A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

Thoughts on counseling, healing, and creating the life you want

Happy Father's Day

I knew when I became a mother that the most difficult part of my job as a parent would be to let my husbanad help me. This isn’t because my husband isn’t as smart, funny, or gentle as I am. It’s because I (like many I suppose) partially bought into the myth that fathers are the stage hands and mothers the center-stage nurturers. Now that Gabe is here, I realize just how essential his Daddy time is.

Recent research on the nature of father-child bonds has come up with some really cool results about the importance of the old man in our children’s lives.  Let’s celebrate the awesomness of dad– here are just a few bits of the data that are emerging.

* Fathers help bolster children’s cognitive capacities, especially verbal skills. Researchers at the University of Chapel Hill have discovered that though fathers speak fewer words to their children, fathers (not mothers) largely determine their children’s language development by age three. Researchers attribute this to fathers’ tendency to ask more questions and ask for additional clarification from their children. The folks conducting the study thought this might be because mothers understood their toddler’s utterances better, and thus did not push children for longer explanations.

*Researchers have found that kids who have stable, involved dads fare better on nearly every measurement that researchers have studied. Children whose fathers are very engaged in their lives are more confident, display more self-control, and are less likely to act out in school.

*Fathers have a different style of play than mothers and are more likely to encourage their kids to take on risks and challenges. Researchers report that men have less predictable play patterns, and that presenting kids with surprises rather than conventional games may boost children’s problem-solving skills.

There you have it–proof positive that when your dad asks you to explain yourself for the 10th time, or risk life and limb in some bizarre yard clearing event (maybe that’s just me) he’s actually building your brain. I hope all the fathers out there had a wonderful day, and will continue to invest in their kids all year ’round.

Your partner in healing,

Holly

www.lotustherapycenter.com

*If you would like to come in for a free consultation to see how therapy might be helpful for you, please call me at (407) 913-4988, or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com.

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Couples Counseling and Your Relationship: Nuts and Bolts

Usually, the first question new couples therapy clients ask me is, “How is this going to work?” I have realized over the years that what clients expect relationship therapy to be like has been colored by TV and book gurus who are one part clinician and 3 parts side show act. This is unfortunate, because it gives folks the idea that a therapist may be all bluster and little substance. Or, worse still, may spend long sessions scolding, finger pointing, and offering grim criticisms that humiliate more than uplift.

In the spirit of informing folks that couples therapy can be a fun, enlightening process, here are a few basics about what you can expect in my counseling room. Every therapist is different, but anyone to whom you entrust your relationship should be able to articulate a clear philosophy of  couples counseling that is different from their individual work. Ask therapists what their training in couples work has been like, and why they are expanding their practice to include relationship and family work.

1) I think I can, I think I can: One of the first things I tell couples who are  contracting with me for couples work is that they can expect a pretty predictable pattern of with engagement during the process. First, there is some immediate relief simply by the act of triangulating another calm, positive person into the anxious escalations the couple has been experiencing. Then, after several sessions, there may be a brief backslide when couples panic about their ability to maintain new and different behaviors. Finally, couples relax into the process, make needed changes, and gradually phase out a need for a therapist to intervene in high-conflict situations.

2) Write it out: I will take notes during my meetings with you so that I can document specific information you have given me, themes we notice, and ideas we have for future sessions. I prefer for couples to bring their own journal to therapy as well, to take notes in their own words about what has been meaningful to them and to record homework assignments. Couples that do this have better success because they create a reminder of the conclusions they have reached in a calm, safe, environment.

3) Be Consistent: Remember that advice your doctor gave you about taking your whole course of antibiotics, even after you feel better? Therapy is much the same. We will work together to triage the most important problems first, and get you and your partner to a place where you can communicate better with one another. This alone will make you both feel better. But, to really take advantage of the counseling, it is important to work on the underlying issues that inform the symptoms that form the initial complaints.

If you have any questions about the process of relationship counseling, please let me know. I would be delighted to answer them.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

If you would like a FREE 30-minute consultation to see if I might be a fit for your counseling needs, please contact me at 407.913.4988 or holly@nova.edu.

www.lotustherapycenter.com

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Are you having an Online Affair?

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog about a website that helps married people find other married people with whom to start affairs. Since the good people at wordpress are kind enough to provide me with stats about what folks are looking for when they stumble across my site, I have discovered that most of the people coming through this blog lately are reading that particular article and searching for the term ‘online affair.’

