Child & Family Therapy
I currently see children ages newborn through teens. No child is too young for therapy. I see children as young as preschoolers, toddlers, infants, or even expecting parents. While therapy looks much different for children than adults, play and relationships are the natural language of the child and family. The earlier a child can deal with intense experiences or behaviors/symptoms, the less impact there may be for future mental health, physical health, or developmental concerns. It has always been my belief that any child or family going through intense stress should seek out therapy. Therapy may come in several different forms and may only last a short while, as children are hardwired for positive relationships and for healing.
How do you know if therapy may be needed? If a child is separated from a main attachment figure, enters a foster care relationship, had a stressful event occur, or has been harmed or watched others harmed, there is most always some sort of reaction and time needed for processing and adjustment. If you are worried that behaviors such as crying, lethargy, night terrors, feeding issues, detachment, and/or clinginess have continued beyond a reasonable time frame, the child and family system is in distress and vulnerable to compounding stress and further symptoms. Older children may experience depression in the form of agitation and anger. While many things can be healed within the family system, often someone that is not family or friend is able to be more objective and help achieve healing more quickly. Sometimes I find that people do not reach out due to stigma or feeling ashamed. It is my personal goal to help reduce stigma associated with mental health efforts and help educate our community that seeking out early intervention is a strength of the care giving system and not something to ever be ‘ashamed’ of.
Overall, I work with children and families from a ‘child-centered’ perspective. This means that, especially in the first few sessions, I completely follow the lead of the child. This is based on a common play therapy belief that children know how to heal and they will show us all we need to know by their play and behaviors. This also creates a very trusting, safe space and relationship for further exploration of symptoms.
For infants and very young children I use elements of Theraplay (fun games and songs that help a child reaffirm safety, security, and love), as well as the ‘Circle of Security (COS)’ model. COS believes children go out to experience the world in widening circles (infants held close, then begin to crawl, walk, run) and they always return to the caregiver as their ‘secure base’. When stressors occur this natural circle is often upset and this may mean the child is more fussy, clingy, distant, or the caregiver is unable to sooth the child as easily). Therapy can help caregiver and child reestablish the safe, supportive, and natural ‘circle of security’. Taking cues from the child, the caregiver can attend to needs and feelings and as a result the healthy attachment relationship is strengthened and symptoms decrease.
For children three and older, there are many common goals for therapy. Finding ways to play and talk about stressful events in ways that are not re-traumatizing, educating parents on stress or trauma, learning calming and mindfulness techniques, helping parents to maintain healthy boundaries and family rules, healthy expression of all emotions, and increasing confidence in selves and relationships, are all common goals of child and family therapy. I utilize elements of ‘Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)’ where I guide the parent in a specific special child-centered play routine that can be practiced at home to help with behavior and relationships. I also employ ‘Sandplay’ where children and caregivers can build ‘worlds’ with miniatures in a sand tray and through symbol we can work on issues that arise in a way that is less intimidating. I also incorporate a lot of mindfulness (deep breathing and other playful fun exercises to promote self-control and feeling calm and safe), teach about feelings, and use many ‘art therapy’ techniques as well. Generally a child’s first reaction to entering my office is of amazement at all of the toys. Children almost ALWAYS want to come back to therapy each week, until their work is complete when they will show healthy signs of wanting to be outside or feeling like they are missing out on other activities. While not all therapy looks the same, there are generally phases of therapy that are typical for all children. If you would like an example of a 4 year old going through the stages of therapy, please read the blog article,
“Supporting young children going through difficult experiences” CLICK HERE
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues in the family, therapy may be helpful. Grandparents or aunts and uncles also play a big role in the upbringing of children in the family system and it is often these extended family members that research therapy for a child or adult they are concerned about. Please don’t hesitate to call or email from my ‘Contact” page, to set up a free phone consultation. I look forward to discussing whether child, family or group therapy may be a good fit.
I currently see adults individually and as couples. My office space is warm and inviting and I believe that trust is built firstmost through compassionate acceptance, empathy, and respect. Every person has their own individual story and through Narrative Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy I work with you to connect to patterns in thinking and being in the world that strengthens the core of who you truly are, as well as unravel the ones that no longer suit your growth. I use these modalities along with Mindfulness and Internal Family Systems work to help you anchor yourself in the present as we gently revisit past events and how they are felt in the body and emotions. I believe that being ‘in the moment’ and ‘present’ tells us so much about who you truly are.
Some sessions you may want to focus on what is currently happening in your life or we may ‘pendulum’ between your core grounded self and anxieties or worries about the past or future. I often check in during our work together if I notice you are sitting tightly or notice aloud when you look relaxed. Our body holds messages imbued from earlier experiences in life and my work with very young children and trauma helps me to gently bring you back to memories or traumatic experiences when you may have felt ruptures in attachment relationships or fear. This can be past abuse, neglect, intense events or other traumas. Many people come to therapy and say that difficult things happened in the past but they resolved it. While this may be true, as we develop on a continuum in life, some new stages may trigger these past experiences and it may not even be conscious. The goal of adult therapy work is often to help you have more happiness, joy, and positive relationships with others and the world around you.
