Counseling: It Has Benefits

Counseling: It Has Benefits

Originally published on

Many people wonder if counseling is for them. The fact of the matter is that it’s not for any one set of people in particular. Tracy Riley LCSW shares several reasons why therapy is beneficial for all. I’m personally involved with child and adolescent therapy, family counseling, and adult therapy, so we’ll stick to that in this post. But Tracey writes about the merits of anger management and phone counseling, which is certainly worth reading about.

The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts

Child and Adolescent Therapy: It’s not easy being a kid. External pressures from parents, school, and peers can contribute to anxiety. Many young children may feel a certain way and have honestly no idea why. It makes sense, especially when you consider that they are still getting to know their minds and bodies. Other times, they may feel shut-out of the conversation, and dismissed by adults and authority figures. But kids, and especially teens, have their own opinions. And while they may not always be super-refined, at the end of the day they are learning  how to interpret the world around them, and so it is important not to ignore their input.

By attending therapy sessions, children and teens can learn to articulate these complex feelings, resolve problems, and practice healthy coping techniques. At the end of the day, a child needs to be able to believe in themselves. Life can be difficult, and it is hugely important to learn that they needn’t go it alone.

Family and Marriage Counseling: Every couple and family will have its problems. The game-changer, though, is how well those problems can be dealt with. Trying to power through them without giving appropriate thought to the source of the issues will often exacerbate them. However, with the proper setting, many problems can be adequately addressed and resolved. There are a variety of family counseling techniques that you can learn about on my family counseling blog.



Therapy in Color

An increasing number of adults are handling stress by engaging with art. Specifically, art in the form of coloring books. But while some may consider this to be a temporary fad, the psychology behind it is much deeper. Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Jordan Gaines Lewisexplains the appeal of coloring books to adults, and why they work, in a piece for New York Magazine’s The Science of Us blog.

Creative engagement is a major stress-reliever for many people. If you are artistically inclined, whether it be in the visual arts, music, or literature, you already know this. However, just because one lacks artistic training doesn’t mean that this great feeling can’t be experienced. So many adults are spending time with an open coloring books because it allows us to exercise our creative muscle, as long as we can hold a coloring pencil. Lewis cites psychologist Barry Kaufman, who says that the act of completing something is rewarding and satisfying.

Studies also show that there are health benefits to incorporating some degree of creativity into your lifestyle. Those that engage creatively, one Yale Researcher finds, may be able to distract themselves from chronic pain. Colorers were also released earlier from hospitals, as their creative activities took their mind off of the immediately stressful surroundings.

For those who argue that coloring isn’t worth it because it isn’t a productive activity, Lewis points a study that reveals some of the benefits of the intrinsic value of engaging with our artistic side.Lewis also suggests that coloring books work wonders for adults’ mental health because of the relatively minor decisions involved. When we’re tasked with making major decisions at work and in our relationships, we can begin to suffer from decision-fatigue, which can wear on our decision-making abilities. When coloring, the simple decision of which color goes where is a welcome change. It’s like giving your mind a walk!

Whether or not coloring books fade out is one thing. But for now, they’re here to stay. Maybe a drawing and a set of pencils is just what one of your clients may need for the time being.

Part One: Why You Should Raise Securely Attached Children

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It wasn’t until the combined efforts of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth that the world discovered the instinctual, evolutionary, and marginally distinctive behaviors exhibiting the need for healthy attachment between children and their parental figures to survive and thrive in adult relationships.

A Brief History Of Attachment Theory

According to R. Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois, John Bowlby was, “a British psychoanalyst who [attempted] to understand the intense distress experienced by infants who [are] separated from their parents.” He postulated in the 1900s that this distress response children exhibit when separated from their parental figure was not a weakness in their undeveloped, emotional abilities but, rather, an instinctual response that aided them in surviving from an evolutionary standpoint.

Mary Ainsworth, an assistant to Bowlby, developed a remarkable experiment that took Bowlby’s attachment behavioral system theory to the next level. This experiment, called the strange situation, was used to examine the variable behaviors of numerous children who became physically separated from their primary caregiver. Her conclusion was, in short, that there are, at minimum, three different attachment styles children use to attach to their caregivers and that these behaviors are learned within their first twelve months of life.

She labeled these attachment styles secure, anxious-resistant, and avoidant.

