Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

Substance abuse and addiction are serious challenges in Florida.  When you or a loved one are facing the challenge of substance abuse, the immediate priority is finding treatment resources and figuring out how to access them.  These days, however, substance abuse treatment often focuses only on assisting the client to make a commitment to stop using.  This is a crucial and necessary first step, but it is far from sufficient for recovery.  Indeed, making such a commitment only begins a process of recovery, and a commitment all by itself is insufficient to sustain sobriety. Unless efforts are made to explore the root causes of addictive patterns, and the problems that substance abuse was intended to mask or distract one from, clients will remain vulnerable to their neurobiology and behavioral conditioning.  There is therefore a perception in the popular imagination that relapse is inevitable.  

While relapse is often a part of the process of recovery, it is NOT inevitable, and every relapse is in fact entirely preventable.  What makes the difference between an endless cascade of relapse events and steady progress towards maintaining one’s sobriety?  How can one really recover from substance abuse and stop the cycles of destruction that addiction unleashes in an individual’s life?  Relapse prevention and wellness planning, informed by interpersonal neurobiology, is often the crucially neglected component.

Without doing the difficult and often painful work of identifying the problems that the addictive behavior was designed to self-medicate and developing a deeper personalized understanding of the automatic negative thoughts, motivations, attitudes, assumptions, core beliefs, patterns of behavior and emotional regulation deficits that maintained and sustained the addictive behavior, people will remain vulnerable to pulls and dynamics of relapse.  This kind of deeper work may be supported by individual or group counseling and psychotherapy, intensive outpatient programs, 12-step fellowships, SMART Recovery and Celebrate Recovery meetings. This kind of personal insight and accountability is a crucial and necessary component of the recovery process and mandatory if sobriety is the ultimate goal.

A Relapse Prevention and Wellness Plan should be engaged upon as part of a structured process designed to help the one in recovery collaborate with their support system to monitor the uncomfortable and distressing warning signs and symptoms of relapse. The planning process and the living document it produces serves to encourage empowerment and personal responsibility as well as open and honest communication between client and support system.

A thorough plan should cover the identification, personal mapping and management of high-risk situations, the development of an ongoing recovery plan that includes commitments to sobriety, lapse or relapse contingency plans, specifically identifiable problem behaviors and beliefs and intervention strategies for same, identification of key recovery support team members, selection and scheduling of recovery activities, ways to measure progress and regress, mechanisms for ongoing dialogue, feedback and accountability.

Most treatment programs and behavioral health units will discharge a patient with a document that is labeled as a relapse prevention plan.  Usually this pro-forma document amounts to a little more than a scheduled follow up appointment, a list of key treatment-team and support-team members with contact information, and perhaps a few self-selected motivational reminders.  This level of “planning” is insufficient.  Seek out addiction care from a trained professional mental health provider and make sure they have the skills and experience necessary to help you craft a personalized relapse prevention and wellness plan.  Contact Southwest Florida Counseling Center if you need this type of assistance. If we can’t meet your personalized recovery needs, we’ll help get you connected to someone who will.  Remember: failing to plan is planning to fail!


Attachment Style and How it Impacts Our Relationships

Throughout our lifetime, we may find ourselves reacting or responding in a particular way within our closest interpersonal relationships whether they be with our parents, our friends or colleagues, or within our romantic partnerships. These reactions or responses are often a result of our attachment style which we all begin forming within our infant/caregiver relationship. The development of a secure attachment style is one in which we are equipped with empathy, the ability to regulate our emotions, resilience, effective interpersonal skills, and attachment security.

Although the development of a secure attachment style is the goal, many of us aren’t always provided the environment or conditions which facilitate the development of such. Some individuals may develop what is called an anxious-preoccupied attachment style or one of two types of avoidant attachment, either dismissive-avoidant or fearful-avoidant. Those individuals who find themselves with an attachment style that hasn’t quite made its way to secure as of yet, fear not. The best part of learning about and identifying our attachment style is that we are empowered to recognize and give logic to those internal compulsions that drive us, and subsequently, what we can do to make our way towards the secure style of attachment we strive to acquire. Here are some steps we can take to begin making our way toward secure attachment:

  • Become aware of what your specific attachment style is. This can be done fairly easy through reading up on empirically based resources or even taking some of the many quizzes available on line.

  • Identify why you’d like to move your attachment style more towards secure and what drives your desire to do so.

  • Make a plan and set some goals. How would you like to work on developing a secure attachment style and what tools will you use? One may wish to do this work independently while others may wish to utilize the support and direction that can be found in therapy.

  • Once you have a plan in place and the desire to do so, stay persistent! This process isn’t an easy or quick one, as you are striving to alter a deeply engrained mindset; however, with a strong will and consistent effort, it is achievable and well worth the work.

Achieving a secure attachment style takes self-awareness, patience and tenacity but will ultimately provide us with more fulfilling, honest, and satisfying relationships within our lives.

Mental Health Awareness

The month of May is recognized nationally as Mental Health Awareness month. During this month organizations promote mental health. Mental health is a state of being well and living a balanced life and thriving in life. Having good mental health is having the ability to navigate the stressors of life in a healthy manner and seek win-win solutions. On the other hand, mental illness is the inability to function optimally in life and leads to significant impairment in relationships, work, and mental and physical health.  Mental illness affects all persons, such as children, teen, adults and seniors.  Mental illness does not discriminate against gender, sex, race or socio-economic status. It is OKAY to not be OKAY! No longer should persons affected by mental illness live in the shadows or hide behind a diagnoses. It is time to break the stigma. 

Types of Mental Illness

The most common type of mental illness is Depression ( However, there are other well-known mental illnesses that affect many people, such as Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Schizophrenia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Substance Abuse.  Mental illness significantly impacts your ability to function at work, school, and in social settings. It also affects your ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships.  The treatment options for mental illness varies depending on the type of illness.  However, the most common types of treatment are medication and individual or group therapy/counseling.  Some people with a mental illness may use drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or overeating as ways to cope with mental illness. These methods only further worsen the mental illness and damage relationships.  

