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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.

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Maybe you’re the kind of person that has trouble focusing. One thought seamlessly leads to another and that thought takes you to something else and so on, making it difficult to complete the task at hand or listen to a speaker for more than a few minutes without your mind wandering.

Perhaps your mind races about with one exciting idea after another, inhibiting your ability to concentrate on one concept for any length of time. You could be coping with ADHD, depression or anxiety, any of which can cause you to lose focus or make it hard to find it in the first place.

For whatever reason, an inability to concentrate is more than frustrating. It impedes kids’ schoolwork and adults’ careers. It strains friendships, stresses family relationships and detracts from self-worth.

The good news is the mind can be directed to concentrate better through neurofeedback, a non-pharmaceutical method of retraining wayward electrical impulses in the brain.

Measuring brain waves

While it’s normal for brain waves to vary in rate according to what a person is doing, some people’s brains get stuck in a too-fast or too-slow pattern for extended intervals, making it hard for them to focus. For example, a prolonged period of a slower state, which is called theta, can cause people to drift and make it hard for them to return to full awareness. On the flip side, experiencing the fast beta state for too long can leave someone too anxious or too excited to concentrate. Neurofeedback works by assessing and retraining such electricity in the cortex, or top layer, of the brain.

To begin, a map of a person’s electric activity in the brain is created by having the individual sit in a chair and don a thin cap fitted with 19 sensors that detect and measure the activity in the brain’s cortex. The results are compared against a normative sample, bringing to light any areas where the electrical activity is too fast or too slow, either of which can impede concentration and focus.

Re-training electrical activity

To retrain electrical brain activity, the practitioner will place one to four sensors on the individual upon those spots where the activity reads as too fast or too slow. The sensors, which are connected to a computer that’s linked to a video monitor, read the person’s brain activity as the individual begins to watch a movie. When the person’s brain activity fires too quickly or too slowly, as determined by the sensors, the image on the monitor screen dims. As the brain’s electrical impulses go toward the norm, the picture brightens and a click sounds, thereby reinforcing the better brain activity on two levels.

Each session lasts about 30 minutes, with two sessions per week recommended. The number of sessions required varies with the type of problem experienced by the individual and his or her response to training. Some people get a “tune up” session after six months or a year, and many people have been able to modify or stop taking related medications after treatment.

Although the brain likes to stay on a set course, the positive reinforcement achieved by neurofeedback challenges it to shift accordingly and permanently, thereby calming overactive impulses or boosting ones that are too slow, helping improve a person’s ability to focus and concentrate.

Better and better

Neurofeedback also can help with anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, autism spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It also can contribute to peak performance in athletics, music and dance. Members of the Italian soccer team underwent neurofeedback therapy before winning the World Cup in 2006.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information supports neurofeedback as a viable treatment for ADHD (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19715181). The treatment can be “efficacious and specific,” that is, equal to or better than the current accepted standard of care, as rated by the International Society for Neurofeedback & Research.

Typically, changes are seen gradually over time, with, perhaps, a child’s teacher noticing a student’s improved behavior first, followed by the child’s parent and then the child himself.  Gradual shifts that can lead to desired change and increased well being.

Pamela Key provides neurofeedback services for children and adults at Counseling Associates for Well-Being. Contact Pamela at pamela@ca4wellbeing.com or call (706) 425-8900.

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I recently watched a TED Talk by the world renown relationship expert, Esther  Perel,  about infidelity.   http://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_rethinking_infidelity_a_talk_for_anyone_who_has_ever_loved

In it, she points out that the data about the occurrence of affairs is hard to pin down because the definition of an affair or infidelity is varied. She says that the numbers range from  26% to 75% depending on the source.  That’s very common even at the low end.  So it seems that information about affairs and their impact on our lives is extremely important for all of us.

I have worked for quite some time now with couples reeling in the aftermath of the discovery of an affair, or individuals who have been affected by an affair in their relationship—either because they are in the midst of one, grieving the end of one, or blown apart by the discovery of their partner’s affair.

I think that Ms. Perel’s assertion that affairs can be the final blow to an already damaged marriage or relationship,  or may in fact be  the greatest opportunity,  is absolutely correct.  The chance to examine and search for what she terms “lost parts” of ourselves or our partners is invaluable.  She jokes that she isn’t “pro-affair”, and to be so would be akin to being “pro-cancer.”  But in the aftermath of such a life-changing event, one cannot help but be somehow different.

