All posts by cmsadmin

Poem – The Gift At Our Door

Train tracks

The Gift At Our Door

How were we to know that night
            A dark hurting desperation
Came to our door unbidden
            Carrying life and death
            In an angry mixture.
End of the line
            Everybody out!
No stops past here
            Except the last, long one.
You arrive.
            The tears are hot
The mask forgot
            No more robot.
You take the risk.
You face the fear
            And the years they say
You cannot trust
            And depend on anyone.
You reach across that
            Vast valley of doubt
And ask
            For help.
With clarity that hurts
            You find the wounds
You begin the healing
            And the search for
The treasure that’s always been there
With the doubts still lurking
            You persist.
You don’t run, or make excuses
            Or find the reasons
You can’t succeed.
            Your cloak of honor
            Fits well now.
Everyday brings new strength
            And new tears
And acceptance of yourself
            As a worthy and special being
Grows in you eyes,
            And your step.
End of the line?
            For that train, maybe.
The package opened
            The gifts received
Is freashly wrapped
            In hope and promise
And it leaves on a new train
            Heading for the horizon.

How to Pick a Counselor or Therapist

How to pick a counselor or therapist

The most important thing about choosing a counselor or therapist is to find a situation where you feel comfortable, safe, and where there is potential for trust. Consistently the most important criteria for successful therapy is the fit between the therapist and client. When you meet with someone that you “click with” you are more able to be honest with yourself and it’s much easier to talk about any topic.

Finding the right fit involves two separate parts. One is looking for characteristics in the therapist that you feel will be a good match for you. The second is looking at yourself and how you want to go about treatment at this moment in your life.

Characteristics in the counselor or therapist

You should feel comfortable asking the counselor about things that are important to you in working on your goals. These can include:

  • Does the therapist have experience dealing with issues similar to the ones for which you want to enter treatment (diagnosis, ethnicity, financial)?
  • What does the counselor believe about potential outcomes of your current situation (i.e. cure, recovery, happier life, medication forever)?
  • What other areas of life does the therapist think may help to improve things?
  • Does the counselor offer any information on local resources (i.e. free relaxation classes, helpful self-improvement ideas, nutrition referrals)?
  • Does your therapist give homework or other tools to use between sessions?
  • Does the counselor focus on happiness and increasing joy as well as the negative topics?

Some views on psychological treatment believe it is a mistake for the therapist to share personal information with a client. But you as a client can always judge the therapist by how they explain this to you and whether in your gut you get a good feeling from the therapist. The thing to remember is that even if the counselor does not answer your question completely, you learn a lot about the person by the way they respond to you.

What do you want out of treatment?

Most people start therapy because they want to feel better about something in their life. So knowing how you want your counselor to treat you may be the last thing on your mind. But the more you think about this idea the more you will start to see how it reflects the way you want others to treat you in general. Some ideas include:

  • Recognize how much you want to be listened to and how much you want the counselor to engage in the talking.
  • Ask yourself if you want the therapist to be like a caring parent or more direct and blunt.
  • Would you feel ignored if the counselor didn’t suggest ways of solving your problem?
  • Do you want a therapist who talks about their own involvement with similar experience as yours or who keeps those thing out of the talk so they give you all of their attention?
  • Most importantly- If you find a counselor who doesn’t meet your interests, could they still help you if you stick it out a little longer?

Always recognize that you can change topics, goals, or therapists as your life changes too. While it does take a while to build trust and feel comfortable talking about your life to someone, remember that therapy and counseling exists to help you with what you want to work on.

Overall remember that you are paying for a service. Whether you pay out of pocket or your insurance covers your bill, you deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and to be fully involved in your treatment. If you feel that this is not happening please bring it up with your therapist. First it may help seeing the problem from a different angle, second it might resolve the problem all together, and third why not get some extra practice working out problems with people. Remember that you are choosing someone to be in your life for a while to help you get where you want to be.

The therapist or counselor is trained to help point out certain things about your personality and life situation, but you are always the ultimate expert on you. No matter what has happened in your life and no matter what will come, you deserve to have the best treatment you can find. So be involved and get ready to do some work so you can start enjoying life again.


(Chelsea Bagias, PsyD.)