  • Securely attached children exhibit healthy emotional behaviors.
  • Anxious-resistant attached children are hard to console when a caregiver returns to their presence and they even try to penalize their caregiver.
  • Avoidant children almost completely ignore their parent and shut down on them for causing them distress by leaving their presence.

Attached is a basic overview of how these attachment styles work for reference:


How Do Children Develop Attachment Styles?

Using That First Year Wisely

The first year of a child’s life is crucial in developing this attachment style in children. To a parental figure, this can be incredibly frightening to think that their responses to their children in their first year of life will determine the way in which these children will attach to others, and particularly to romantic interests, throughout their entire lives.

Inconsistent Scientific Findings

Before we jump off the deep end, it is important to recognize that scientists who study children as they age and monitor their attachment styles from birth to their current age have vastly different opinions on the duration and endurance of these attachment styles as they age. Some postulate that these attachment styles fade away and are replaced as they form new relationships with various individuals. Others suspect that these attachment styles impact how these people will attach to others for the duration of their lives.

To Cover Your Bases, Secure Attachments Are The Way To Go

Whether these attachment styles are carried over from childhood to the rest of their lives or not, what this boils down to is that is important to raise children who have secure attachment styles. If they don’t carry over their attachment style from childhood, they will have a more difficult time transitioning to a secure attachment style as they grow and make new connections. The children that do, however, will have a much easier time attaching to others in a safe and confident manner for all time to come.

Either way, raising a child to have a secure attachment style is a win-win situation.

Children Learn By Interacting With Caregivers. Children develop attachment styles based on how their caregivers respond to their needs and desires. If parents are consistently attentive and provide for their child’s needs, the child tends to develop a secure attachment style. If the parents are inconsistently attentive, the child tends to develop an anxious-resistant or avoidant attachment style.

Children Learn By Observing Caregivers With Others. It is also important to note that children tend to develop their attachment styles based on how their caregivers react to others. If a parent, for example, shuts down on someone trying to confront them to re-establish an intimate relationship of any kind, the child will pick up on this and be more likely to develop an avoidant attachment style.

Next month, look for Part Two of this blog series where I go into more detail about how you can raise securely attached children.

from Catharine Toso, Psychotherapist (Newtown, PA)

The Best Time Of Day For Psychotherapy

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If you’re planning a therapy session, make sure that you pick the right time to go. Research has shown that, when it comes to mental health, not all appointment times are equal.

Here are some tips on finding an appointment time that works for you.

Think about your schedule.

Obviously your schedule will limit when you can make it to the therapist. If you have a 9-5 job, you will have to decide between an appointment early in the morning or late in the evening. If you have other commitments, like visiting the gym in the morning, it may be more complicated to fit therapy into a busy schedule. However, it’s important that you prioritize your psychotherapy appointments. Work may not allow your schedule to be very flexible, but it may mean rearranging your schedule so that you find other time for your regular commitments.

Think about your energy levels.

To get the most out of your therapy session, you want to be alert for it. If you are unable to focus in the mornings, a morning session may not be the best thing for you – even though science is in favor of morning sessions for certain types of therapy. And on the other hand, if you leave work every day feeling drained, then attending therapy after work might not be in your best interest. But this is something you can test with your therapist in order to find a time of day that works the best for you.

Think about how you feel afterwards.

How do you feel after therapy? Do you feel that you think more clearly? Do you feel energetic and ready to face the rest of the day? Then a morning session might be great for you. However, some people leave therapy feeling drained and emotionally raw. This is partially dependant on the person and partially dependant on what the therapy is for, and not at all a sign that the therapy is not effective. But if you typically feel emotionally exhausted after every session, you may want to schedule it later in the day so that you can go straight home to recover rather than needing to immediately engage in other responsibilities.

What are you going to therapy for?

If you are receiving exposure therapy, which helps people with phobias learn to control their panic responses, it has been more rewarding for these individuals when they attend a session in the morning. Research has shown that the stress hormone cortisol is in higher concentration in the morning. This hormone also seems to be useful in unlearning conditioned responses, meaning that those who participated in exposure therapy in the morning made significantly quicker progress than those who underwent the same therapy in the afternoon.

from Catharine Toso, Psychotherapist (Newtown, PA)

Implement This 3 Step Action Plan If You Think Your Child Has Anxiety

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Can your child suffer from anxiety? To many, anxiety is perceived as something that develops over time as the stressors of life begin to build up, not something that occurs in children who are so young. But it is estimated that around 17.1 million children currently have or have had a psychiatric disorder, which is greater than the number of children who have been diagnosed with cancer. If this statistic shows us anything, it’s that the problem of anxiety is not small by any means.

