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Right after graduate school, I experienced some significant life changes that left me feeling deeply sad and lonely. I turned to family and friends for support, but they weren’t always willing or able to give me the support I needed. One wise friend suggested I talk to a therapist and seek the help of a professional. I scoffed at the idea. See a therapist? No way. I AM a therapist! I’m an expert on this stuff. Why on earth would I ever work with one?

 

I was clearly in denial about the severity of my own symptoms and obviously too proud to seek help, but as things grew worse for me emotionally, I started questioning what it was about working with a therapist that freaked me out so much. More importantly, I tried to figure out how the hell to get over my reluctance so I could get the help I needed and reclaim control over my life. 

 

Because of my own experience, I discovered 5 reasons why I was totally freaked out about working with a therapist, and have found many other people feel this same way about therapy. 

 

  1. WE DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what the therapeutic experience is all about. The stereotypical image of laying on a couch with a weird dude sitting behind you asking questions about your messed up childhood just isn’t reality. A therapist’s ultimate goal isn’t to analyze you, label you, or judge you….it’s to help you think, feel, and behave better. 

In reality, the therapeutic experience is very casual and relaxed. I should know, because I’ve sat in the role of both client and therapist. There’s no agenda for each therapy session. It’s up to you to decide what you want to talk about and what you need help with. Your therapist is there to actively listen, help you reflect and process your thoughts and feelings, and help you create goals to work toward that will help you feel better and live a more satisfying life. 

 

 

2. WE THINK THERAPY IS ONLY FOR THE MENTALLY ILL.

When I went to therapy, I didn’t have a mental health diagnosis. I wasn’t mentally ill and I wasn’t crazy. I was sad, hurt, lonely, and worried….just like everyone else is from time to time. Many of the clients I work with now don’t have diagnoses either. Therapy is designed to help you cope with life stress, parent better, have improved relationships, practice good self care, enhance self esteem and self awareness, and manage moods more effectively. So really, therapy is for EVERYONE, because life is hard, everyone struggles, and everyone wants to become their best self. 

 

3. WE DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW A THERAPIST IS DIFFERENT THAN A FRIEND.

Friends are great and are often very helpful at providing support in times of need. As such, we falsely believe that our friends can take the place of a therapist. But it really doesn’t work that way. Here’s why: the therapeutic relationship is the ONLY relationship you’ll ever have that is NOT reciprocal. In all your other relationships, there’s an expectation of give and take;“I’ll listen to you if you listen to me”. But in therapy, it’s all about you and ONLY YOU. You don’t have to listen to your therapist complain about their problems or return the favor of offering advice. The therapeutic sessions are devoted to focusing on you, your life, your desires, your worries, and whatever else you want to focus on. This, in itself, is a wonderful gift to give yourself. 

 

 

4. WE THINK SEEKING HELP MEANS WE’RE WEAK.

I didn’t seek the help of a therapist out of weakness. I sought it out of courage, because while I was scared about what it would really be like, I knew I couldn’t fix what was broken on my own. Weakness wasn’t the reason why I couldn’t fix it myself either. I struggled because I was facing challenges in life I’d never faced before, and my old coping mechanisms didn’t work in my current situation. I had to learn different ways of managing the stress I was under, and I knew that a therapist was the only person who could teach me. 

One of the bravest things you can do is admit you’re struggling, accept you can’t resolve the problems on your own, and reach out for help. The hardest part of the entire process is taking the first step by seeking out a therapist, scheduling the appointment, and going for the first time. But once you get through that, you’ll never look back, and you’ll be so grateful you did it. Trust me; that’s exactly how I felt after seeking help and most of my clients would say the same. 

 

 

5. WE WORRY ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE WILL THINK OF US. 

When it comes to mental health, a stigma still exists. It’s sad but true that people worry more about what others might think of them getting help than they worry about how to make things better for themselves. My mission in life is to change this, because I know how valuable and helpful therapy can be and there is absolutely no reason why anyone should feel like shit on a regular basis. 

First of all, remember that no one needs to know you’re working with a therapist. Everything you discuss with your therapist is confidential and he/she can’t even disclose that your a client. Secondly, know that depression and anxiety affects 80% of the U.S. population and a large number of those people work with therapists to alleviate symptoms and develop better coping skills. It might feel like you’re the only one struggling or the only one going to a therapist, but you’re not. Lastly, if anyone judges you for going to therapy, it doesn’t label you in any way; it labels them as someone who judges others…and who wants to be known as a judgmental jerk?!

