out 10 tangible ways you can show kindness to others during this season.

  1. Leave an anonymous note encouraging someone you know that is going through a tough time
  2. Do a spontaneous act of kindness to a stranger or someone in your family. Some examples may be: cleaning up your sisters room, buying the person behind you an ice-cream, or taking cookies to a neighbor
  3. Volunteer or get involved with a local cause you care about by donating your time or helping to fundraise for it
  4. Next time you hear gossip change the course of the conversation to something positive about the person or the situation
  5. Sit with a new group at lunch and start a “switch it up” at lunch program where you sit with a new group once a month
  6. Write a thank you note to someone in your life who has always been there for you and show your gratitude towards them
  7. Take notes to a friend or classmate who is out sick from school and drop off the notes with a get well soon card
  8. Leave kind messages on people’s social media posts that encourage and inspire them
  9. Spend phone free quality time with a family member doing an activity of their choice and immerse yourself in it!
  10. Practice self-care! Write yourself a love note, take a bubble bath, engage in your favorite activity, dance in front of the mirror, etc!

If you do these simple yet fun acts of kindness, I bet you’ll be spreading joy as well as feeling joy this season.

The Summit Counseling Center
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