I wanted to follow up my video on using Gottman Method in couple therapy by talking about Gottman Method’s Four Horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling).  I discuss how to recognize if these are happening in your relationship, as well as some ideas for how to respond in a more productive way to your partner.  Please watch the video here.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you’re interested in setting up an appointment for individual, couple, or family therapy you can contact me at the following:

(706) 534 – 8558

Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

Aaron D. Kirkwood, LAMFT

I have posted a new video discussing my use of Gottman Method in session when working with couples.  You can view it here.

I see clients on Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 am until 7 pm and on Saturday from 9 am until 1 pm.  I gladly offer reduced fee services if financial circumstances are prohibitive for potential clients.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you’re interested in setting up an appointment for couple, family, or individual counseling you can reach me at:

Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com

(706) 534 – 8558

Aaron D. Kirkwood, LAMFT

We are so very happy to announce the latest associate with Counseling Associates for Well-Being. Leslie Sessley, LCSW has a fabulous new office in Decatur. This is another location to add to our already existing locations in Athens, Madison, and Alpharetta, Georgia.  She is available to see clients in Decatur and surrounding areas. Leslie accepts Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield  insurance plans.

She is a skilled family and individual therapist who has some valuable experience helping those who are stressed by the tasks of caregiving or having aging parents as well as other complicated family dynamics. Leslie has training and expertise on neurodegenerative conditions and does peer training  on these topics. She has completed training  in mediation.  She is warm and friendly and super smart. We couldn’t recommend her more.
Please check here for more about her.
https://ca4wellbeing.com/about/leslie-sessley/

Leslie_Sessley_Associates_Page

IMG_4170

Many individuals have experienced some form of trauma in their lives, ranging from mild to catastrophic.  The good news is the recovery from a traumatic event is more than possible, it is a true probability.  Evidence based treatment methods, to include EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Memory Reconsolidation Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Yoga, and relaxation/meditation techniques are instrumental in providing relief and recovery for some of the debilitating symptoms of a past traumatic experience. Evidence based treatment methods used in counseling have proven time and again to work as well as, and sometimes better than, psychiatric medications which are typically used to treat depression and anxiety.

The interesting thing about traumatic experiences are the varying degrees with which individuals perceive the same experience.  For instance, a car accident could potentially prevent someone from riding in a car for as much as the following year.  Another person may have the same type of accident but experience it much differently with different effects.  Maybe the second person is okay to hop in the driver’s seat the next day after a major accident.  We are all unique and experience this world in various ways.  No matter what the outcome, it is possible to rise above the despair and fear, no matter how great or small, and to overcome any distress or symptom which may linger.

The loud sound of a crowd, horns beeping in traffic, sudden noises, particular places, certain smells, or any trigger which leads to the memory or response of the trauma can lead to extreme discomfort, to say the least.  Don’t give up hope.  Help is just around the corner and counseling can have significant results in alleviating your symptoms!  If you would like to speak with me regarding the techniques, please do not hesitate to call me at (706) 425-8900 ext. 717 or email me at janet@ca4wellbeing.com.

Janet W. Beasley, LPC

Janet W Beasley

Active listening sounds like a pretty simple and easy thing to do yet when I work with couples it’s one of the skills that we spend a lot of time on.  I often have each partner roleplay what I call the two roles in any productive conversation.  One partner is the Speaker and the other is the Listener.  Your role as the Listener, and this is the most crucial role I believe, is to make sure that you have really “heard” what your partner is saying.  I don’t just mean that you can parrot their actual words back at them.  Anyone can do that if they are half-listening.  The role of the Listener is about making sure that what the Speaker intended is what the Listener understood them to be saying.  As the Listener you have to give the Speaker your undivided attention, that means no only turning off the TV and putting away the cellphone, it also means blocking out your own mental distractions.  You cannot simultaneously be listening and formulating your response at the same time.