 

I can tell you from personal experience that working with a therapist was one of the best decisions of my life. It helped me become who I am today. It helped me learn how to have healthy relationships, which has led to being in a blissfully happy marriage. It’s helped me understand my own needs, which is why I make sure I get adequate alone time and regular exercise, because without it, I’m a grouchy beast. It helped me develop confidence in myself, my decision making, and taught me how to be alone and still be happy. Above all, working with a therapist and experiencing it as a client helped me to become a better therapist to the clients I serve. 

 

I understand how intimidating it can be to seek the help of a therapist, but I can assure you, it’s not as bad as you think it will be. If you’re in need of help, research therapists in your area and go interview a few of them. Shop around until you find the right person to work with. Goodness of fit between you and your therapist is really what determines success in therapy, so make sure you like being in your therapist’s company, you feel like they can relate to you, and they have expertise addressing the concerns you want to work on. Many therapists, including myself, offer a free initial session so you can test it out before you commit to moving forward with it. To check out counseling services at Willow Tree, click here. To look for a therapist in your local area, check out websites like PsychologyToday.com or goodtherapy.org

 

There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by working with a therapist. It’s ok to be a little freaked out, but don’t let that stop you from taking advantage of an opportunity to redesign your life and reach your full potential. You’ll be so glad you did. 

 

Know someone who could really benefit from some help? Share this post along with some words of encouragement to take action and contact a therapist. 

 

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Nicole C. Iacovoni earned her Master's degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Denver. Through her vast experience working in the mental health field and her own personal self growth work, Nicole has developed valuable skills and tools for enhanced self awareness, self care, and improved relationships. Her passion and life's work is to help women overcome life's many challenges, become the best version of themselves, and live the lives they envision. She curently serves as the Founder and Clinical Director at Willow Tree Wellness & Counseling in Bloomsburg, PA. 

 

 

Pizza, chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers, pasta with butter, and the beloved MAC AND CHEESE.  These are what you will find on most restaurant’s kids menus, usually accompanied by fries or chips.  Have we lost faith that our kids will eat anything but these foods?  Yes, I do believe we have.

 

According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.  That is an astonishing statistic!  It’s no secret that our country is struggling with our weight, but as much as we focus on obesity, there is also another issue at hand: malnutrition.  So many children today are walking around with excess weight and dark circles under their eyes.  These kids are literally STARVING for nutrients.  

 

The problem with the “food products” listed above is that a child can't get all the nutrients they need from them.  That, and the fact that most of them are white starches, a.k.a. SUGAR.  When our bodies are nutrient deprived we become out of balance and when our bodies are out of balance, they will send us a signal in the form of a craving.  If you are malnourished (and not all malnourished people are thin) your body will send a hunger signal.  What the body is trying to say is this:  keep eating because I need nutrients, not necessarily calories.  If we continue to serve our children the calories, but not the nutrients, they will never feel full and we know what too many calories leads too:  too much weight.  

 

The solution is fairly simple, but there's always reasons for why we do what we do.  There's a reason these items are the only options on the kids menu.  Kids are just developing their taste for food so they tend to be picky.  And they tend to whine.  This is a very effective strategy because I see parents every day (and I include myself some days) who have given in and truly believe their child “won’t eat meals.”  When I observe these kids who “won’t eat meals,” most of them are given a constant supply of sugary snacks throughout the day.  Their parents worry they will waste away to nothing if they don’t give them all these snacks.  I'm not against snacks at all, but if a child knows they have an endless supply, they're less likely to try new foods or eat at mealtimes. 

 

So here’s a start to the solution.  Before even addressing actual food, alter your mindset a bit to prepare for the inevitable.  You will no doubt get some resistance, especially if your kid is going from eating mac and cheese for every meal to introducing vegetables.  Set some reasonable expectations and go slowly.  It takes a couple tries for children to develop a true like or dislike for the food.  

 

Tip #1:  Put some limitations on the snacks. 

They won’t starve.  You may have to sit with your own discomfort about worrying they won’t be getting enough, but they'll never try new things unless that’s the only option.  They won’t like this, but kids actually feel safer with rules and limitations.  They just won’t tell you (or admit to) this.  Don’t let them fill up on juice.  In fact, get rid of any sugary juice boxes and opt for the naturally flavored water pouches like Honest Kids and limit to one per day.  They can choose when they want to have it, but only water or white milk after that.  Even milk should be limited because they may try to fill up on that instead of food.  