I have suggested on many occasions to the couples I have been privileged to work with that, that they may eventually come to be grateful for the discovery of the affair.  I am often initially met with doubting looks  to put it mildly.

You don’t just get married or move in together and never feel an attraction for any other person ever again. You don’t simply remain “in love” and tremendously attracted to your partner either. The intimacy and closeness in a relationship takes work. It takes attention. It needs to be tended to and nurtured, in a conscious, deliberate way.    The awareness of this is the gift that can come from of the discovery of an affair.  Even in instances in which one partner does not know about the affair because it is neither discovered nor disclosed, the person having the affair has an opportunity to explore the meaning of the affair. They can learn about the desires and the longing that may have led to the crossing of some line. In that process of reflection, there is a fantastic chance to grow—t o be more mindfully aware, and to clarify who we are and what we value.

When there is a discovery that leads to the trust being  broken between two people,  it can seem like an overwhelming blow,  one  that seems impossible to recover from.  However, I have witnessed the beautiful transformation that can happen between two people as they work to understand themselves and each other, and to truly love one another through the most painful of processes. I have seen the bond or connection that deepens in the most remarkable ways as people share their most vulnerable selves, and find that the person  that they once felt a giddy  in love feeling with,  can see all their flaws, forgive their mistakes,  and still remain lovingly there –committed to the relationship.   It takes time, and work, and hope, and patience, but yes, you can recover.

For help with Affair Recovery contact Claire Zimmerman at Claire@ca4wellbeing.com

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Most parents are aware how important attachment is for our children and we may go to great lengths to ensure we develop secure bonds with our babies so that they grow up with a sense of security in the world.  We now know from current research with couples that secure attachment is also crucial to an adult’s well-being.  Dr. Sue Johnson, who was called the best couple therapist in the world by John Gottman, arguably our most prolific relationship researcher, has been studying how attachment affects our romantic relationships for decades.  In this video, she decribes how one partner’s sense of physical pain can be changed by secure support and is even visible on MRI :  http://youtu.be/2J6B00d-8lw , and further that attachment bonds can be strengthened.

John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, first made the psychological world understand the necessity of secure attachment with parent figures as vital for the well-being of children.  He and others noted some children’s “failure to thrive” in hospital and orphanage settings without consistent and loving caregivers.  Although we accept these more nurturing attitudes today toward children and none of us would leave a little one alone in a hospital overnight to tough out such a stressful situation, we often overlook the healthy aspects of interdependence in our adult relationships.  Our culture is one of rugged independence, self-sufficiency and fears about losing our individuality. These are valid concerns as we want to maintain our voices, boundaries, and our identities in relationship, however we may sometimes overcorrect and not allow ourselves the vulnerability and openness that healthy intimacy require. Bowlby coined the phrase “effective dependence” to describe secure adult bonds which allow us to reach for others when we need help and support. Dr. Sue Johnson and others working on Adult Attachment research are validating this healthy dependence is as vital for adults as it is for children.

I recently had the opportunity to complete a 4 day externship in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy.  For years I have read Dr. Johnson’s books and was excited to learn more.  I am certified as an Imago Couples Therapist and value my training and years of experience, but I am always interested in learning more about the enigma that is modern romantic love and committed relationship. I find the newest brain and attachment research to be fascinating as it confirms what Couple therapists have seen for years about the value of a secure bond.  We are healthier, happier and more successful when our most significant relationships are nurturing and work well.

What does a secure adult relationship look like?  Dr. Johnson has an acronym to describe the goal we are aiming for:  A.R.E.  Accessibility asks can I reach for you, Responsiveness asks can I rely on you to respond to me when I need you emotionally, and Engagement asks will you stay close to me and value me?  Essentially, a securely attached adult relationship is one of emotional responsiveness and safety, one where partners meet each other halfway and honor each other’s needs.

Luckily, there is a lot we can learn as an adult about our own attachment style individually and with our partners. We can look at our attachment history, our interactive dances and patterns, and our emotions that are triggered when we are in conflict and feel our relationship security is threatened.  Conscious partners can be part of each other’s healing of earlier attachment wounds, our present emotional safety and ultimately our overall well-being.  And when we feel we are solidly on that path, that is when Love makes sense.