Active listening doesn’t just help with intimate relationships.  You will find that if you practice the skills in this blog it will help you get along better with co-workers and friends and maybe, if you’re lucky, your in-laws.active listening

Check out this post from the Gottman blog about active listening and read their tips for improving your communication, which will likely improve your relationship.

Their tips include:

Focus on being interested, not interesting. – Don’t sit the entire time the other person is speaking in anticipation of telling your own story.  Absorb what they are saying and know that you will get a chance to express yourself as well.

Ask questions – Don’t just leave it up to the Speaker.  Instead actively engage them by asking questions.  Ask about their thoughts and feelings so that you can clarify what they are trying to get across to you.  If you want to build your relationship, ask about their desires and future plans.

Respond with an occasional brief nod or sound / From time to time, paraphrase what the speaker says – This lets the Speaker know that you actively engaged in the conversation and helps them feel they are being “heard”.  It also helps the Listener stay with the conversation when the Speaker has a lot that they need to convey.

Let go of your own agenda – Again, you cannot simultaneously be listening and formulating your response at the same time.  You will have a chance to express your own thoughts and feelings and when you do you will appreciate the same level of attention that you are showing to the Speaker.

Do you need help with active listening skills?  I’m glad to work with couples as well as individuals in developing this essential skill for improving your relationship with almost everyone from a romantic partner to a business partner.  Please contact me today and let’s set up an appointment to get started building this essential skill.  I can be reached at (706) 534 – 8558 or by e-mail at aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.  I look forward to working with you!

Aaron D Kirkwood

 

IMG_1120

School will be out soon and now is the time to enroll your child in a brain enrichment program.   A brain-training program called neurofeedback is available in the Athens area and is designed to rewire neural pathways into efficient, highly functioning pathways. Neurofeedback training can help your child with ADD/ADHD by increasing focus, attention, memory and organization. It can improve sleep and decrease anxiety and depression. Neurofeedback can train your child’s brain for flexibility and peak performance—it’s a great way to give your child an edge in their education and in their life.

It all begins with obtaining a qEEG brain map. An individual will wear something that looks like a swim cap. This cap has EEG sensors inside of it, which allows for brainwave activity to be measured and recorded. Once that data is obtained, a brain map is generated which pinpoints the areas of the brain where inefficient brainwave patterns are operating. Those patterns are retrained into efficient, higher functioning neural pathways.

Training the new neural pathway is quite simple with neurofeedback. It’s very similar to training a new muscle through repetitive movement at the gym, only it’s neural pathway training and it’s more fun!   Neurofeedback training consists of watching a movie for 30 minutes on a movie screen while your brain trains and moves into the programmed zone. When the brain moves into the efficient brainwave pattern, the movie screen stays light and when the brainwave pattern defaults back to the old inefficient pathway, the movie screen will turn dark. The brain brilliantly seeks to stay in the new efficient pathway so that the movie may be viewed. This is a form of operant conditioning and will entrain/rewire a brain to stay within the efficient neural pathway.

The training is as enjoyable for an individual as watching a movie or a favorite television show. The brain is doing the work on it’s own as it is being guided by the neurofeedback software. Neurofeedback is non invasive and does not have negative side effects like so many of the prescription drugs used to manage similar issues in the brain.

Contact Pamela Key, Neurofeedback Practitioner, at Counseling Associates for Well-Being for brain training in the 2016 Summer Program. (706) 425-8900 or pamela@ca4wellbeing.com

Pamela-Key-Photo

image

You and your significant other have decided you are ready to take your relationship to another level by getting married. Congratulations on making this decision! With all the excitement in the air about getting married and planning for a wedding, you may have given little thought to some serious topics that will impact you long after you have celebrated your union.

Through my conversations with newlyweds and couples in general, I have found these ten topics to be important to discuss prior to marriage. I encourage you to dive deep and spend some time with your significant other discussing what you want life to look like after you say I do. Focusing on these topics now can help you build a great foundation as a couple.