Common signs of Mental Illness

Here are some signs of poor mental health. This list is not exhaustive; however you may want to speak with your doctor or counselor if you have more than 3 and experience them 2 or more times a week.

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little

  • Pulling away from people and usual activities

  • Having low or no energy

  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters

  • Having unexplained aches and pains

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless

  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual

  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared

  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends often

  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships

Taken from 

What should I do?

If you identified with more than two above, the effects of mental illness on an individual and family can be devastating if left untreated. Some ways to cope include:

  • Talk with a counselor

  • Take medication as prescribed by your physician or psychiatrist

  • Talk to family and friends about how you are feeling

  • Practice mindfulness

  • Pray, meditate, exercise

  • Eat healthy

  • Reduce/Avoid stressful of toxic situations or people

  • Engage in activities that bring you joy

  • Join a support group

  • Journaling

Having a mental illness does not mean you are “crazy”. Remember it is OKAY to not be OKAY and you do not have to do it alone. There is help for you. Together we can fight the stigma and live life in balance. If you or someone you know may be experiencing signs of mental illness, please talk with your doctor or call Southwest Florida Counseling Center at 941-391-1067 to schedule an appointment or visit our website at You can also check us out on FaceBook. Mental illness does not have to ruin your life. You can learn ways to cope and learn to achieve optimal mental health. Let’s Break the Stigma! 

Kids and Online Gaming

In today’s world there are all kind of dangers that lurk around every corner. Many parents may not be aware of the potential dangers lurking within their homes. When I was younger, times where simpler. Children spent their afternoons and weekends playing outside with their friends. Children did not want to be cooped up inside. The art of building forts and making mud pies has fell to the way side. Most children, now a days would rather be inside playing on their computers, tablets, or phones. Online gaming has taken the nation by storm. Some of the most popular games are World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, and Skyrim; all of these online games can be played with others from all over the world. 

Children can play these games with their friends or complete strangers. Danger lies  in becoming whomever they want to be. They can be a 40-year-old man pretending to be a 12-year-old boy from Tucson; able to gain the trust of the children they are playing with by building bonds and friendships. Sharing similar interests with victims to lure them in. We educate as to stranger danger, encouraging disengagement from those we do not know. This seems to all disappear when our children are playing online games. Here in Southwest Florida, a man was arrested for human trafficking along with six other adults in connection with the disappearance of two teenage boys. The boys were recused from a trailer in St. Petersburg FL, where they had been held captive for nearly a year being both sexually and physically abused. These teen boys were victims of  an online gaming app. Not only are these boys going to have physical scars, but the emotional scars will be tremendous. Through family support and help of professionals such as doctors and therapists, these boys can begin their journey of healing. 

The American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders also known as the DSM-5 (published in 2013) is the manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose clients with mental health disorders. Although, gaming disorder is not yet recognized in the DSM-5 as a mental health disorder, it is recognized that further research is needed. If not monitored by parents, online gaming can start to become an addiction due to compulsive playing. Children/teens start to isolate themselves from others and are missing out on important socialization skills. Studies have shown that isolation from others can lead to mental health disorders such as depression. Compulsive involvement in these games can cause confusion with reality-based thinking. This reality confusion can also influence feeling and bonds with others. 

Online gaming enables children/teens to hide behind masks. They can become someone they are not. Creation of fake personas has led to an increase of online bullying. When we were younger, we may have gotten bullied at school or on the bus, but it ended there. Within the world of technology, bullying can be endless and come from all directions. 

Some things we can do as parents to keep our children safe while online gaming is:

  • Limit screen time

  • Know what games your children are playing

  • Be aware of who they are interacting with on the game

  • Make sure games are age appropriate

Online gaming isn’t all scary. It can be fun, educational, and a good emotional outlet for our children when done in moderation. 

Finding Success after Failure

Failing stinks.  Not only does it mean that we did not accomplish something we worked hard towards, but it can make us feel disappointed, discouraged, or just downright lousy.  Friends and family may provide some words of support and encouragement, but rarely do they help us escape the feelings that come with a lack of achievement.  Sometimes a failure is something we can easily recover from, but other times those feelings linger and impact our functioning.  How do we overcome these obstacles?  It is as simple as one word: Resilience.

Resilience is defined as the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and challenges.  Seems simple, right?  Anyone who has ever had to fight their way back from significant adversity knows that the road to resilience is full of stress and doubt.  Resilience is one of the most difficult (and most valuable) reservoirs of strength that we can tap into to promote psychological growth and wellness.  Regardless of the hardship, it is possible to bounce back from hard times using the four-step RASE method.

R – Recognize

Learning from failure means that we must recognize what went wrong.  This requires a long, hard look and examination of what we did, what worked, and what did not work.  It is imperative that we are honest with ourselves in this step.  What could have been done differently?  What might have changed?  It may be helpful to enlist the help of an honest, but kind, friend or family member to help examine the situation from a place of objectivity.  The importance here is to identify exactly what occurred in a specific manner to identify variables that could be altered in the future that yield different results.

A – Accept

Mistakes do not have to be setbacks.  In fact, if you think about it, we make a lot of mistakes each day.  Perhaps you attempted a new recipe and it did not taste as delicious as you had hoped.  Maybe you thought you only had two pages of homework, but in actuality had three pages to complete.  If a shipment had come in yesterday as planned, you may have serviced your customers more efficiently.  Small failures may contribute to an unpleasant experience.  Whether they are preventable or unavoidable, the failure is not you.  Let me repeat that.  You are not a failure.  Mistakes happen.  Uncertainties abound.  Accepting that a failure occurred, but not allowing that to define you as a person, is a pivotal component to resilience.