Aspergers Disorder Information

Autism and Aspergers

Aspergers Disorder Information

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Factsheet

Asperger’s Disorder is the term for a specific type of pervasive developmental disorder that is characterized by problems in the development of social skills and behavior. In the past, many children with Asperger’s Disorder were diagnosed as having autism, another of the pervasive developmental disorders, or other disorders. While autism and Asperger’s have certain similarities, there are also important differences. For this reason, children suspected of having these conditions require careful evaluation.

In general, a child with Asperger’s Disorder functions at a higher level than the typical child with autism. For example, many children with Asperger’s Disorder have normal intelligence. While most children with autism fail to develop language or have language delays, children with Asperger’s Disorder are usually using words by the age of two, although their speech patterns may be somewhat odd.

Most children with Asperger’s Disorder have difficulty interacting with their peers. They tend to be loners and may display eccentric behaviors. A child with Asperger’s, for example, may spend hours each day preoccupied with counting cars passing on the street or watching only the weather channel on television. Coordination difficulties are also common with this disorder. These children often have special educational needs.

Although the cause of Asperger’s Disorder is not yet known, current research suggests that a tendency toward the condition may run in families. Children with Asperger’s Disorder are also at risk for other psychiatric problems including depression, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Child and adolescent psychiatrists have the training and expertise to evaluate pervasive developmental disorders like autism and Asperger’s Disorder. They can also work with families to design appropriate and effective treatment programs. Currently, the most effective treatment involves a combination of psychotherapy, special education, behavior modification, and support for families. Some children with Asperger’s Disorder will also benefit from medication.

Internet Addiction

Internet Addiction Test

Internet addiction

This internet addiction test was designed by Dr. Kimberly Young, author of Caught In The Net, one of the first books on internet addiction. She has graciously allowed us to reprint it here. For more information, visit her website,

How do you know if you’re already addicted or rapidly tumbling toward trouble? Everyone’s situation is different, and it’s not simply a matter of time spent online. Some people indicate they are addicted to only twenty hours of Internet use, while others who spent forty hours online insist it is not a problem to them. It’s more important to measure the damage your Internet use causes in your life. What conflicts have emerged in family, relationships, work, or school?

Let’s find out. Parts of the following guide are contained in my new book, Caught in the Net. This is a simple exercise to help you in two ways: (1) If you already know or strongly believe you are addicted to the Internet, this guide will assist you in identifying the areas in your life most impacted by your excessive Net use; and (2) If you’re not sure whether you’re addicted or not, this will help determine the answer and begin to assess the damage done. Remember when answering, only consider the time you spent online for non-academic or non-job related purposes.

Take the test

To assess your level of addiction, answer the following questions using this scale:

1 = Rarely.
2 = Occasionally.
3 = Frequently.
4 = Often.
5 = Always.

    1. How often do you find that you stay online longer than you intended?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    2. How often do you neglect household chores to spend more time online?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    3. How often do you prefer the excitement of the Internet to intimacy with your partner?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    4. How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    5. How often do others in your life complain to you about the amount of time you spend online?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    6. How often do your grades or school work suffer because of the amount of time you spend online?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    7. How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you need to do?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 =Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    8. How often does your job performance or productivity suffer because of the Internet?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    9. How often do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you what you do online?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    10. How often do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts of the Internet?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    11. How often do you find yourself anticipating when you will go online again?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    12. How often do you fear that life without the Internet would be boring, empty, and joyless?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    13. How often do you snap, yell, or act annoyed if someone bothers you while you are online?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    14. How often do you lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    15. How often do you feel preoccupied with the Internet when off-line, or fantasize about being online?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    16. How often do you find yourself saying “just a few more minutes” when online?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    17. How often do you try to cut down the amount of time you spend on-line and fail?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    18. How often do you try to hide how long you’ve been on-line?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    19. How often do you choose to spend more time on-line over going out with others?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply

    20. How often do you feel depressed, moody, or nervous when you are off-line, which goes away once you are back on-line?
    1 = Rarely
    2 = Occasionally
    3 = Frequently
    4 = Often
    5 = Always
    Does Not Apply


    After you’ve answered all the questions, add the numbers you selected for each response to obtain a final score. The higher your score, the greater your level of addiction and the problems your Internet usage causes. Here’s a general scale to help measure your score:

    20 – 49 points: You are an average online user. You may surf the Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage.

    50 -79 points: You are experiencing occasional or frequent problems because of the Internet. You should consider their full impact on your life.

    80 – 100 points: Your Internet usage is causing significant problems in your life. You should evaluate the impact of the Internet on your life and address the problems directly caused by your Internet usage.