1. Communication – Effective communication is the lifeline of a relationship. There are so many things you will need to communicate as a couple. To begin, consider each of your communication styles. How are they different? How are they similar? Issues will arise and disagreements will come. Think about how you might want to work through these things. How have you previously handled disagreements? Did it work? If not, learn communication techniques or conflict resolution strategies to help you get through these moments. Your discussion of the remainder of the topics is a great opportunity to practice your communication skills.

2. Family Background– Whether you have met your significant other’s family members or not, your upbringing is worth discussing. Discuss your family dynamics. What was it like to live in your family growing up and what is like to be a part of the family now? What are your family traditions? Do you plan to continue with any of them?

3. Expectations of Your Spouse/Partner – Each person has ideas of how they imagine their marriage will be and what they expect from each other. Instead of leaving it to chance that your spouse/partner will read your mind and know what you expect, clearly communicate your expectations of each other.

4. Relationship with in-laws –. While starting your own family can be exciting, it may also present some challenges with staying connected to your individual families. Discuss how you want to remain connected to your families. How do you want to spend time with them? How will you all celebrate holidays (with or without family and with whose family)? Don’t let these moments creep up on you before you decide.

5. Managing finances – Finances is often an issue for many couples, especially if you haven’t discussed your financial expectations and plans. To get a better understanding of your significant other’s views on finances, discuss your upbringing as it relates to financial management (i.e. how was it managed in your home?) and how you are currently managing finances. How do you plan to manage your money (i.e. budget, separate or joint checking accounts)? What are your short-term and long-term financial goals as a couple?

6. Sex – Whether you have had sex or you are waiting until marriage, you will want to talk with your significant other about sex. Discuss your sexual health, your concerns as well as your expectations. Also acknowledge that your desires and needs may be different and can change. Be open to talking about that. It may be hard for you to start this conversation, however, you will be glad you did. If you find it difficult to address this topic, consider seeking professional assistance. A therapist can offer you the safe space you need to openly talk through this topic.

7. Career Plans – Along with money and sex, career plans is another top concern for couples. Prior to marriage, spend some time with your significant other discussing your individual career plans. Consider how your current jobs and future career plans will impact your relationship or the expansion of your family.  If you travel a lot, work long hours, or have different work hours, how will this affect your relationship? If one of you will have to relocate to join the other person, what impact will relocation have on your relationship or the other person’s career plans?

8. Addressing Unresolved Issues – Marriage can be viewed as a way to escape issues from your past that have not been resolved. However, these issues will follow you into marriage. Before you say I do, consider how past hurts, disappointments, resentment, and failed relationships have affected you. Discuss these with your significant other and determine how to best address them. Seek professional assistance if need be.

9. Expanding Your Family – It is important for you and your significant other to have an open conversation about whether you would like to expand your family beyond the two of you (and your fur babies). Decide if you want to have children. How many children would you like to have? When would you want to have them? Are you open to adoption or foster care? Are you willing to care for family members (i.e. nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.)?

10. Religion & Spirituality – Whether you have no beliefs, the same beliefs, or different beliefs, it is important to discuss this topic together. Even if you have similar religious or spiritual backgrounds, there may be some differences in your practices or beliefs. If you have different backgrounds, you may want to decide how you plan to continue your practices separately or together.

Hopefully, this list will help you start an insightful conversation that could lead to a much better future for you and your significant other. As you discuss each of these topics, you may realize that there are additional topics that are relevant for you all to consider. If you feel that you need assistance in addressing any of these areas, schedule an appointment with me. As a Prepare Enrich facilitator,  I like working with engaged and newlywed couples. I can help you explore various areas of your relationship while also providing you with skills and tools to help strengthen your relationship. To schedule an appointment contact me at 706-425-8900 ext. 704 or marian@ca4wellbeing.com.