It makes sense that this is one of the most-searched terms on people’s finger tips these days. As the world at our door grows larger and larger via the connections we can make online, humans will continue to do what we’re good at–explore new things. However for some, exploring this new frontier has proved to be anything but harmless fun. Rather, it has allowed them to put themselves into positions that both they and their partners may view as the new gray area of relationship ethics. So how will you know if you’re starting to sail some dangerous waters? Here are a few warning signs:

1) Don’t ask don’t tell: Are parts or all of your online relationship a secret? The best litmus test for knowing if your interactions with an online “friend” are starting to stray into an emotional affair is to ask yourself if you would be afraid or ashamed for your partner to read anything you have exchanged between the two of you. Yes, I know, your online amiga or amigo may be a much better listener, or more sympathetic, or funnier than your real-life spouse. But, that person also doesn’t see you in your dirty underwear or listen to you snore at night. It’s easy to build up intimacy in cyber space. Even if you have known or know your pen pal in real life, that is very different than 24-hour contact. The very fact that you are starting to share personal details of your life is a warning sign. You are building intimacy with every click of your mouse. Emotional infidelity can pave the way towards physical infidelity by creating the illusion that you are meant to be together because you understand one another so well. This is particularly true if you are sharing derogatory information about your partner and recieving support in your frustration with him or her.

2) Take a look at me now: Are you sharing pictures of yourself with your online friend or getting pictures of him or her? It doesn’t matter if these photos are sexual in nature, or a shot of you in front of great grandma’s house. This indicates that it has become important to you or to your friend to “know” one another in an increasingly personal way. Trading pictures is often the first step to initiating other forms of offline contact.

3) Thinking it over: Are you spending increasing amounts of time thinking about when you can next get online to write to, chat with, or web cam your friend? As the thoughts become more intrusive, they not only interfere with your ‘real’ life, but they further enforce the distance that is growing between you and your current partner. As you allow that distance to grow, and focus all your emotional energy into your online relationship, you are creating more of the problems in your primary relationship you may be seeking to escape by engaging with someone else.

There are many reasons why both men and women seek emotional or physical intimacy outside of their primary relationships. If you believe that your actions are starting to put your relationship at risk, or if you think your spouse might be seeking connection outside of your relationship, there is help. Individual and/or couples therapy can help you sort out what to do next, and how to move forward, whatever that means to you, in a healthy way. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here, and I’ll do my best to briefly respond so that the folks who are stumbling across this blog can get some additional, tailored help.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

If you would like a FREE 30-MINUTE CONSULTATION please feel free to contact me at 407.913.4988 or holly@lotustherapycenter.com

www.lotustherapycenter.com

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Follow Me on Twitter!

twitter logoThose of you who know me in any regard will remember that I have been fervently against capitulating to twitter juggernaut. Oh sure, everybody and their mamas are letting the world have a blow-by-blow of each and every waking moment. But I haven’t been sure that I want to participate in something like this simply because of the fact that I think producing a “tweet” sounds undignified. For some reason, it strikes me as a noise I would have been forbidden to make at the dinner table growing up.

But, after much pressure from friends and clients alike I am finally making the leap. If you would like to follow me, my twitter ID is HollyCoxLMFT. I’ll do my best to create some original content that will lead legions of followers to know more about good mental health, life balance, and healthy relationships. That, or you’ll know what I had for breakfast.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

If you would like a FREE 30-minute consultation to discuss how I can be helpful to you, please call me at (407) 913-4988 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com

www.lotustherapycenter.com

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Educated parents are strong parents: Hear us Roar!

In my last post, I mentioned that I am invested in making our area one that fosters a sense of hope and support for new moms and dads. to that end, I would like to use this blog as a place to post articles, websites, and resources that can help us make sense of our lives as the big cheese in our children’s eyes. Here are three of the best ones:

  • Postpartum Support International:  www.postpartum.net  This is the absolute best source of current into for new moms and dads–I am a card-carrying member of PSI. There is an array of information about a host of issues related to pregnancy and the postpartum period.
  • Postpartum Progress: http://postpartumprogress.typepad.com/weblog/  This is the most-read postpartum information blog on the internet. It is written by a mom who has coped with postpartum issues herself, and offers a ton of links to first person accounts of perinatal mood disorders and the latest research in the field.
  • The Center for Postpartum Adjustment : http://www.postpartumsupport.com/ This is the site fis run by my friend, Ilyene Barsky. She runs a center for postpartum support in South Florida, and her website is a wealth of well-written articles.

If you need access to a specific kind of resource, let me know. We’ll find it together and post it here for other moms and dads to access.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

If you would like a FREE 30-minute consultation to see if I might be a good fit for your goals and concerns, please feel free to call me at 407.913.4988 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com.

www.lotustherapycenter.com

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Postpartum Counseling or Bust?

I had an interesting conversation with a friend this week. As we sat down to a delicious slice of cake at one of my favorite local haunts, The Dessert Lady, (no she’s not paying me in bread pudding for that plug) I mentioned to my buddy, a really amazing therapist, that I was thinking of seeking out some of the lactation consultants, pediatricians, and parenting class instructors in town to do some free outreach about perinatal mood disorders. After swallowing a delicious bite of cannoli cake, she said something akin to this: “Holly, I’m just so tired of everyone telling new mothers how horrible everything is going to be, and how they’ll mess up their children if they even look at them sideways. There’s just no point in scaring them to death with awful things that probably won’t happen to them.”