Top Ten Tips for the First Year of Placement


By Deborah Gray, MSW, MPA

Parents passionately want to succeed in raising emotionally healthy children. They also want to enjoy their little ones. When their children arrive later in infancy or childhood, most parents are well-aware that they are doing more careful parenting. They are nurturing not only to build a relationship but to help mitigate any impact of losses or maltreatment.

What are reasonable things for parents to concentrate on during the first year home? How can parents do their best to enjoy their children? They do not want the pleasures of parenting their children dimmed by a chorus of cautions. On the other hand, they do want to make that first year a great start.

Here are my TOP TEN hits for a great start to your relationship with your baby or child.

  1. Spend ample time in nurturing activities

The most significant process of the first year home is creating a trusting relationship. Intentional and ample nurturing promotes this goal. Restrict your hours away from the little one.

Do not leave your child for overnight trips for this first year.

Meet your little one’s needs in an especially sensitive manner. Feed on demand.

Respond quickly to fussing. Allow the toddler or child to regress, bottle-feeding, rocking to sleep, lap sitting, and being carried. Let your child experience you as a safe person who is sensitively meeting her needs. Play little games that promote eye contact, like peekaboo, pony ride, and hide-and-seek. Make positive associations between yourself and food.

Rather than children becoming more dependent through this extra nurturing, they instead become trusting. Anxious people do not know who they can trust to help them.

More secure individuals understand that they do not have to be perfect and that they can rely on significant others. Children who do not learn to depend on others tend to be anxious or emotionally constricted. Their independence is a false one, meaning that they do not trust others and can only rely on themselves. The child who has learned a healthy dependence is more secure in trying new things and venturing out. She always has a safe, home base to come back to—you!

  1. Teach children to play with you

Many little ones have missed the joys of play. Act as an amplifier, teaching toddlers and children the pleasure of play. Most children have missed the experience of having parents express joy as they played. Because of this, their reward centers were not stimulated. This restricted the association of exploration and play with pleasure.

Set aside at least thirty minutes a day for play with your children. Younger children may want this in segments. Do not hesitate to use voice tones and expressions that are usually meant for infants and younger children.

If your child can already play, then continue to build your relationship through play.

Shared enjoyment cements relationships. Make your family one that develops a pattern of having fun. Throughout life having fun as a family builds self-esteem.

While some children take off in play, others cannot stay engaged for long. Continue to stretch the more tentative child, engaging her in mutually enjoyable activities.

Look for different sensory modalities that might feel safer or more interesting. For example, a boy who was afraid to play outdoors began to use sidewalk chalk with his mother, even though the grass seemed overwhelming. Gradually a ball was used on the sidewalk, and then onto the grass. Take things in steps if children are wary.

  1. Talk to your child

Parents of infants use exaggerated voice tones to emphasize important concepts. Their amplifier system helps children with attention to the most important parts of the whole environment. After children move into the preschool age, some of this cheerleader amplification diminishes. Continue to use this brighter emotional tone with your child as she understands your shared world—even if she is not an infant.

Explain things to him, even though you might think that the meaning of what you are doing is obvious. Not only are you conveying information to him, but you are also revealing your view of the world to him. Your voice tones guide him to better understand the context. Be sure to use your fingers and gestures to point out important things to him. This helps him to both attend to and understand the meaning of the context around him. Early language not only teaches us words, but a way of understanding our world through the subjects selected for attention and their associated intonations, expressions, and gestures.

Most of us have an internal dialogue going on during the day. (Yes, we are actually talking to ourselves.) Simply make some of this internal language external. This is a typical activity for parents of infants. However, it tends to diminish as children get older. Since children have missed this early activity, parents should feel free to describe things as they would to an infant.

  1. When toddlers or older children have behavior problems, use your body to stop them

Be gentle but be consistently and predictably competent in stopping negative behaviors.

Do not use over the shoulder commands or across the room reminders. Stay within arm’s reach of the child, moving their hands, bodies, feet, to where you want them to go.

Never tolerate hitting, kicking, or hurting. Some parents allow a child a painful exploration of the parents’ faces. This is teaching that will have to be undone later.

Gently move their bodies to where you want them to be. For example, if your little one is reaching for an item, move the child or the item. Use the voice for a backup. Do not remind or repeat several times. Instead, describe in a pleasant manner how precious or pretty the item appears to you—as you move your child. Teach boundaries of respect from the beginning.