 

Tip #2:  Ignore the behaviors and comments. 

Don’t respond to the whining.  This will be the hardest part for parents because if you’re like me, you will do anything to stop the whining.  Fight the urge, parents.  Don’t cook them another meal and don’t give them dessert or snacks if they don’t eat their dinner.  They will eventually eat what’s available when they get hungry enough.  The less attention you give to their resistance the better.  Where attention goes, power goes.  When you make a big deal over their behavior, positive or negative, they are achieving their goal.  Remember, don’t let them push your buttons.  The more they have access to your buttons, the closer they come to getting their way.  

 

Tip #3:  Give options. 

Just make them all healthy ones.  Since I discovered that kids are of the same species, they don’t like to be bossed around just like we don’t like to be bossed around.  We know (or we should be aware of) how bad food can affect our health.  Kids just know how things taste until we teach them about food and how it can make us feel much better and give us enough energy to do the things we want to do.  Once they get the taste of sugar or mac and cheese, it’s very hard to persuade them to eat broccoli.  Why?  Sugar activates the reward system in our brains.  Broccoli does not.  However, broccoli will make our bodies feel much better than sugar does and kids want to feel good as much as we do.  Guide them instead of trying to control them.  When they feel like they have the freedom to choose what they want, they can feel good about “doing it by themselves.”  Even if the choice is green beans or carrots.  Just don’t give the choice of broccoli or fries.  You know how that would end!

 

I never wanted to be that mom.  You know, that mom, that would never allow a non-organic food to enter her child’s mouth and insists they be vegan, gluten-free, dairy free, etc.  I wanted my child to be able to explore different foods and learn from experience what works and what doesn’t work for her.  I’m also not the only one who feeds my child and not everyone who feeds her makes the same choices I would.  It’s hard to release control.  I still struggle with this, but have come to realize that I need to trust my child’s decisions and let them happen, even if I don’t agree with them.  

 

One of the best things you can do to foster making good choices is to teach kids how to listen to their bodies and become aware of what they are eating.  Teach them the names of fruits and vegetables.  Cook with them even if they make a mess.  Show them how to connect with their body through simple meditation, yoga for kids, outdoor activities, and talking about how things like food and exercise make them feel.  If you have a “bad food day,” instead of beating yourself up about it, learn from it.  Tell your child how you feel and ask how they feel differently when they don’t fuel their body in a healthy way.  

 

As with any change, expect some wins and some losses.  Just don’t give up or give in.  Let the small successes carry you to the next one.  Just when I feel like maybe I’m not “doing enough,” my daughter will make a comment like these:

 

* “Mom, I’m playing kitchen and I’m the waitress.  We have a large kale salad today with iced coffee.  The iced coffee doesn’t have any chemicals.”

 

* “I choose oatmeal for breakfast, but only if it has chia seeds in it.” 

 

* “Mom, I didn’t have any CRAP today!”

 

It’s the small things.  Take it day by day parents and be comforted in the fact that we  all struggle with our own parental guilt and choices.   We are also all doing the best we can with what we have.  Keep up the great work!

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Shawn Clavelle earned her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Vermont. She earned her certification in Holistic Health Coaching from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and is also a Certified Yoga Instructor at Willow Tree Wellness & Counseling. Shawn’s vast clinical experience and knowledge of the healthcare system makes her proficient at helping others design their own treatment plan through structured goal setting and continuous evaluation of progress. Using a holistic approach with a focus on nutrition and fitness, she helps uncover the obstacles to good health and provides simple options for making better lifestyle choices.  

 

 

PARENTHOOD: The world’s toughest job. Whether your kids are infants, toddlers, teenagers, adults, or furry babies, you can expect the job requirements to include:

  1. LOTS of sleepless nights (due to feeding, diapering and other feces matters, illness, and fear-both theirs and yours!)

  2. LOTS of worry (about their safety, their whereabouts, their decisions, what trouble they might be getting into, and their relationships with others)

  3. LOTS of boundary setting (“no, you can’t take your sister’s toys away from her”, “no, you can’t speak to me like that”, “no, you can’t run around the yard without your lease on”, “oh hell no, you are NOT sleeping over at your boyfriend’s house!”)