CollegeSurvivalImage

You have graduated from high school, spent the summer making memories with family and friends, and now it’s time to start college.  You may experience mixed emotions given this new journey in your life.  You might be excited to have a new independence – living on your own, deciding when and what to eat, hanging out late with friends.  Perhaps, sharing a room with a complete stranger makes you a little nervous or maybe you are enthusiastic about having a new friend to study with or to join you for social events.  You may have concerns about your courses- will I like them?  Will they be too hard?  Will I meet the professor’s expectations?  All these emotional responses and thoughts are normal when adjusting to college.  It will take some time for you to acclimate to this new environment and to become comfortable with this new chapter in your life.  So don’t think that everything will fall into place the first day of school.  Here are a few tips to help you make a smooth college transition and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Get to know the campus.  Take a tour with an upper-class student.  Learn the buildings where you will have classes, meetings, and social events.  Becoming aware of your surroundings will make you feel more comfortable with the new environment.
  1. Give attention to food choices.  The endless amount of food at the dining halls and late night food runs makes it easy to develop unhealthy eating habits.  Be mindful of the foods you are eating and make food choices that you feel are best for you.
  1. Make time to move.  You may refer to this as exercise but moving your body can help you with managing stress, anxiety, and depression.  You don’t have to go to the gym in order to reap the benefits.  Simply walk to or around campus instead of riding the bus or driving your car, play an intramural sport, or enroll in a dance class.
  1. Get some zzzzz!  Late night studying or hanging out late may result in poor sleeping habits.  It’s important that you are getting proper sleep in order to be alert and productive.  Lack of sleep can impact your memory, mood, ability to learn and retain information, increase stress, and may result in injuries or long-term health issues.
  1. Ask for help.  Avoid waiting until mid-semester or the end of the semester to seek help with your academic work.  Take advantage of tutoring services, the writing center, study sessions, and professors’ office hours.  If you have a disability, register with the Disability Resource Center in order to arrange for accommodations.  Planning ahead can help you be successful in your classes.
  1. Have a healthy relationship with your roommate(s).  Having a roommate can be a big adjustment for all parties.   It is important for you and your roommate to meet and communicate expectations.  Develop an agreement about how you all will share your space.         
  1. Meet your professors.  You might think your professors are only interested in lecturing but faculty like to get to know their students as well.  Visit them during their office hours and introduce yourself.  If you have questions about the class, class preparation, or ideas discussed in class, talk with the professors about them.  Don’t wait until you need a recommendation letter to introduce yourself to your professors.  Meet with them now!
  1. Make new friends.  College is a time to meet new people and make great connections.  You will encounter people from different backgrounds and even from different parts of the world.  You may find it easy to make new friends or it may take time for you to establish relationships.  Regardless, take the opportunity to meet someone new.  You may just gain a lifelong friend.

With these tips in hand, you should be well on your way to having a successful first year of college.  If you find that you are having a difficult time with this transition, you are welcome to meet with me.  I have over 14 years of experience working with college students.  I’d be glad to help you on your new journey.  I can be reached at Marian@ca4wellbeing.com or 706-425-8900 ext. 704.

Marian_Higgins-120x162

Robert Lomax

I love movies.

In my undergraduate years, I may have logged more time in the student movie theater than I did attending classes. Although my schedule now doesn’t afford me the luxury of getting to the theater as much as I would like, I still try to “watch my stories” as much as I can. A good film offers an immersive experience…a chance to be absorbed in the present moment via our senses (sight and hearing especially…but then again there’s always popcorn to fill in the rest), but beyond mere escapism, the medium can offer us an opportunity to connect with our uniquely human capacity for meaning making.

The other night, I was scrolling through my Netflix queue, looking for something to watch at home, and I came across the 2014 Spanish film Living is Easy (with Eyes Closed). I had never heard of the film, but was immediately intrigued by its title—a reference to the opening verse in the Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which just happens to be one of my favorite songs ever (more on that in a bit).