Children who suffer from an any type of anxiety are not exaggerating how they are feeling. The symptoms associated with anxiety in a child can be quite vast, complicated, and have varying levels of severity; the important thing to remember is that you are on your child’s team, and they need to know that you are there to help them push past the anxious thoughts and feelings.

There is an ever-growing need for parents to learn how to identify the signs of anxiety in their child so that they can determine what needs to be done to help them, rather than allowing the symptoms to go untreated.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Know that you’re not a bad parent.

When a child suffers from anxiety, parents can be tempted to feel insufficient in their care for their child. They may feel frustrated that they can’t fix everything for their child. They may become upset, depressed, or frustrated and their hope in their parenting skills may diminish over time. You are not bad at parenting because your child has anxiety.

2. Understand the common symptoms associated with child anxiety.

The one common thread between most children with anxiety is this: verbal expression of their anxiety happens in little to no cases. Children who have anxiety don’t often know how to express themselves. It may come out in tears, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, fits of rage, depressive symptoms, or social issues. The child may not be able to focus in school or remember assignments, have low self-esteem, or eat an increased or decreased amount of food than normal. The child may exclude themselves from active and exciting social activities and may be just as frustrated as you feel about this anxiety.

3. Seek help for your child.

Here are four active things you can do to support and care for your anxious child:

Schedule an appointment with a professional. Visit my website to schedule an appointment at my private practice! The first steps are seeing whether or not your child suffers from an anxiety disorder and, if so, what steps need to be taken in order to care for the child.

Take the screening. If you are concerned your child may have anxiety, take this brief 15-question screening that has been made available from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Explore your resources. Anxiety, to the surprise of many, is common in children and adolescents. There are plenty of resources available to you so that you can learn more about the different types of anxiety, as well as what you can do to help.

Offer positive reinforcement. Children who are praised for their good behavior and encouraged to keep pressing on when things are tough are much more likely to overcome and cope with their anxiety.

There are millions of people who struggle with anxiety in the United States. You are not alone, nor is your child. For more help, schedule an appointment today and begin the process of seeking professional help for your child.

from Catharine Toso, Psychotherapist (Newtown, PA)

A Parent’s Guide to Raising a More Confident Child

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Most of the time, a child’s confidence stems from learned behaviors of the adults around them. As a parent, the ability to raise a child beaming with poise can become challenging. Along with setting a good example as a parent, here are some tips to help any child feel better in their own skin.

Encouragement, Not Criticism

Whether they win or lose their soccer game, children should always be appreciated for their efforts. Discouraging a defeat or mistake often leads a child to feel a sense of embarrassment – a key factor in lack of confidence. Whenever an attempt at something new is made, the child should receive praise, even if they stumble along the way. Of course, as children age, they seek constructive criticism in areas they want to thrive in. However, at younger stages, consistent encouragement to avoid active embarrassment guides them towards self-assurance.

Trial Without Error

Every new experience in a child’s life should be looked at as a trial, without any assumption of error. Say the child wants to join a ballet class, yet the parent knows difficulties are likely to arise as her child is not very coordinated. Allowing the child to try this new endeavor with no preconceived notions of failing gives them the confidence to walk into the class and start fresh, even if they do end up falling a few times.

It is important to allow your child to discover traits about themselves independently because it gives them the courage to continue exploring new areas of life without having to consult you on whether it would be a good idea or not. Show the child there is no shame in needing to work hard at something because not everything will come naturally to them. Adults make mistakes and struggle with things as well. Be honest with your child and, when possible, attempt to resolve these mistakes in front of the child, as it shares a noteworthy lesson in confidence construction.

Foster Independence

An obvious way to ensure a child is brought up knowing self-worth is allowing them to discover their independence. This doesn’t mean that you should stop monitoring them, but it’s important to give them space to make their own decisions. For example, encourage your toddler to pick their own clothing or choose what’s for dinner one night.

As the child ages, more intricate and important decisions will require parental guidance, but allowing them to seek certain fates on their own will help boost their self-assurance. Mistakes are bound to be made, but treating them as building blocks for learning instills confidence within errors.