S – Strategize

Strategy is not simply about making another attempt after failure.  It is about thinking of all the possible solutions and consciously deciding which might maximize benefit while minimizing risk.  Think of this as if you were navigating around a traffic jam.  You had plans to make it home nice and early tonight, but as you are leaving work, your phone alerts you that your route is shut down and traffic is impassable.  Without effort, you consider alternative routes and make a decision.  If you set out on your new path and you find that you are not reaching your destination, what other choices might you make?  What other roads cross your path that could help you get home with enough time to hit the gym, make dinner, or spend some quality time with the kids before bed?  Make a plan for success.  Write it down.  Draw it out.  Use flow charts, index cards, journals…whatever it takes.  Having a plan and identifying potential obstacles will not only help prepare you for success, but will help you manage stress and maintain a positive outlook throughout the process.  

E – Execute

When you are ready to execute your strategy, you will know.  You will feel it.  It is that feeling of empowerment that provided the confidence needed for previous attempts.  Remember, plans are not fact-based.  They can’t be.  They haven’t happened yet.  They are educated guesses that can be altered when an obstacle is encountered.  You will find motivation and momentum in executing your plan.  It isn’t always easy.  In times when it seems hardest, thinking back to all the times you have been successful in the past can help give you the push you need.  One of the most vital parts of this step is to recognize and celebrate success, no matter how small.  Climbing a mountain doesn’t happen in five minutes.  You have to work slowly and keep going.  You will suddenly realize there is more hard work behind you than ahead of you.   But once you have reached the summit, the view is phenomenal.


Do Valentines' Differently

Every year people in relationship celebrate their love with flowers, cards, candy, and dinners. But, what about celebrating in a way that would help strengthen your relationship as well as celebrate it? Generally, we try to show each other our love with presents, dates, or saying “I love you”, but not everyone feels loved in those ways. This Valentines’ Day why not plan some time with your significant other growing your relationship by getting to know each other better? Most people think they know everything about their significant other’s thoughts, feelings, and stories; but even people who have been together for years can always learn something new about each other.

You can do this in a fun way like a 20 Questions game, sharing childhood and teenage memories, discussing the things you like most about the events in your relationship, or even discussing the things that each of you are interested in as hobbies.

You can also use Valentines’ Day to make goals for your relationship together for the upcoming year. Make a few short-term goals and a few goals that are a few years out. What milestones would you like to reach as a couple? This helps foster a more positive bond by making achievements together throughout the year to reach your goals. Then when this time of year comes up again you will be able to discuss your progress and achievements together.

You can also improve your emotional bond as a couple by discussing openly and honestly with your partner what you do that makes them feel truly loved on a regular basis. Evaluate what to this point has gone well and what has not gone so well for each of you in your relationship to date. Together you can make a plan to improve the things that need improving for the upcoming year. This can provide new insight into their emotional needs that you may not have considered before.

Whatever your celebration decisions are, make sure to be with your significant other without distractions like the television and cell phones if possible as this will make each of you feel like you are together in the moment celebrating.

If you find that things are not going as well in your relationship this year make a plan to have this be the year you change it. You can do this on your own as a couple or by attending a relationship enhancement workshop, marriage retreat, or simply attending some couples’ counseling sessions. Improving your relationship will only improve your lives on a regular basis and help you strive to work better together to be able to celebrate many more Valentines’ Days in the future.

Positively Present Through the End of the Year

Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift,
 so too can the holidays.  John Clayton

Each year we are faced with the same cycle of seasons and holidays.  Some holidays we anticipate happily and others we dread.  For those times we are likely to dread, we have a tendency to start dreading early and magnifying the negative more than we do with the positives during the year; this is human.  It is too easy in our fast paced society to slip into a negative mood followed by bad habits before we even realize we are doing it.  There is pressure all around to buy into the false sense of happiness that is directly tied into spending money during the end of year holidays.  There is the pressure to live up to all kinds of social expectations with the unrealistic portrayal we see of families on television and in the movies.  I invite you to please take some time, today, to consciously decide how you truly want to approach this holiday season; for there is no reason to look at the remainder of the year as something to get through thinking “each year, same stuff” it just takes a little effort and purposeful mindset. 

Here’s are some tips to approach this holiday season:

•    Realize we are all in the same boat; we are never truly alone.  The feeling of being alone is just that, a feeling.  And what do we know about feelings?  They are not facts!  Feelings, as strong as they can be, do not make things factual, but they do have the power to overtake our confidence, if we allow them to. We can consciously replace that self talk with the mindset, I am a loved being of this universe; part of something bigger than myself.  Try it, this latter statement holds much more positive power than the former.

•    Stay in the present.  The holidays have a really bad way of glorifying the past and the future; the fallacy of how wonderful were holidays past and how spectacular this upcoming holiday will be.  When in fact, the way we stay most content and live most fully, is by staying in the presence of each day as it comes.  You will find by doing this, I believe, that there is much more ability to experience positively the season as a whole with this mindset.

•    Consciously practice what is positive to your spirit. A positive mindset is difficult for many. Our news media bombards us with negativity every hour of every day.  And at the same time during the holiday season, we are expected to have a very merry something! Realizing this dichotomy and focusing instead on what feeds our souls in a positive, loving way, is a conscious effort and one that is extremely important to practice daily during this time of year.   This leads us to the last two strategies of experiencing the holidays this November and December with positive mental health; giving of ourselves and practicing uplifting behavior.

•    Giving of ourselves through our time and experience is a proven way of feeding our own souls.  Often when we should do this the most is when we are least likely to; when we feel low and unneeded/unwanted.  I ask you to make a personal commitment to give or serve your community in some way this season.  The resulting feeling to us, is an unexpected yet very much needed feeling of self-worth, purpose and desire to do more for others and ourselves.  It truly is the gift to ourselves that keeps giving for as long as we make the effort to serve others in some capacity.