If you would like to learn more about your own relationship patterns individually or as a couple and work toward improving them, please contact me at 706-425-8900 or email me at suzanne@ca4wellbeing.com.

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Our ancestors spent a great deal of time worrying, and for good reason. Other cave neighbors might try to steal their food…or their shelter…or their mate. Other animals might try to make them lunch. To protect themselves from these threats, our ancestors’ brains were frequently dialed in to the “fight-or-flight” response—a very primitive and very essential function of our brains that is designed to keep us safe.

We still regularly access this fight-or-flight response, but the threats in modern life are waaaay different than what our ancestors faced. Sure, there’s still the potential for danger, but more often than not, our anger is triggered by the day to day, non life-threatening stressors of modern life: annoying co-workers, being stuck in traffic, disagreements with our loved ones, money troubles, etc…the list goes on and on.

And here’s the problem. Although our anger is designed to protect us, in these situations, it’s actually endangering us, because staying mired in the threat response of anger robs us of joy, makes us more susceptible to stress and chronic illness, and causes our relationships to suffer. In short, anger can deprive us from being our true, best selves.

The True Strength program, originally created by Dr. Russell Kolts, utilizes Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) to teach new ways of coping with problematic expressions of anger. CFT blends centuries-old meditative practices (mindfulness) with evolutionary psychology and modern neuroscience in ways that are easy to understand and extremely useful. Through this course, you will cultivate a deeper sense of compassion for yourself and others, replace aggression with assertiveness, and improve your relationships.

TRUE STRENGTH: A CFT Program for Taking Responsibility of Your Anger

Six Week Course Starting Wednesday May 18.

Session Times: 6:00PM – 7:30PM

This group does not accept insurance

Fees are $45/group or pay a one time fee of $240 and save $30

Call Robert at (706) 425-8900 ext 706

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Chances are if you’ve been in therapy before, your therapist may have worked with you on a technique called “thought reframing.” It’s a common practice in modern psychotherapy, rooted in the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tradition (CBT). A therapist trained in CBT will guide clients to identify, challenge, and reframe unhelpful thinking patterns and beliefs that lead to BIG, unwanted emotions (e.g. if you go to a party and think ‘no one here likes me,’ chances are you will not be brimming with confidence and, hence, won’t party at the party). A therapist trained in CBT would prompt a client who thinks “nobody likes me” to consider alternative ways of thinking about the situation—e.g. ”I was invited to the party by ____, and I had a good time talking with ____ the last time I saw her, so I’ll probably enjoy myself this time as well.” Likewise, even if you’ve never set foot in a therapist’s office before, there’s a good chance that family and friends have intuitively utilized aspects of CBT to support you…perhaps by encouraging you to consider alternate ways of looking (i.e. thinking) about a difficult situation, with the intention being to “cheer you up.”

CBT is a widely accepted treatment for one simple reason—it works. But…in the spirit of CBT, which cautions against seeing the world in absolutes (i.e. always, never, all the time, etc), I would clarify that CBT works…some of the time…

When I was in school studying to be a therapist and during the early years of my practice, I learned and often incorporated elements of CBT into my work with clients. The treatment was often effective, but I noticed that amongst a certain segment of clients, it proved strikingly less so. Clients that possessed high levels of shame and self-criticism tended to intellectually get the concept of thought reframing, but their insights didn’t produce significant changes in how they were feeling. For example, a client might acknowledge being equally, if not more, qualified than other applicants when considering whether to apply for a job, but would remain mired in doubt and anxiety and still revert back to the old familiar pattern of self-criticism—so much so that maybe they wouldn’t even apply for the job they expressed an interest in in the first place.

To my mind, shame is that deeply felt sense of not measuring up—of not being ____ enough (for perhaps the most vivid description of shame I’ve ever heard, take the time to watch this Ted Talk by noted author and social theorist Brené Brown). Shame is an intense, multi-layered emotional experience (think embarrassment times a thousand) that we all feel from time to time, but some of us, particularly those with early childhood experiences that contain abuse and neglect, experience high, problematic levels of it. The rumination that often accompanies shame tends to be filled with self-criticism and, in turn, contributes to frequent reoccurrences of depression and other mental health issues. Shame…or the anticipation of feeling it…is like a vampire, draining us as we consciously (and unconsciously) avoid experiences that might otherwise bring vitality and purpose to our lives.