  4. LOTS of tears (from fear, joy, pride, anger, sadness, guilt, regret, and excitement for and about our kids)

 

The job of parenthood is a non-benefited position with 24/7 on-call responsibilities. There are no paid holidays. In fact, there’s no paycheck at all. You just put in your time, fulfill your parental duties, and hope that today will be a good day in which your child doesn’t scream at you, slam a door in your face, or tell you their moving back home. You may or may not be compensated in the form of snuggles, giggles, an occasional “thanks Mom”, or the ever so rare word of praise from your kid. Puppy licks and purring may also be included in your compensation package. 

 

When we look at parenthood from this angle, it kinda seems like a raw deal. Sometimes it feels like a constricting, exhausting, endless battle. We’ve all had those days when it seems like are kids are on a mission to wreak havoc on our lives. We’ve all had moments where we’re covered in puke, dinner is burning, children are running around the house screaming, the laundry basket is overflowing, and we haven’t showered in four days. I believe those days are the equivalent to Rushing in a sorority….it’s a right of passage. 

 

So if parenting sucks so much, why do we do it? Why do we choose to have kids or adopt pets? Some might answer these questions by saying, “to continue the human life cycle” or “to have people to care for us when we’re elderly”. Some might choose to have kids out of curiosity to know what the combination of themselves and their spouse is like. Some might choose to have kids because they feel it’s expected of them or because their lives feel boring without them. Some might choose to have kids because they truly love being around little people/creatures and kids bring them happiness. All-in-all, we choose to raise our kids because of the joy it will bring to our lives….and theirs. 

 

Joy? Watching my daughter throw herself on the floor at the grocery store and fake a seizure in revolt of not getting a new toy seems far from joy! The many challenges of parenthood that we face on an everyday basis can often mask the moments of joy our children bring to our lives. We have to look for those precious, priceless slivers of joy.

 

I’ve had to work hard to teach myself how to do this. I truly enjoy sharing in my children’s company now, but it wasn’t always like that. I did NOT enjoy the “baby phase” at all. I didn’t enjoy constantly packing a baby around (along with 10 tons of equipment, bags, and other baby gear). I didn’t enjoy planning my entire life around feeding and nap times. I absolutely hated not being able to sleep through the night. It was a real challenge for me to see the little benefits and rewards to motherhood that would help me forge on and keep doing what my children needed me to do for them.  

 

I had to practice patience….and I do mean “practice” because patience isn’t something that comes naturally to me. Most of all, I had to practice mindfulness every single day. I had to shift my standard of living and change the expectations I held for myself, my husband, and even my kids. In my mind, I had always envisioned this perfect life with a clean, organized house, a happy, helpful husband, and sweet sleeping babies snuggled close. The reality of my life looked far different from that vision and I had two options: accept how things were and be joyful or reject my reality, cling to that lofty ideal, and feel miserable. This is a choice we all have to make at some point in our lives.

 

Now, I make it a daily habit to look for the joy in my children and furry baby, in my role as a mother, and in this life that we all are moving through at the speed of light. I slow down more now and give myself permission to prioritize tickle parties and pillow fights with my girls over folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher (and this is hard for me because I just want to get all that crap done and then relax). I make it a point to take a break from teaching letters and numbers and teach them how different flowers smell or what fishing worms feel like when they squiggle in your hand. I sit and watch my dog, just observing her ears perk up, her facial expressions change, or the way her tail immediately starts to wag when I start talking to her in a high pitched voice. This, to me, is joyfully living with kids. 

 

When was the last time you smelled your kid’s hair? How long has it been since you gazed at your cats eyes? How often do you make a surprise dinner for your grown children? With a joyful heart, an eye out for the little things, and an appreciation for the uniqueness that lives in our kids, we can experience the fullness and the wonderfulness of parenthood despite the trials, tests, and challenges it brings. 

 

Our real rewards come in the form of our children teaching us important life lessons, in the experience of raising them rather than in the outcome we’re trying to achieve, and in the discovery of witnessing who these amazing little beings will become. If we’re really being honest, I think we have children not to give them life, but to give life to ourselves. Parenthood truly is a great adventure….especially when you look for the joy in it. 

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Nicole C. Iacovoni earned her Master's degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Denver. Through her vast experience working in the mental health field and her own personal self growth work, Nicole has developed valuable skills and tools for enhanced self awareness, self care, and improved relationships. Her passion and life's work is to help women overcome life's many challenges, become the best version of themselves, and live the lives they envision. She curently serves as the Founder and Clinical Director at Willow Tree Wellness & Counseling in Bloomsburg, PA. 

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