•    The last thought I will give here is the practice of being an uplifting soul to yourself and others.  And sometimes we have to do this when we do not feel we can be uplifting; we down right feel lousy.  This is when we are called upon to “fake it until we make it”.  And this is a valid method to turning our spirit around at any given time of year.  It is a fact that what we practice is what we become. 

They may seem all to familiar and maybe they seem superficial or simplistic or impossible.  But please, take what could be the most important few minutes of this early holiday season, and decide how you would like to approach this holiday season and navigate through to the end of the year.  It is a choice, as we always have, a choice, please choose what is good for you and the health of your emotions and feelings; you deserve to live the best life you can each day, and holiday time or not, this is truly possible with the right mindset. So, from now until the end of the year call upon yourself to manage your mental health wisely.  The upcoming holidays will happen without fail like they do every year, and we have the choice every day of the rest of the year, to feed our souls and mental health in a positive way. If we practice this now, we not only set ourselves up for a strong finish for this year, we also set ourselves up for a strong start in the new year.  

The Effects Bullying has on Kids, How can You Address them?

For many, growing up and being bullied had been viewed as a “rite of passage” that helped to “toughen kids up.” However, coming to light more and more is the devastating and long-term effects bullying can have on kids. The loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression are just some of the issues presented most often for those involved whether they are the ones being bullied, are bullying, or who witness the bullying. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 21% of students ages 12-18 experience bullying nationwide. Bullying can be social, verbal or physical with most frequent happenings occurring in schools. Currently, Florida has both a policy and law against bullying, but that does not mean it still does not happen. In working towards eliminating bullying know some of the signs that someone is being bullied:

  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry 

  • Unexplainable injuries

  • Feeling sick/faking illness

  • Changes in eating habits-skipping meals or binge eating 

  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares 

  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school 

  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations 

  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem 

  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide 

You can also play a part in helping to prevent bullying. If you work within the schools encourage activities that teach students about bullying, know what programs are available for those who are faced with bullying, and help other staff be trained in prevention as well. Even those who do not work within the school systems can help educate and become part of a cause to aid in prevention just by supporting individuals regardless of the type of endured bullying, addressing the bullying behavior when it arises and being a role model. Although October is Bullying Prevention Month, know that all year long we should be engaging in helping to stop bullying behaviors whether its with the bullies, victims, or bystanders. Kids often will not ask for help when it comes to these situations where statistics from the Indicators of School Crime and Safety (2012) show that an adult was notified in less than half (40%) of bullying incidents. If you or someone you know is being bullied know that counseling services are available to help. 

You can find out about the services Southwest Florida Counseling Center has to offer, visit For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Judy Steele at 941-391-1067 or

The Importance of Children's Mental Health upon the New School Year

It’s that time of year again. Summer break is coming to an end and its back to reality of the school year hustle and bustle. The school year can be a challenging time for children as they struggle with fitting in with their peers, pressure of getting good grades and learning to balance extracurricular activities. Florida ranks one of the lowest states in the country for mental health funding and with the last report a couple years ago, Florida ranked #49 out of 50 states. What does this mean for our youth? In Charlotte County there is a lack of mental health professionals within the school system. High schools may each have a social worker assigned to their school but elementary schools often have one social worker to cover two to three schools each. Therefore, when your child is at school and going through something significantly stressful; domestic violence, the loss of a best friend, a bad breakup, bullying, etc. They are often limited as to where they are able to reach out for help, and they often turn to their friends who don’t have the healthiest of advice at times. Children from the beginning of their development have difficulty expressing their needs and just because as they get older they master language, sometimes it is difficult for a child to identify their feelings. Being aware of changes in your child’s behavior may help you to prompt a conversation or seek professional guidance from a therapist. 

Things to look out for; 

Missing school due to somatic complaints; stomach aches, headaches, nausea, with no other symptoms of illness. 

Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Isolating themselves from the family and/or their friends.

Significant changes in their eating habits, sudden weight loss or weight gain. 

Frequent crying spells and inability to express what they are upset about.

Engaging in self-harm behaviors; make sure to notice upper thighs, stomach or areas often covered.    

We are often busy and disconnected despite being more connected technologically than ever before, but the continuous access to technology can at times, separate us from the ones we love. Have open and honest conversations with your children. Let them know that they can come with you to talk about their feelings or to have a sounding board to help them figure them out.  And if you need professional help, don’t be hesitant to reach out. 


Stength over Stigma

According to the American Counseling Association, counseling is an inherently strengths-based, professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.  Professional Counselors develop individualized strategies with their clients to help them overcome personal obstacles and challenges.  The core of this unique professional relationship is always a strengths-based empowerment toward the attainment of each client’s personal goals.

Despite the emphasis on strength and empowerment in the very definition of counseling, our society maintains a salient stigma towards the receipt of mental and behavioral health care.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines stigma as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  To feel shame or disgrace about one’s need for mental health care certainly adds insult to injury, however, the real cost of stigma should be measured in the lack of treatment received, as all too many individuals and families struggle in secrecy, shame and silence.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 43.8 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year, which is the equivalent of one in five adults. 10 million adults live with a serious mental illness, or one in ten adults. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.  Nevertheless, over 60% of adults and 50% of children and adolescents with a diagnoseable mental illness never receive any treatment. 

Stigma and lack of access explain this egregious treatment gap, and the impact is staggering: serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion dollars annually in lost earnings, depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016 suicide became the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.

Counselors understand stigma and struggle tirelessly to undermine its pernicious effects. One of the chief ways we do this is by not pathologizing clients.  Instead of labeling from a problem-focused perspective, counselors adopt a strengths-based and solution-focused approach to client-centered care.  By promoting and preserving the autonomy of every client, counselors work more like a swing coach in golf or tennis.  We start by understanding our client’s goals and values, we work hard to view the field of play from our client’s perspective, and then we work collaboratively with our clients to promote their strengths and develop their skills.