Obviously, most parents will not be getting much done except parenting when their child is awake. Remind yourself that your primary job is parenting when your child is awake.

  1. Get enough sleep, good food, and exercise to stay in a good mood

Little ones who have been moved and/or neglected tend to be irritable, fussy, and hard to soothe. Parents use their own positive, well-regulated moods to help calm and engage these little ones. Your own emotional stability will help to steady your child’s moods. A depressed parent struggles to form a positive, secure attachment with her baby or child.

Depression makes the parent emotionally less available. The parent who is tired, eating junk food, and inert by day’s end does not give a child a competent source of emotional regulation. Parents who find that their moods are slipping, even with good self-care, should see about counseling and/or an antidepressant. It is simply too hard to do this essential, nurturing parenting while being depressed.

Model respect for yourself by taking time for showers, good meals, and sleep.

  1. Be part of an adoption support group

The relationships between families are invaluable. The relationships can be emotional lifelines on hard days. If possible, find a mentor who is positive, and who likes you and your child. Ask her to be part of your circle of support. We all need to feel understood and authentically accepted. A mentor who can provide that sense of nurture for the parent helps the parent to be a good nurturer. The mentor relationship provides a sense of being heard and accepted, and tips and information. Parents are working harder emotionally when parenting a baby or child who has lived through uneven parenting.

Parents need someone who cares for them. Sometimes this can be mutual support, and sometimes one-to-one.

  1. Keep a calm, but interesting home

Match the amount of stimulation in the home to the amount that is within the child’s ability to tolerate it. Many children have been massively understimulated before they came to their parents. Neglect massively under stimulates children. They do not build neurology to process as much sensory stimulation. After adoption, their worlds can suddenly be overwhelming. Things are too bright, too loud, move too much, and tilt too much.

Slow things down, buffering your baby or child to the extent that they can process the information coming their way. Often children who are overwhelmed by noise will begin shouting, or those overstimulated by too much movement will begin running with arms like windmills.

Layout predictable, consistent events for the day. Some children find the movement of the car to be disorienting. If your child is having difficulties, try a couple of days limiting the car, determining whether this makes a difference.

  1. Explain to children the basics of your relationships as they gain language

For example, say A mother’s job is to love you. I will always come back home to you when I leave in the car to go shopping. You will live with me until you are as big as I am. I will not let anybody hurt you. I will never hurt you. We will always have enough food.

One mother told me of her son’s relief and better behavior when she told him that she would never allow others to hurt him. Why didn’t I think to tell him the first year? She questioned. He was afraid every time we went to the mall. He has been thinking for two years that just anyone could haul off and hit him.

Another parent told me of the melting smile that her daughter gave her when she said that a mother’s job was to love her child.

I just assumed that she knew that. But she didn’t. She looked at my face much more after that.

  1. Do watch for signs of an exclusive attachment by the end of the first year

Children should be seeking out their parents for affection and play. They should be showing off for positive attention. They should prefer being with their parent. They should show some excitement about time together. When hurt or distressed, the child should seek out the parent. In a secure attachment, the child will calm with the parent and accept soothing.

Trauma and traumatic grief are the common culprits when children are remaining wary, fearful, and controlling of their parents. Signs of trauma with younger children include regular night terrors, dissociation (child shuts off emotionally and stares away), scratching, biting, extreme moods, freezing in place, and destructiveness. Parents who see these symptoms should be finding a mental health counselor to help their children. If the child is under the age of three, the parent is given special parenting advice. Usually, therapy with an experienced child therapist can begin not long after the age of three.

Do not have an artificial timeline fixed in a year, for the preschooler or older child. Consider the year marker as the time it takes to really get to know your child—not to iron out any behavioral irregularities.

  1. Enter your little one’s space carefully and positively

This often means getting low and looking up for eye contact. It means trying hard and trying patiently for a longer time. You are the one who has the responsibility of engaging your child positively. Do not use punitive techniques to try to build relationships. After all, no one wants to attach to a mean person. Instead, be strong, dependable, available, and kind. Veer away from advice that is strong, controlling, and mean in tone. Sensitive and kind parents gradually build empathy and security in their relationships with their children. That process takes time and the type of parenting that caused you to want to be a parent in the first place!

