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.

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. 

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 www.swfcc.net 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 www.swfcc.net.

LGBTQ+

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.

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.