The majority of adults that come to see me work on relationships. As a couple you may come in because you’re arguing or having intimacy struggles. I often start out with the couple describing their strengths and relationship/love story. We work on ‘active listening’ where one person may discuss an event that was upsetting while the other person just listens and repeats back what they’ve heard. Often the listener adds corrections of what ‘really happened’ in which I ask them to reserve for their turn to speak. While it sounds simple, truly listening to someone without thinking about what you want to say, or making judgements, is actually difficult. We don’t have to agree with one another and one person is not necessarily ‘right’. Instead this exercise allows for each person to feel heard and is the basis of healthy communication.
We may also make some relationship rules about saving intense issues for therapy, walking away when frustration is at a 7/10 or higher, or writing things down and giving time before discussing them. I pull from aspects of Non-Violent Communication by having individuals choose from a list of needs. Becoming more aware of what you need and deserve in life to be happy often brings those things to you more quickly. Some folks find that they cannot meet all of the needs of their partner. Sometimes the relationship may dissolve so that the individuals can move into more sustaining relationships. Other times people find that some of their ‘needs’ can be met by other people or in other ways and they may be expecting too much from one person. People also may find that they have an unhealthy relationship pattern of dependence, co-dependence, or are overly independent. I strive to help adults find ‘inter-dependence’ in which there is a flow of giving and receiving that is more harmonious. Relationships and to love and be loved are keys to happiness and they take hard work to maintain and strengthen. Having a professional outside of your family system may help you achieve growth that well meaning family and friends are just too close to help you achieve.
I currently see adults (individually and in groups) and children that identify as having gender-related dynamics in their lives. ‘Gender’ is the internal feeling and experience of being male or female or even something in-between or on a spectrum. While our society loves to place things neatly in black and white categories, or wants us to conform to typical ‘norms’, life and our experiences of ourselves and others are not that simple. Gender is no longer looked at as ‘binary’, or only one or the other. Gender is different than ‘sexuality’ and often people mistake them for one another. Sexuality is who you’re attracted to or want to have sexual or romantic intimacy with. While sexuality begins around puberty or a bit before, gender is developmentally experienced, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, by age four. I’ll say that again. A child may be born with male body parts yet feel more female, or vise versa, and this internal feeling solidifies by the age of four.
In my experiences, children (and adults) that are gender-nonconforming have some folks who fully support their felt/internal gender, even if it differs from their sex organs, and then they have others in their lives who are not as ‘accepting’. I believe that the non-accepting person is doing so less out of judgement per say, and more out of an urge to protect the child. Growing up is hard enough for youth and to have certain things that may make them a target for abuse or harassment is very serious and scary. Despite this desire to protect, the research shows some very firm data on what acceptance vs. rejection does for children as they mature to adults. According to the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University (this is fairly obvious), children growing up that do not conform to their birth gender but are supported heavily, have way fewer experiences of mental health challenges, suicide, substance abuse, etc. than those with more non-accepting experiences. ‘Accepting’ does not mean ‘agreeing’ or even ‘understanding fully’. What it does mean is that we meet children, teens, and adults for that matter, where they are. We do our research. We allow for space to question, talk, change, and grow. What we don’t want is for anyone to shut down, internalize, become depressed or look to substances or self-harm due to an internal struggle or external social denial or harassment.
If you are questioning your gender identity or that of a child’s, or you identify with a non-conforming gender identity, I feel experienced and capable of providing a safe therapeutic relationship to explore these things. I am able to assess and write up a ‘Gender Dysphoria’ diagnosis for those that meet criteria and need this for insurance purposes. I also co-lead a group for adults and allies called “Trans~Align”. Please email TransAlignGroup@gmail.com or click on “Adult Groups” or ‘Contact’ links to set up a free phone consultation. I look forward to discussing whether adult, child, or group therapy may be a good fit.
Compassionate Mindfulness for Adults
The word ‘Mindfulness’ can be off putting: something overly simplistic or a buzzword. You may feel it’s just not useful for our busy lives, that it conjures up an image of someone sitting on a mountain top meditating, or an Eastern religious concept. Especially in our modern world, mindfulness is more just a way to be present with what is, in each moment. So mindfulness asks that we are present with sadness, happiness, frustration, worry, or or any feeling or thought we may be having. We learn to experience things as they are with acceptance, even if we don’t agree with or like the feeling or situation. Acceptance is not the same as condoning or agreeing with. Society often teaches us to push away discomfort: take another drink/pill, work harder, plan for the future, don’t think about it, eat, buy things, zone out on media.
So what this means for the therapeutic experience is that mindfulness allows therapy to work at it’s best. Like an onion, as you go deeper into the core of the centered-self and also into the core of traumatic or stressful experiences, you must be able to feel grounded and safe. I often encourage adults entering therapy to find a guided relaxation audio they like and/or to begin practicing very simple ‘stop-light mindfulness’. A stoplight is a symbolic cue reminding us we can take a moment here or there to ‘just be’. In the car while waiting for a light to change, for a few moments before bed, or while doing mundane things like the dishes. Instead of worrying about the past or future, making a to-do list in your head, you stop (red light), take a few deep breaths and observe curiously without judgement (yellow light), and then proceed (green light). It sounds simple enough but the more you practice it the more you bring a calm centeredness to your day and this leads to being more in touch with what is going on inside and outside of yourself/inside and outside of therapy.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out by phone or email under the ‘Contact’ link to set up a free phone consultation. I look forward to discussing whether mindfulness-based therapy may be a good fit for you.