Maintain a sane schedule as you move into year two. Many parents decide that the first year is the marker until they can re-enter a normal schedule. Among family therapists, there is national concern about the taxing schedule that Americans are considering normal. Resist this widespread but unhealthy pace. Continue to parent with margins of time that allow for sensitivity, with margins of emotional energy that allow for appreciation of those around you. Model a healthy, emotionally fulfilling lifestyle for your child.

Promote Happiness

Seven Actions That Promote Happiness

The letter number 7









With the new year, many start their new year resolutions, what if you just focused on being happy. Here are a few actions that can help to promote your happiness.

Seven Actions That Promote Happiness

• Once a day, perform an act of kindness

• Once a day, write 3 things for which you feel grateful

• Continued work toward a valued goal
(keeping clear about what matters)

• Daily contact with nature and other living creatures

• Establish a daily practice

• Keep your environment cool

• Give money away

Source: Developing Positive Emotional Habits, John Preston, PsyD (2013)


Thoughts on Gratitude

Reflections of gratitude

With the holidays fast approaching, we get caught up in the buying and gifts and hustle and bustle that comes along with this time of year. Here are a few thoughts and reflections on gratitude to reflect upon during this season. Happy Holidays!

Quotes and Reflections by Chris Mathe, PhD

Our eyes are opened to that surprise character of the world around us the moment we wake up from taking things for granted.  For example, a rainbow always comes as a surprise.  Gratuitousness bursts in on us, the gratuitousness for all there is.  When this happens, our spontaneous response is a surprise.  It is also the beginning of gratefulness… Do we find it difficult to imagine that gratefulness could ever become our basic attitude toward life? In moments of surprise, we catch at least a glimpse of the joy to which gratefulness opens the door.  What counts on our path to fulfillment is that we remember the great truth that moments of surprise want to teach us:  everything is a gift.  The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness.  And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness.
~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

Gratitude focuses our attention on the good things in life. It takes our blessings and multiplies them. When we joyfully express appreciation, it opens our hearts and allows us to experience more love.
~ Daniel T. Peralta

Gratitude is our heart-filled thankfulness in action. It is a living expression of our connectedness with everything around us. All that happens in our lives can be viewed through the eyes of abundance and deepening wisdom. Continuously acknowledging our thanks with compassionate attention and mindful action is the essence of a fulfilled life.
~ Chris Mathe, PhD

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.
~ Melody Beattie

There is a calmness to a life lived in Gratitude, a quiet joy.
~ Ralph H. Blum

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.
~ David O. McKay 

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
~ William Arthur Ward


Keeping kids humble around the holidays


Keeping Kids Humble

Keeping kids humble around the holidays
By Melanie Ernould, Psy.D.

I have a friend who is raising a seven year-old girl through a divorce and the parents are immersed in a battle to see who can “outfun” the other. While the girl is lovely and sweet, I can’t help but wonder how much entitlement this is building in her. I am the parent of a three year-old girl and I always wanted to raise a person who cared about others more than her own pursuit of fun or entertainment. But I look around my house and see the sheer amount of toys she already owns because she has two doting parents in two separate households, and several sets of doting grandparents as well, and I feel a little nervous. My interactions with this friend and his daughter have me thinking about this topic a lot, particularly with the impending blast of commercialism headed our way in the next month.

Now, I believe in fun. I am incredibly nostalgic about the fun I had in my own childhood. One of my best and dearest childhood memories was when my mother took me to Disneyworld when I was four. I believed a princess lived in that castle, that I went on an actual jungle cruise, and parrots talked and sang to me. It was magic. So how do we raise children who appreciate these things, but also appreciate taking care of those less fortunate? And where is the line between just enough of these fun things to maintain appreciation, and too much?

I also had a friend who, for her son’s birthday, requested guests to his party bring a book to donate rather than gifts for the birthday boy. I think this is a wonderful idea for many reasons, but at the same time, I remember the pure joy and excitement I felt on those few days each year that I got to open a pile of presents just for me. I’m not sure I feel a child should be completely deprived of that experience either. How do we raise children who get to experience this joy, but also understand exactly how lucky they are to experience it? How do we raise little people who actually enjoy giving to others as much as they enjoy taking for themselves?