If you or someone you love and care for are confronted with a serious mental illness or simply struggling to adjust to changed circumstances, please do not let stigma or fear of judgment prevent access to treatment.  Professional counselors stand well-prepared to come alongside to strengthen and empower you to achieve your goals, without judgment or reproach, regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what you believe or value.  Counselors can empower you to leverage your own strengths as you confront areas of needed growth.

Remember, too, one doesn’t need a diagnosis (or suspected diagnosis) to benefit from professional counseling or psychotherapy.  As Carl Gustav Jung wrote: “your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” Consider taking a strengths-based approach to your own awakening and contact a counselor today to help empower your personal vision.

Mental Health Awareness

May marks Mental Health Awareness month where communities, organizations and other affiliates partner in raising attentiveness to mental health. Usually when the word health is used, most think of only the physical aspects this encompasses. Mental health is just as important as maintaining physical health because it affects all facets of our daily routine. This stresses the importance of seeing the whole person so that we are addressing minds and bodies rather than trying to pinpoint one health to focus on. According to a Harris Poll 89% of people believe that mental health is just as important as physical health. However, the issue lies where many people do not know how to or do not converse about mental health that contributes to stigmas forming. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, 1 out of 5 people are affected by mental health and when combined with stigma it influences these individuals from seeking help. Therefore, deterrence of treatment usually occurs when the environment may contain shame, fear and silence. This perception of mental illness has the ability to change and you can help by:

  • Identifying and reducing any stigmas you might have
  • Educating yourself and others in the community
  • Finding appropriate ways to help advocate for these individuals 
  • Providing support by volunteering and knowing resources
  • Sharing your experiences
  • Taking care of yourself

Although some might seem small, little changes over time can create huge gains for yours and others overall health and wellbeing. Stigma can be reversed by compassion, empathy and understanding. So remember, sometimes the uncomfortable or unknown topics are what need to be talked about in order to address them. Let’s start learning and talking.


Counseling & Awareness

April is Counseling Awareness Month and this year, The American Counseling Association (ACA) is focused on highlighting ways in which professional counselors can help with a variety of everyday issues.  Some of the issues professional counselors can help with are: learning ways to manage stress, anger management, grief, trauma, anxiety and depression, improving family conflict and marital problems by learning effective and positive communication strategies, making healthier lifestyle changes involving career decisions, addictions, parenting, and finding balance between work and life.

Asking for help can be nerve wracking and daunting; however it is the first step to making change in your life. Do you desire to improve your life? Be happier? Worry less? Stop a bad habit?  Communicate better with others? Let go of past hurts? If you answered yes, then maybe counseling is right for you! “But how do I find the right counselor?” 

Well, think of if similar to finding the right hairstylist. No one wants to go to a stylist that is never available, does a sloppy job or is too pricey. So, when looking for a counselor, you want to find one that will meet most of what you are looking for. For example, some things to consider when searching for a counselor are: 

  • Do I want a male or female therapist?
  • Do they take insurance or have a sliding scale?
  • Do they work with children?
  • Do they have any specialties?
  • What types of issues do they work with?
  • Do they have a website?
  • Do they have hours that are convenient to my schedule?
  • What type of counseling approach do they use?
  • Is the counseling practice conveniently located?

Once you have done your research, it’s now time to make the call. Yes, admitting that you need help can be scary and vulnerable; however, it will be one of the best decisions you can make for yourself and/or family. Counselors are trained in a variety of counseling techniques and theories. Most have a minimum of a Master’s degree and are licensed or a registered intern. You can check out Psychology Today to search for counselors in your area; or check out for a list of counselors that may meet your needs.  Now is the time to make the change you have always wanted to make! Now is the time to get back to being happier! Now is the time to live a better balanced life! Now is the time to call a counselor! We can help! Call today to schedule an appointment with one our qualified professional counselors. For more information call 941-391-1067 or visit our website at


Most people have seen shows or documentaries about the LGBTQ+ community or heard stories from others about their loved ones coming out to them. However, not many of these shows or stories inform you on how to handle these situations or what to do if you are in them. There are now many different ways people can identify their gender and sexuality. Additionally, people are starting to try to identify their gender and sexuality very young. This can be to confusing and there is a lot of misinformation about these topics.

What can you do if someone you know comes out to you about their gender or sexual identity? The first thing is to take a moment and think about your reaction first. How will this affect your future relationship with this person? Next, decide if you need more education on the topic. Usually the person telling you is able to give you a lot of information, if you ask. However, if you feel uncomfortable asking, seek information on your own. Third, realize that if this person is telling you, they have probably been struggling with this decision for longer than you think. Things you should not do are, try to convince them that they are confused, tell them they are too young to know yet, say “it’s just a phase, react out of fear, or tell them how horrible their lives will be if they continue on this path. They are telling you because they trust you and you should take that into account with your response. If you need more education, you can contact your local LGBTQ+ center as they usually have information for family and friends available, or you can seek information from someone who is an experienced LGBTQ+ leader or counselor in your community.

If you are someone who is struggling with your gender or sexual identity there are also many resources available to you. If you are able to, seeking counseling from someone experienced in LGBTQ+ counseling or support group. Be sure to ask if the counselor has any experience in your particular struggles as some LGBTQ+ issues are specialized and not all LGBTQ+ counselors have experience in every topic. At our offices, I run a LGBTQ+ Teen support group. If you are not able to, or do not have access to a counselor, you can contact your local LGBTQ+ center. If you prefer to remain anonymous these are the helplines you can contact: if you are under 25, 1-800-246- Pride, or for all ages 1-888-843-4564.

Self Care

With February upon us and Valentine’s Day on the way what better time to talk about self-care?