Anyway, I watched the film and loved it. The film, apparently something of a true story, chronicles a teacher’s journey to meet John Lennon in 1966, when he was in Spain filming the Richard Lester movie How I Won the War (notable in Beatle lore for being the period when John wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever”). The teacher, Antonio, records Beatles’ tunes off the radio and then translates them to teach his students English. He wants to ask the “Smart Beatle” to translate and clarify the meaning of some of the songs, because it’s hard for Antonio to get all the words right to teach his students.

Along Antonio’s journey, he picks up two teenagers who are hitchhiking, fleeing two separate but simultaneously unfortunate circumstances. The unlikely trio journey from Madrid to the coastal town of Almeria, where John Lennon is temporarily residing. The film is filled with picturesque views of the Spanish countryside and coast, but underneath the beauty lurks subtle and not-so-subtle reminders of the oppressive environment that existed in Spain under the rule of Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about movies in a blog dedicated to a psychotherapy practice. Well, I’ll explain. Actually, I’ll let twentieth century American existential psychologist Rollo May explain instead…

In his 1991 book “The Cry for Myth,“ Rollo May notes that “a myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence” (p. 15). May emphasizes that, throughout time and across cultures, myths have served to aid humanity in formulating personal identity, connection with others, clarifying values, and providing meaning to the otherwise unexplainable.

Film is a modern means to access this mythic tradition.

When the topic of movies comes up in my sessions, I tend to steer the conversation toward connecting film with its mythical tradition. For example, we can use film narratives and film characters’ struggles as a means to externalize problems, so those issues that bring us into therapy seem less threatening. Or…maybe we can gain a new, more helpful perspective on a difficult past experience by considering it part of our “origin story”—an event that we have no control over apart from the meaning we derive from it…e.g. the murder of Batman’s parents contributing to his decision to protect the citizens of Gotham City.

I noted a lot of mythic elements in my viewing of Living Is Easy (With Eyes Closed). In one of the film’s opening scenes, Antonio teaches his class the words to “Help!”—another iconic Beatles’ tune. Antonio asks his students what the song is about, and after weathering a few non-committal answers from his disinterested pupils, he conveys to his students that the songwriter—once again…Mr. Lennon—is imploring us to help. He emphasizes the word “help” multiple times, and in doing so extends the meaning beyond a literal interpretation of the song’s lyrics.

To my mind, Antonio is suggesting we consider the song’s meaning from more than one perspective. The way he says “HELP,’ almost as an incantation, suggests fear…the terror of existence, but it can also be read as a command—not to live in fear but to offer HELP to humanity in general. The song’s seemingly simple message blooms into a mythic call for empathy and compassionate action.

Time and time again in this film, you see characters helping each other in tiny…and sometimes very significant ways, their kindness standing in stark contrast to the occasional random acts of cruelty a few peripheral characters exhibit (a thug in the town of Almeria seems to symbolize the dumb hate that fuels Fascist regimes like Franco’s). It’s almost as if the viewer is being presented with a choice—to live compassionately or live as an oppressor of others.

This emphasis on helping, to live compassionately, makes the film’s borrowing of the “Strawberry Fields Forever” lyric ironic. I’ve always found “Strawberry Fields Forever” to be a beautiful, atmospheric song, but lyrically the song is extraordinarily bleak—something of a sad, fragmented ode to nostalgia and escapism.

Living is easy with eyes closed

Misunderstanding all you see

It’s getting hard to be someone

But it all works out

It doesn’t matter much to me…

The protagonist in the song (once again, is it John Lennon?) seems confused and uncertain of their identity and sense of purpose…always second-guessing themselves (“always, no sometimes, think it’s me…but it’s all wrong, that is I think I disagree”). The solace found in escaping (“let me take you down”) to Strawberry Fields might suggest permanence (the “Forever” bit), but I hear/read it as a temporary respite—a fleeting act of emotional avoidance—confirmed by the increasingly nonsensical tone of each subsequent verse.