I’m not sure I can answer that definitively, but it’s a continuous dance to figure out the right balance for each individual child. Below are some suggestions of ways to help keep your child grounded in humility and empathy:

1) Don’t overdo it with gifts over the holidays. Sometimes when grandparents are involved, this is hard to avoid. Do your best. Carefully evaluate what your child actually needs. Consider more experience-based gifts, such as museum passes or a trip. Check out this Huffington Post blog entry about 18 non-toy gifts for children for additional ideas

2) Consider family activities that are less about manufactured entertainment type fun (think Disneyland) and focus on providing opportunities for your family to get their hands dirty and spend quality time really bonding, connecting with nature. For example, go on a hike together, bake or cook a meal together, do an art project. For an excellent resource on ideas that are arranged by season, check out Amanda Blake Soule’s The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder Through the Seasons (2011)

3) Simplify your life in general. There are many, many things in our households that we don’t need. We think we need them, but we don’t. Re-evaluate your priorities and whittle down your stuff a bit. Clean out your closets and drawers and have your children help you donate items to charity. Start having a conversation about giving to others, and about the unnecessary possession of stuff. In addition, when you do need something, consider finding it used. I recently read an interesting blog entry about a family that happily simplified their lives and you can read it here

4) Model giving behaviors and humility. Apologize often, take responsibility, and admit mistakes. As parents, we are our children’s first teachers. And the most effective lessons are through our own actions. Talk with your children about what you do for others such as volunteering and giving to charity. Additionally, when you express empathy to your children, they are more likely to grow up to be empathic individuals themselves. Research shows that parents who model empathic and caring behavior toward their children and others in front of their children are more likely to have children who demonstrate empathy and prosocial attitudes and behavior (Eisenberg-Berg, & Mussen, 1978; McDevitt, Lennon, & Kopriva, 1991; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, & King, 1979).

5) Participate in volunteering activities with your family, and make them fun! Experience is also an incredibly effective teacher. We tend to isolate ourselves in our bubbles, ignorant of the plight of others. And in our society, it is easy to do so. Instead of turning a blind eye, expose your children to opportunities to give to those who are less fortunate. According to Wilson (2000), volunteering is associated with positive life-satisfaction, self-esteem, health, educational and occupational achievement, functional ability, and mortality. In addition, youth who volunteer are less likely to engage in problem behaviors such as school truancy and drug abuse.
But to make the lesson of giving stick, it is important to do this all together as a family and in a way that can be fun for your children. For some great family volunteer opportunities, check out CBS Local’s list here

6) Finally, have frequent conversations with your children about empathy and giving to others. When a conflict arises, help your child to understand the position of the other person. In addition, read books together and ask them questions to get them thinking. Many books can be a starting point for a conversation involving perspective taking, but these books deal with the concept of empathy very specifically:

Hey, Little Ant. (Hoose, Hoose, and Tilley, 1998)
The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need (Berenstain & Berenstain, 1999).
Those Shoes (Boelts & Jones, 2009)
Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla (Applegate, 2014)
The Invisible Boy (Ludwig, 2013)
Charlotte’s Web (White, 2006)
Prairie Evers (Airgood, 2012)
Junonia (Henkes, 2011)
Mockingbird (Erkine, 2010)
Each Kindness (Woodson & Lewis, 2012)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 2004)

Eisenberg-Berg, N., and Mussen, P. (1978). Empathy and moral development in in adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 14(2), 185-186.

McDevitt, T. M.; Lennon, R.; and Kopriva, R. J. (1991). Adolescents’ perceptions of mothers’ and fathers’ prosocial actions and empathic responses. Youth and Society, 22(3), 387-409.

Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 215-240.

Zahn-Waxler, C.; Radke-Yarrow, M.; and King, R. A. (1979). Child rearing and children’s prosocial initiations toward victims of distress. Child Development, 50(2), 319-330.

Gratitude, Happiness, and Optimism

Gratitude, happiness, and OptimismWith Thanksgiving and the Holiday season quickly approaching. We wanted to touch on a few skills and thoughts that may be helpful in this season……

Gratitude, Happiness, and Optimism
Adapted with permission from the presentation-
Happiness: How Positive Psychology Changes Our Lives by Lynn Johnson, Ph.D.


Gratitude prayers are the best at producing happiness

  • Write down some people who have been kind to you. What did they do for you?
  • How do you feel when you review those memories?