This month many will take time to show and share their love for others but how often do we practice showing love and care for ourselves?  Making a point to show others that they are important is a beautiful thing; however, just as beautiful is reserving time to nurture ourselves. This might be a foreign concept or an afterthought with the business and demands that life brings. The following are questions that I have been asked as a counselor and that I admittedly have asked myself:  What is self-care?  Why does it matter? What does it mean to love and nurture one’s self? How does one incorporate self-care into their already busy lives? What are the benefits of self-care? Below I have compiled some answers to these questions.

Here are some key points to know about self-care:

•         It is intentional and often requires planning

•         It helps to improve mental, physical, and psychological well being

•         It helps reduce mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety

•         It is often ignored

•         It should NOT feel like a chore

Now that we know some key points about self-care let’s move on to some examples of what self-care includes.

- Eating a healthy diet

- Spending time with people we enjoy


-Using relaxation techniques

-Following through with medical care



-Listening to your favorite song

-Saying “No” to activities that bring you more frustration than joy

Keep in mind that these are purely examples. Self-care can look different from one individual to the next; however, the theme remains the same and encompasses a sense of balance and self-nurturing.  It is important to take time to promote personal well-being the same way that many of us often do for others. So go ahead and remind those around you how grateful you are to have them in your life but don’t forget to be intentional in your devotion to yourself. Remember that YOU are important and YOU are valuable.

If you or someone you care about could benefit from learning more about self-care and how to incorporate it into your lifestyle, give us a call. Our warm & compassionate counselors are available to support you and provide tools that may assist you on your journey. Call (941) 249-4354 or request an appointment online:

“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths”- Etty Hillesum

Pregnancy and Mental Health

Pregnancy can be a trying and stressful experience for any woman regardless of her age, experience, or number of children. Between the hormones, physical changes to your body, and the complete change in lifestyle, pregnancy can have both times of excitement and times of stress. A woman’s maintenance of her mental well-being is paramount throughout pregnancy for her own sake and that of her baby.

Here are some tips to ensure you are doing what you can to ease emotional stress during your pregnancy:

  • Establish & utilize a personal support system (Close family/ friends)
  • Choose an OB with whom you feel comfortable & safe
  • Attend regular prenatal doctor’s appointments
  • Engage in regular exercise (as approved by your doctor)
  • Maintain a healthy and energy boosting diet
  • Engage in self-care activities like prenatal massage
  • Speak up and ask or accept help from others!!

Personally, I am nearing the end of my third trimester with my second child. And I can tell you, it is a struggle (for even myself, as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor) to ensure I am following all of these guidelines. However, I acknowledge how crucial each of the elements listed above are for my own sanity and the health of my baby. So if you are a mother, or mother-to-be who has read the tips above and thought to yourself ‘Ha! Who has time for all of that?!’, you aren’t alone. Sometimes feeling alone in such a life changing situation such as pregnancy can be overwhelming. Utilizing the previously listed tips, joining support groups online through avenues such as Facebook or various pregnancy apps, and establishing with a therapist can all assist with the support & guidance that enables a healthy mother and child.

Another key to a happy and healthy pregnancy is utilizing your existing support apparatus.  For most, this is a spouse or partner.  Additional help from partners is an essential element to getting through a very challenging time. Here are some tips for dads/partners/caregivers:

  • Have patience with Mother-to-be
  • Don’t wait for her to ask: Offer assistance on a regular basis
  • Be present: Attend appointments if able or desired by Mom
  • Acknowledge emotional & physical needs
  • Let it go: Remember she has significant changes in hormones, so don’t harp on the little stuff
  • Show unconditional love: A woman experiences significant physical changes to her body during pregnancy and she may not feel as comfortable or confident as she was pre-pregnancy

If you or someone you care about is currently trying to conceive, pregnant, or recently postpartum and would benefit from emotional support through this time, give us a call. The therapists at Southwest Florida Counseling Center incorporate a warm and compassionate approach with clients allowing them to maintain successful emotional health. Give Judy a call today to get started (941) 391-1067, or request an appointment online through

Candy Season

Candy season is upon us starting with Halloween and continuing into New Year. Moderation is important as sugar and simple sugars also known as carbohydrates can change mood, behavior control and ability to sleep. 

Sugar works in the brain by creating a rush of good feeling, release important chemicals that can cause the person to feel good and then be overwhelmed depending on the amount of sugar intake.

Excess sugar intake can cause behavioral problems, moodiness, tantrums, impulse control problems and sleep disturbance in children that may have mental health problems such as ADHD, ODD and Bipolar. 

Things you can do to help your child manage through the upcoming Candy frenzy, Halloween is:

·         Control portion size. Opt for one or two pieces of candy at a time. It will allow the body to process the sugar with minimal negative reactions.

·         Dilute fruit juices

·         No candy before bedtime as dessert

Parents can help the child with understanding and watch for behavior changes related to candy and sugar, understanding the reactions and changes are chemical and will dissipate relatively shortly. 

Preparing for the possibility of candy overdose is the best choice and can help the family handle the behaviors with relationship building responses.

·         Have patience and understand the reaction is not purposeful

·         In public places like trick or treating, Halloween parties, create a signal that allows the child to calm down and manage behaviors. The signal is set up before hand and is not a punishment but a support and is provided as such

·         Find quiet time out place to take a breather and sit with them, talk or sit quietly to relax. Then continue the fun

If you find this helpful and would like more information about behavior modification and/or need assistance with figuring out whether or not your child has symptoms, Contact Judy Steele at 941-391-1067 to make an appointment with a counselor at Southwest Florida Counseling Center.