Antonio does not live a life of avoidance, of the escapism of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Sure…there is struggle along the way, and there appears to be something of a loneliness to his existence (“take me…all heart and lonelier than a fart”), but he possesses a secure identity and engages open-heartedly in vital, valued living that is rich in compassion (that desire to HELP that I mentioned earlier). In one of the film’s key moments, when Antonio confronts the town bully who has been terrorizing one of his teenage traveling companions, he provides this challenge:

“let me say something…really important. You can’t live in fear. Too many people live in fear in Spain. But you need to change things dammit…you need to erase fear. Life is like a dog…if it smells fear, it bites you…”

Although he is speaking of fear that permeates 1960’s Spain, he could just as easily be referring to the present day United States. We can live a “half life” compromised by fear, or we can learn accept fear, and move forward in our lives in directions that matter to us.

I’m so happy I stumbled across Antonio, as he’s stimulated a lot of reflection on my part, connecting me to some of the key elements that energize me in my work with clients.

I love engaging clients in dialogues—should they be willing to do so—that are designed to inspire meaning making and clarify values. If we don’t know what is important to us, we run the risk of pursuing false, unfulfilling goals and living a life that will leave us disengaged from others and ultimately dissatisfied (i.e. the non-Antonio existence). Additionally, much of my practice, as I’ve delineated in some of my other blog posts, is informed by Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), an empirically-proven, mindfulness-based psychotherapy that encourages the cultivation of a compassionate mind as an essential piece in promoting psychological change and well-being. When we have the courage to recognize suffering, whether our own or someone else’s, and connect with our innate capacity to HELP (once again, thanks Antonio)—to alleviate suffering through compassionate action—we access the best, most vital part of ourselves.

Hope you enjoyed the “Long and Winding Road” (another Beatles’ reference…a hat trick!) that is this blog post. If any of the content here around film and its use in psychotherapy, compassionate mind training, or…well…the Fab Four engaged you, feel free to contact me. I’m accepting new clients! Also, if you’re just looking for a good movie to watch tonight, and you don’t mind subtitles, check out Living is Easy (With Eyes Closed). 

May, Rollo (1991). The Cry for Myth. New York: Norton.

 

Pamela-Key-Photo

Anxiety has reached epic proportions in America – 31% of the American workforce is dealing with anxiety issues. With all of the new technology options and social media platforms, we’re connected to work more than ever and have difficulty finding time to disconnect and relax.

According to Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project and best-selling author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Americans are in constant “fight or flight” mode. This should raise a red flag in our lives and we should recognize this isn’t a healthy way to live. But many of us are just toughing it out. Schwartz notes, “If you can’t build a sense of safety and security, it will compromise every aspect of your life, including work.”

He makes it clear, your body can’t distinguish between a lion attack threat and other safety and security threatening stressors. According to a recent Business Insider report, Schwartz discovered the most common anxiety arises when someone’s sense of value is threatened. “Almost any time you move into a negative emotional state, you can trace it back to an experience where you perceive your value has come under some type of threat,” Schwartz explains. “That awareness is power. I have the capacity to decide, is this a real threat? Almost always, it isn’t. It’s much less of a threat to your body than you think.” But, our mind is processing the threat as “fight or flight” and anxiety levels are maximized. Understanding that our immediate environment may be difficult to quickly change, we can take charge of a few things – our thoughts, nutrition and exercise.
The primary anxiety triggers that may threaten your sense of safety or value:
• Serious life events like the death of a loved one or a divorce
• Problems in personal relationships, marriage or close friendships
• Work stress
• Financial stress

It’s apparent most of us experience life stressors and many of us are certainly living in “fight or flight.” With this awareness, and through working with people with high levels of anxiety, I have developed a powerful program to identify and address the aspects of anxiety, and provide clients with the tools to move into a more peaceful, productive life.

I hope you will join us. Take this life-changing opportunity to learn and experience new techniques designed to take you from the “fight or flight” mode to living in greater “peace and harmony.”

2Creating Clarity Course for Positve Change - Stress & Anxiety Fall 2015