Gratitude Experiment

  • Jot down 3 things, in the past 24 hours, that you feel good about and would like to see continue
  • Jot down one or two things you did that you feel were good, right, ethical, or noble, some things you approve of
  • Rate your feelings before/after 0-10

Gratitude for Challenges

  • Jot down something that upset you
  • Now try to brainstorm: How might this be a blessing in disguise? How could I turn it to my advantage? What could be good about this?
  • Rate your feelings now: 0-10

Gratitude Diary

  • Each day, write 3-5 things that you liked
    • What happened to me? Why did it happen?
    • What did I do right? Why did I do that
  • Then write one thing that you didn’t like
    • Ask yourself: “And how is it also good, a blessing in disguise?”
    • Find two or three ways it helps you

Random Kindness

  • One day per week, do five acts of kindness
  • Write about it in your diary

Future Diary

  • Describe your future state
    • The present tense “I am doing X, achieving Y….”
    • How did I do it? Break down into discrete steps
  • Write on this once per week
    • Six months to five years in the future, 10 years in the future

Future Diary- Miracle Question

  • How would things be if your problems were miraculously transformed into solutions?
    • So if the current negatives actually ended up as a benefit (solution) in the long-run
  • What would you do? What would others see you doing? How would others know the miracle had occurred, without you telling them?
  • Write on this once per week

Smile Assignment

  • Practice smiling more on random days
    • Magic coin flip technique
      • Flip a coin- heads you purposely smile extra that day and document in your diary, tails you smile normal and document in a diary
    • Recall happy times, and then smile
  • How does smiling more affect you?
    • Track experiences in your gratitude diary
    • How do I feel?
    • How do others respond to me?


  • Focus on the sensory impressions in a moment-to-moment fashion
    • Food
    • Activity (walking, running, sports)
    • Conversations
    • Friends
    • Recall & Nostalgia
    •    Notice anxiety
    • Do not attempt to change or stop it
    • Notice the feelings, thoughts, fears, changes in your body

Reducing Trauma

  • 15 minutes of “Mindful breathing” reduced reaction to stress and improved mood.
  • Even 5 minutes 2x’s per day has significant benefits.

“What went well” diary

  • Can I make it happen again?
    Diary of when you said thanks – what happened?



In these times resiliency has become a necessity. This blog touches on ways you can practice and improve your own resiliency.

In the June 1st edition of Time Magazine, there is an article on resilience – the quality of being able to rebound from setbacks. The newest research summarized confirms much of the way I approach healing and growth in my practice and in the workshops I facilitate. The article lists 10 things people can do to build more resilience in their lives.

Here they are with my own editorial comments:

Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.
I could quibble with the inflexibility this statement implies, but the message I take from this is: What is my WHY? How do I make meaning? How do I want to walk the world? Often, my clients begin therapy with only a hazy idea of the answers to these questions. Intently wrestling with these questions helps develop a solid ADULT voice inside our heads that can mediate and lead the discussions (arguments?) that occur frequently in all our brains.

Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.
Try to maintain a positive outlook.
Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.
Don’t run from things that scare you: face them.
Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.
The research is abundantly clear: successful, happy, and fulfilled people develop and use support systems: They are able to ask for help. This flies in the face of an American culture that idealizes independence and self-reliance. There is nothing wrong with these attributes – unless they keep us from asking for help when we could use it.
Learn new things as often as you can.
Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to.
I have blogged and podcasted several times with regard to The Big Four: those things we all have direct and personal control over that can vastly improve our physical and emotional health. Exercise is one of them.
Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.
I call the internal voice that does this The Critic. We all have this voice and it can be, for some, the dominant voice in our heads. It has a purpose: to protect us from the standpoint of who we were growing up. As such, this voice can have urgency and make meanings that are skewed or simply untrue. One tip for this tip is to develop the habit of thanking the critic for its input – not with sarcasm, but with sincerity, and then deciding what to do from your ADULT voice. Another important piece to this tip is mindfulness. The Time article points out that the newest focus of research and advice on health centers around mindfulness – being aware of my feelings and thoughts while also being aware of what is going on around me. When I dwell on the past, I am not in this moment. Mindfulness takes practice. I have blogged and podcasted several suggestions on how to exercise this skill.
Recognize what makes you uniquely strong – and own it.
This implies that it is important to develop the voice within us that sees what is right – what is positive and true about me and the world in this moment. I call this voice the Nurturer.
Like most lists of tips, these simply tell you what to do – not how to do them. Much of the help I provide my clients is getting clarity and removing the inner blocks that may prevent or inhibit choosing to do any or all of these things.
Credit: Time Magazine and Christopher Mathe, Ph.D.