I was elated to come across a wealth of scientific research that backed up my initial observation regarding CBT “thought reframing” techniques not being particularly effective for individuals with high levels of shame and self-criticism. As it turns out, British psychologist Paul Gilbert has devoted much of his life’s work to this very topic, and he has developed Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), in part, in response to that gap in care for individuals who struggle with shame and self-criticism (for a review of just what compassion is, see my previous post). Although CFT incorporates elements of CBT, it differs in that CBT targets emotional suffering through reframing thinking, while CFT seeks to cultivate emotion-focused experiences that elicit the innate, self-soothing capacities we all possess. In other words, as Dr. Gilbert points out, “In order for us to be reassured by a thought (say) ‘I am lovable’ this thought needs to link with the emotional experience of ‘being lovable’” (citation here)

If you tend to be someone who struggles with shame and/or self-criticism, the felt sense of “being lovable” may be unfamiliar, even scary territory. In my practice, I utilize Gilbert’s CFT techniques in conjunction with other treatment modalities that also emphasize compassion (the work of Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff in particular…more on their good work here and here). All of these treatments blend centuries-old meditative practices (the “old wisdom” I mentioned in the title) with evolutionary psychology and modern neuroscience. My hope for all my clients who struggle with shame-related issues (frankly, I don’t know anyone, myself included, who doesn’t) is to reach a point where one recognizes they are lovable and can offer compassion for themselves and others. Unlike self-esteem, which is contingent on us doing “stuff” (i.e. determining our worth through our accomplishments), self-compassion emphasizes that we have inherent worth…just because we exist. It’s our birthright.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be sharing more about the cultivating a “compassionate mind” on this blog. If you are interested in learning more about the healing potential of compassion, and cultivating a deeper sense of it for yourself and others, please call me at (706) 425-8900 or email me at rob@ca4wellbeing.com.

 

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Love the One You’re With: Understanding Personality Differences and Communication Styles in Your Marriage

March 21st, 10am-12pm, Cornerstone Church, Athens, GA

Facilitated by Marian Higgins, LPC

Do you ever find yourself wondering why you and your spouse communicate differently?  You are not alone.  Many couples struggle in this area.   Our personality differences can challenge our relationships but they can also be one of the greatest parts of our marriages.

During this interactive workshop, you and your spouse will:

  • gain a better understanding of your personalities and how to best communicate given your personality type.
  • take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, a personality assessment that can help couples with communication in their relationship.
  • and engage in a series of activities and learn techniques that you can use in your marriage.

Whether you are engaged, newly married, or have been married for years, you will benefit from this workshop.

REGISTRATION

Registration is $60 and includes two assessments and a book.  Space is limited.  Sign-up today by contacting Marian Higgins at marian@ca4wellbeing.com or 706-425-8900 ext. 704.  The deadline to register is Thursday, March 19th.

 

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Premarital counseling can offer couples the insight they need to prepare for marriage.  It is designed to provide marriage education while also helping couples to develop the skills needed for a successful marriage.  Participating in premarital counseling does not mean something is wrong with your relationship.  In fact, it means that you are ready to establish a solid foundation for your marriage and want to prevent future problems from occurring in your marriage.

Some Benefits to Premarital Counseling include:

  • Increasing commitment to your relationship and marriage
  • Developing and enhancing your communication skills as a couple
  • Learning effective techniques for handling conflict
  • Reducing your risk for divorce
  • Giving more attention to a healthy marriage

As a counselor, I utilize the Prepare Enrich couples counseling program.   Prepare Enrich offers a customized online couples’ assessment that identifies a couple’s strength and growth areas.  It is one of the most widely used programs for premarital counseling and premarital education.  Over 3 million couples have completed this program.  It is also used for marriage counseling, marriage enrichment, and dating couples considering engagement.  Based on a couple’s assessment results, we will schedule 6-8 feedback sessions in which I will use various exercises to help couples discuss and understand their results as they are taught proven relationship skills.