Healthy Family Time in the Summer Time

Think about one precious memory you have of summer time. I bet this memory involves interactions with the most valued people in your life. The hectic mundane routine of everyday life can often lead us to not enjoy our families and loved ones as much as we would like. Even vacations can become stressful because we may be too focused on the activities/schedules and forget to stop and appreciate the people around us.  Being intentional with the planning of activities that promote family bonding time is the key to nourishing those extra special relationships in our lives. Here are some tips on how to promote intentional family time:

  • Put away all technological devices. 
  • A special one-on-one time with each member of the family doing something that is different from everyday routine (date with your spouse, special ice cream outing, going to a different park, visiting a different beach, etc.)
  • Eat dinner together at the dinner table at least once per week (no technology allowed!)
  • Put your family time first before play dates, friends, work, phone calls, etc.
  • Families with multiple children plan a “date time” with each child individually doing an activity of the child’s choice. 


Most of us are creatures of habit and finding new and creative activities can often be difficult and frustrating. Family activities that encourage a healthy mind and body lifestyle are wonderful in building stronger relationships. Summer time can be a great opportunity for families to start new family traditions and figure out what works and what does not. You can also plant a seed for healthy family time for future generations.  Here are some healthy creative activities:


  • Have a weekly movie night at home.
  • Eat a special meal that is completely different than your usual meals. Go around and say what your favorite memory of the week was and what you are looking forward to next week.
  • Go to a new library, new park, new beach, new fishing spot, etc.
  • Plant a garden together (you can start very small!)
  • Paint together (set up special area for younger kids) or have a dance party in your house.
  • Go for a hike and pack lots of water and a favorite lunch!
  • Involve the family in making healthy meals: make a smoothie, fruit/veggie plate, healthy desert, etc. together.
  • Go bowling or play a board game together on rainy days.


Get a calendar and write down one intentional activity you will do with your family per week. Make sure to include the whole family in the planning of these new activities. The process of just planning together can be a fun and exciting family activity. Make sure to follow through with the plans and enjoy your special time together! 

Sometimes it can be difficult getting the family together or figuring out how to make family time memorable. Our qualified therapists at Southwest Florida Counseling Center can provide individual and/or family sessions to help your family thrive. Give us a call to start today!

The Aftermath of Childhood Domestic Violence

If left untreated, the residual effects of domestic violence (DV) persist throughout adulthood. Children who are exposed, not only to violence in their home, but direct child abuse are more inclined to suffer from the following: violent acts, aggression, delinquency, depression, social isolation, anxiety and low self-esteem. Children who witness violence are less likely to regulate strong emotions and can display troublesome behavior, for example lashing out in anger at home. Many stages of a child's development can be effected:

  • visual and auditory processing
  • memory
  • reading
  • learning


Some other symptoms linked to DV:

  • being emotionally distant
  • distrusting of others
  • sleep disturbance
  • bed-wetting, and fears of being alone
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • eating disorders, social phobias  
  • Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) have been tied to DV.


    The effects of stress from DV during childhood can permanently alter the brain as the violent acts occur during vital stages of development. Also, this stress can be attributed to heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and metabolic disorders.  This is not to say that DV will cause these disorders, yet there seems to be a connection between these disorders and DV.   Many adult women who have been subjected to abuse suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, and/ or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).   Additionally, men who were abused in childhood can be more likely to abuse their children compared to the men who were not abused.  Often times, individuals who were exposed to or victims of DV end up in abusive relationships, only continuing this abusive cycle.

    If you or your child are experiencing these symptoms or concerns, please contact Southwest Florida Counseling Center where we can assist in the healing process.  Our compassionate and non-judgmental therapists can help you and/or your child can gain inner freedom.

Is Life Balance Possible?

Like so many of us, we race along at 90 miles an hour chasing this concept of life balance that somehow manages to elude us. So began the quest to find out if it is possible.
When I first began to contemplate what constituted “ life balance” I looked up synonyms for it: stability, steadiness, equilibrium, but those certainly didn’t offer an answer. So what follows are the results of my personal journey in the quest to define and maintain life balance. Initially I discovered that trying to find balance in life is a journey on a road without a map.  So I sent an email to some friends and asked them to share any insights they’ve found on the path to balance and fulfillment.
My friend Ina said, “I surround myself with those who support my need for balance, both friends and co-workers.” My friend Judy said. “It is precisely the fact that I work in my garden that makes my life feel in balance. Ruth said, “A balanced life depends on who you are and what you deem to be your most important values”. My favorite was from Charlie, a long time friend and a brilliant copywriter who said, “In my life, balance simply means not falling down”.  And that was somehow the most profound.
Can we achieve a balanced life, is it really important, and if so why?  Will insuring family, work, learning, fun, health, volunteering, and love in equal parts cause us to feel balanced? Will a pie shaped chart that rigidly divides our lives into multi-colored and roughly equal segments labeled with our top five or six core values steer us to balance? I use to think if I could; just get that chart completed, like it’s a finished piece of art to hang on the wall and admire, then all will be well. But I have since discovered that rigid adherence to my own rules actually creates more stress and anxiety. And forced divisions of time equal a life lacking in passion - like a straight line on your EKG.
If family is your main priority, and you balance your life around it, will you continue to feel balanced when your parents are gone and the kids have moved out? Is balance just about time management? Could be, but I think the answer is much simpler than that.  If we are trying to find meaning, or uncover some profound philosophical answer in our quest for balance, maybe we are just trying too hard.
A few years ago I accepted a senior management position in a very large and successful not-for-profit social service agency and my life became the most chaotic it had ever been.  Twenty previous years as an ad agency producer turned out to be child’s play compared to the demands of the non-profit. Yet I discovered that with less time, more responsibility, and busier than ever before, I felt a greater sense of balance!
I have always been a list maker and a list “checker-offer”.  And I always had a sense of anxiety because the list was always there and never completely completed. Then I read a simple but profound little book, “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”, and one simple little line changed my life. “No one dies with their inbox empty”. I had thought for years that if I could just get “IT” all done, then I could relax.  So is balance about time management? Yes, but not entirely.
When you sit on a beach, quiet, alone, listening to the surf, reading a novel, sipping a margarita… is that balance?  No that’s peace.
When you and your spouse or kids manage to agree after a heated argument is that balance?  No that’s harmony.