I have to admit, I was taken aback. As I sat there silently, nodding at her, my coffee seemed to turn sour on my tongue. Was I, as she seemed to imply, a fear monger who was going to make perfectly normal women doubt themselves in their new mama roles? Were my talks going to be less educational than catastrophic? And worst of all, was I really going to make otherwise emotionally healthy women believe that they were defective? As you can imagine, these are thoughts that strike terror in the hearts of those of us who feel called to be professional healers. I came into this field to help people see that they are mostly better, stronger, and more resilient than they think they are, not make them doubt themselves.

I do have to agree with my girl about one thing though—early parenthood is a dense wilderness of competing advice about how to care for these new creatures we have brought into the world. I’m just worried that we don’t get enough solid guidance on how to care for ourselves. Supporting mothers is a delicate balancing act between normalizing the fears and tears we all have as fledgling parents, and offering more structured interventions when more intensive help may be needed. Mostly, it’s about offering information early enough so that women will seek help when they need it, and realize that having a rough go of it is not always their fault.

So, let’s make Central Florida a place where women and their families have access to relevant information about perinatal mental health. Feel free to email or call me with any questions you may have. If I don’t have the answer I will attempt to connect you with a resource that does know. You can also check out www.postpartum.net, the home of the most up-to-date perinatal adjustment information on the web.

As always, you’re welcome to contact me for a free consultation by phone (407) 913.4988 or by email at holly@lotustherapycenter.com.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

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Pulling it back together Postpartum Style

When I rule the world, all the hospitals in the land will include a module about postpartum anxiety and depression in their classes for new parents. This would prevent new mothers (and their partners) from being blindsided, and spell out where to go for help. In this amazing land of mine, all OBGYNs will screen their clients for a history of depression and anxiety before or while they’re pregnant, and everyone that encounters a new mom from lactation consultants to pediatricians will band together to support her transition into parenthood. Don’t you want to come live in my kingdom? We also have free chocoalte cake there on Tuesdays.

The great news about postpartum depression and anxiety is that they are highly treatable. The bad news is that the stigma many women feel when admitting that new motherhood is not what they expected, combined with the fact that relatively few psychiatrists and therapists are highly trained in this area can make accessing services difficult. Highly publicized cases like the Andrea Yates tragedy, can lead new mothers to worry that they are going “crazy” or might hurt their babies. The truth is, that postpartum psychosis is a relatively rare phenomenon, occuring in only .1%  (1 in 1,000) women. More common are postpartum OCD symptoms which can lead a woman to be compulsively afraid that she will accidentally hurt her child. This is quite different than delusions and hallucinations that accompany postpartum psychosis.

Usually, the most disturbing thing about feeling bad after having your baby is that these symptoms come relentlessly at a point when energy and resources are at their most scarce. You may know you need help, but can’t imagine having the time or energy to make it to an appointment. It’s downright confusing when what you may have thought would be the happiest time of your life turns out to be the most difficult. Sometimes, even one appointment with a knowledgable clinician can pave the way feeling better. Here are a few tips:

1) Recognize your feelings and honor them: The feelings of anxiety, sadness, or detachment don’t make you mean, crazy, or a bad mother. Pregnancy and the postpartum period are a melting pot of new sensations, emotions, and situations. Even the most well-adjusted woman can experience intense, contradictory thoughts and feelings. These can be caused by the physical challenges of breast feeding, healing from labor and delivery, and lack of sleep, and exacerbated by all of the psychosocial changes that are occuring at the same time.

2) Consider all the Options: It is possible that your symptoms may be best helped by a combination of both therapy and medication. This is a difficult choice to make for many mothers who are concerned about the presence of medications in their breast milk. Most doctors agree that the small amount excreted will not harm the baby. There is no perfect solution in this regard, however I do have a bias about it. I am very pro-breastfeeding, and do so myself. However, I believe that if a mother needs to formula feed in order to maintain a happy balance, or to take needed medications that is what she should do. I have treated plenty of sad children with behavioral nightmares, with whom I could tell immediately that something in the parental system was not right (for instance, depression, OCD, anxiety). I have never met a child who was trying to kill his friends with the nearest Tonka truck because he had formula as an infant.

3) Get Yourself Connected: Parenthood is challenging enough without doing it in a bubble. These days, there are a variety of ways to get hooked in with other mothers. While support from your spouse, parents, and friends are important, they can’t replace the play-by-play experience of other women who are doing this new journey at the same time. You can find groups of moms by going to lactation meetings at our local hospitals, visiting message boards, attending functions at your religious institution, and going to www.meetup.com. In addition, there are mommy-and-me yoga groups available, and the Orange County library system hosts infant and toddler story time. 

As a new mom myself, I love hearing other moms’ stories. Please drop me a line and let me know how your experience is shaping up!

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

If you would like  a FREEE 30 minute consultation please drop me a line at holly@lotustherapycenter.com or call me at 407.913.4988.

www.lotustherapycenter.com

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