The major goals of the PREPARE/ENRICH program is to help couples:

  • Explore strength and growth areas
  • Strengthen communication skills
  • Identify and manage major stressors
  • Resolve conflict using the Ten Step Model
  • Develop a more balanced relationship
  • Explore family of origin issues
  • Discuss financial planning and budgeting
  • Establish personal, couple and family goals
  • Understand and appreciate personality differences

Couples who sign-up for premarital counseling will receive 2 Prepare/Enrich workbooks, 2 copies of customized comprehensive couple reports, and a certificate of completion.  The certificate of completion can be used to save on your marriage license in Georgia.  Other states may offer this incentive as well.

To schedule your initial session or to inquire about rates and packages, contact Marian Higgins, Ph.D., marian@ca4wellbeing.com or 706-425-8900 ext. 704.

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Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University has identified mindset as a determining factor in success in her studies of motivation.  Specifically, she has identified that a growth mindset leads to success as opposed to a fixed mindset that often leads to wasted potential.  A fixed mindset believes that talent and intelligence are fixed traits within a person that lead to success or failure, while a growth mindset attributes success to hard work and effort.  You can imagine that failure or difficulties really challenge a person with a fixed mindset, especially if they see themselves as needing to be perfect.  One in that instance is always looking for evidence (or absence of evidence) of the existence of positive traits and failure really creates a situation that is worst case scenario.  However, if one is focused on growth and efforts as key, one might have more curiosity and creativity to offer to a situation and less hopelessness and helplessness.

This is important news for parents in terms of the praise we offer our children.  Research is mounting that praising children as “smart” does not lead to success in school.  It actually can lead to a lack of effort being applied when learning and work is challenging.  When challenges come, even very intelligent children with a fixed mindset will avoid or not make efforts because they believe if they are smart, then they should know the information already or the work should come easy.  Children that have been praised for efforts, on the other hand, tend to stick with challenging work because this work does not test their view of themselves as smart. It simply means they are having to make efforts in order to learn and succeed and that is okay.  It does not say anything negative about their abilities. Check out this video that illustrates the concept with children: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWv1VdDeoRY.

We can see this same dynamic play out in our view on romantic love.  I recently posted about the Unity versus the Journey view of love and how that determines whether we judge our relationships as positive or negative: https://ca4wellbeing.com/imagorelationshiptherapy/.  I see this as a congruent finding that builds on the idea that, if we are to be successful in life and in relationships, we need a perspective that allows for growth and learning. A less fixed mindset allows for the possibility that challenges, problems, and failures are part of the path and do not signal doom or something inherently flawed in the person or the relationship.  Challenges are a given and curiosity, creativity, open-mindedness as well as effort are required to navigate academics, career choices, or love relationships in a way that feels positive and is sustainable for the long haul.  If you are interested in exploring your mindset and how it affects your parenting, relationships or how you see your world, give me a call at 706-425-8900 or email me at suzanne@ca4wellbeing.com.

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Recently, researchers Nobert Schwartz and Spike W.S. Lee published a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that challenges some of our romantic myths about love, relationships, and marriage. Schwartz and Lee found in two separate experiments that how couples frame their relationship in terms of metaphor,  will influence their ability to work through conflicts as well as their judgments about the quality of their relationships.

One view, popular in our culture (especially in romantic movies) views partners as “two halves of a whole”  or “made for each other”.  In other words, the “unity” idea or the belief that people in love are destined to be together and that love should be conflict free.  The other view, also popular in our culture is that “love is a journey with ups and downs”.  Lee and Schwartz’ work found that couples who hold the belief that love is a journey with challenges are more likely to be happy with their relationships and see conflict as something that is positive and can be worked through.

Harville Hendrix, creator of Imago Relationship Therapy has spent decades teaching couples that “conflict is your relationship trying to grow.”  This new research supports the idea in Imago that conflict is natural and how we frame our ideas about love and conflict are key. Relationships are powerful opportunities to grow and heal, but most growth in life does not occur without getting out of our comfort zones.  And, the very differences that can be so frustrating in romantic relationships come from our powerful unconscious attraction to a partner that will motivate growth.  To learn more about Imago Relationship Therapy visit www.gettingtheloveyouwant.com.

Contact me at Suzanne@ca4wellbeing.com or call me at 706-425-8900 if you are interested in a exploring your relationship patterns and learning new skills individually or as a couple. Enjoy the journey!

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