So I began looking at what balance is not.   It’s not a place at which you arrive and once there you’re done and can say, “HONEY,  “WE’RE ARRIVED AT BALANCE …WE CAN UNPACK.”   It’s not someplace you’re going to spend the rest of your life because life really is a continuous balancing act!  
Our endless to-do lists have each of us juggling work and play, friends and family, heart and soul and mind and body in continuous always-changing cycles that are impossible to keep up in the air.
Many of us have watched that old variety act of a man who could spin eight or nine plates at one time and keep them up in the air. That was ultimate balance…. but that too was only momentary wasn’t it?  Did the plates go crashing down?  No, he collected them just before they crashed. Once in a while one would fall to the floor and yet he proudly took a bow and the audience applauded.
On this journey I have learned to forgive myself for not being perfect and have given myself permission to fail and try again, and fail again, and so on. Life is fluid and forever changing.
My best life balance is different everyday.  The right balance for me today will probably be different for me tomorrow. The right balance for us when we are single will be different when we marry, or if we have children; when we start a new career versus when we are nearing retirement or are already retired.
There is no perfect one-size fits all that we should be striving for. The best life balance is different for each of us because we all have different priorities and different lives. I realized and accepted that it’s not a problem that has to be solved, but an ongoing task that has to be managed. If you love to cook, each time you prepare a favorite recipe, you add, subtract, amend and revise the ingredients.
I’ve learned to accept that balance in not a natural state, it is perpetually in motion, and trying to lock it down is exhausting.  But it becomes much simpler if we look at it from a different perspective. If we look at achieving balance on a daily basis and break it down into small digestible bits rather than as a life goal it will work.  Here is what works for me.
EVERY DAY I TRY to achieve something and enjoy something,
Achievement and enjoyment are two sides of the same coin in the value of life. You can't have one without the other. Trying to live a one sided life is why so many "successful" people are not happy, or not as happy as they should be.
I cannot get the full value from life without both Achievement and Enjoyment. If you focus on achievement and enjoyment every day in life it will help you avoid the "As Soon As” trap.  This is a life-dulling habit of planning on getting around to the joys of life and accomplishments "as soon as,” I have the time, the money, the kids are grown.
Most of us already have a good grasp on the meaning of Achievement. But let's look at the concept of enjoyment a little more.  doesn’t just mean "Ha-Ha" having fun. It means Pride, Satisfaction, Happiness, Celebration, Love, A Sense of Well Being …all the Joys of Living.
So one day you’ll find yourself asking the question, “What’s my purpose in life?"  Today I actually have the answer.   I say, "You know, I just want to achieve something today and I want to enjoy something today. And if I do both of those things today, I'm going to have a pretty good day. And if I do both of those things every day I'm going to have a pretty good life."

And I think that's true for all of us. Life will deliver the value and balance we want when we are achieving and enjoying something every single day…in all the important areas that make up our lives. They don’t have to be big. Sometimes it’s getting to work in traffic without honking my horn and having an inappropriate silent conversation with the car in front of me.  If this is a new behavior then I have achieved something!!
 So for me, a good working definition of Balance is: meaningful daily Achievement and Enjoyment in each of my five life areas: Work, Family, Friends, Service and Self.
Why not take 20 minutes today and do something just for yourself? Think about what you want to focus on achieving or enjoying today. Then give yourself permission to do just that. Sometimes that one act can accomplish both, for me it’s my garden.
These are simple concepts really, but once you focus on them as key parts of your day, they are not that hard to accomplish. So, make it happen…. for yourself, your family and all the important people you care about…every day for the rest of your life… Achieve and Enjoy… AND ONE LAST THING, be grateful, every day about something.  Give thanks for being alive, for having long lists, or for the ability to sit and feel blessed for the ability to achieve and enjoy.   


Adapting to Change

It’s that time of year where a lot of us are making New Year’s Resolutions, and a lot of us are refusing to do so! But if there’s one thing to be said about the new year, we will all endure change of some kind. Whether you are grieving a loss, in the process of a career change, expecting a new edition to the family, trying to lose weight or having to learn how to work with a new person in your life, we all can expect to undergo changes throughout the year. But it doesn’t have to be a struggle. By utilizing some of these tips you can ease into many of the changes this new year will bring:

·         List the impending changes that you are feeling resistant towards

·         For each item/concern listed divide it under two categories:

o   Aspects out of your control

o   Aspects within your control

·         Write down specific actions you can take to assist in easing into the change


For example: Let’s say your boss just hired someone in your department, and you find out this new person wants to move up in the company and obtain the same position that you are trying to achieve! If you were to utilize the tips listed, here is an example of how it may look:

·         Subject: New Hire

·         Aspects out of my control:

o   Cannot stop anyone from being hired or fired

o   Cannot deter new hire from working towards the same position I want

·         Aspects within my control:

o   How I conduct my work

o   The manner in which I work with others in my department (including the new hire!)

·         Actions I can take:

o   Maintain open lines of communication with my supervisor to clearly express my interest in the future position

o   Show my supervisor through the actions of my work responsibilities that I have what it takes to obtain the future position

o   Be polite and approachable to the new hire, as we were all new hires at one point or another, and who knows… that person may end up being a great ally in your professional and/or personal life

Remember that you still have choices despite the changes that occur that are outside of your control. If you find that you are experiencing significant difficulty with upcoming change in your life, or have been unable to successfully adapt to a recent change give us a call. Our therapists at Southwest Florida Counseling Center (SWFCC) will assist you in finding a way to move forward effectively. We are here for you and ready to help!