Don’t Always Rescue Them

Of course, no parent wants to see their child get hurt, but sometimes letting them problem solve and find a solution without stepping in and completely solving the issue is the right move. notes that when a parent constantly rushes to their child’s side to save them, they are likely causing more harm than good and the child thinks they will always need a parent to fight their battles.

It would be hard to find someone who claims raising a child is easy. Do not look for a guide on the “right” and “wrong” ways to raise a child. Every child is different and requires a unique strategy. The great thing about these tips for raising a confident child is that they are adaptable in order to suit the needs of various styles of upbringings!

from Catharine Toso, Psychotherapist (Newtown, PA)

What To Do If Your Child Experiences School Anxiety

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Children of all ages can experience school anxiety. At the onset of a new school year, it’s normal to have first-day-of-school anxiety about all the changes they are going to face – unexplored territory, a new set of faces in the classroom, unfamiliar teachers and teaching styles, more challenging school subjects, etc.

While mild apprehension is expected, especially during the first few weeks, it is your role as parent to observe your child’s behavior to determine when this anxiety becomes too much and should be addressed by a professional.

When should you consider hire professional help for your child?

It should come as no surprise that anxiety is one of the most common psychological disorders that affects school-age children. Everyone experiences some level of anxiety from time to time, especially during the more stressful periods of life. This occasional anxiety can be a positive thing, though. Without this anxiety, we may not take proper precaution during certain situations or feel motivated to do our best in others. It’s when anxiety starts to interfere with daily life where it becomes a problem.

Your child may not be able to identify when anxiety is handicapping their day-to-day lives, which is why it is important that you are observing their behavior on a continuous basis. If these symptoms only persist for the first few weeks of a new school year, there may be no cause for concern. It is when these behaviors persist after a couple of weeks that it may be time to seek treatment. If not dealt with early on, anxiety disorders can manifest in other ways as your child gets older, leading to more serious issues like clinical depression.

How is this kind of anxiety treated?

There are a variety of different treatment methods for this type of anxiety in children. I, personally, prefer to approach treatment through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Through this treatment, a child is encouraged to talk through their problems and, with the help of a professional, works to change the way in which they think and behave. Depending on your child’s age, it may affect exactly how this type of therapy is given – whether it be individually, with a parent, or in a group.

What can you do to help raise an anxious child at home?

Seeking professional help for your child was the first – and most monumental – step in helping them deal with their anxiety. While the professional will deal with the most rigorous part of treatment, there are a few things that you can do at home to help your child:

  1. Don’t completely shield them. As their parent, you want to do anything you can to protect them. However, shielding them completely for their problems is only going to make things worse.
  2. Talk to them about your experiences. It may be comforting for your child to hear that you, too, deal with anxiety every now and then. If you are going to discuss a specific situation with them, make sure that you share how you worked to alleviate the anxiety as well.
  3. Praise them. If your child shares with you a story of coping with their anxiety (or you see it happen), make sure to praise them!

from Catharine Toso, Psychotherapist (Newtown, PA)

How Autism Affects Children’s Development

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It should be no surprise that children who have been diagnosed with autism develop at a different rate and capacity than children without autism.

Autism shows itself differently in children depending on its severity, but it affects very similar areas of development. One of the major challenges lies in how children communicate and interact with those around them, whether family members or complete strangers.

For those who want to learn more about the effects of autism within various stages of development, here is how it can show itself in a child’s growth:

How Autism Affects Speech

Not only does autism influence the rate of development, it can cause the order of development to vary from child to child. For example, for a child with autism, it is more likely that they will learn vocabulary at a much slower rate, often taking years before they can begin to string words together to form complete sentences. And, of course, there is always the possibility that they may remain nonverbal for the rest of their lives.

How Autism Affects Interaction

Some children are simply quieter than others, often shying away from communication, even if it is with someone who is familiar to them. Children who have autism often don’t make a lot of eye contact with other individuals and aren’t prone to gesture to someone unless told to, like waving hello or goodbye to someone as they are leaving. This ability to focus and engage is referred to as joint attention.

How Autism Affects Understanding

Children who have been diagnosed with autism often don’t have the capacity to see where other people are coming from or why they engage in certain behaviors. This is a social skill that helps people form relationships with one another, so this is a reason why many children with autism have difficulty getting along with other children. They are often not aware of how their behavior affects those around them.

How Autism Affects Focus

We rely on our organizational skills to get us through our days, but this is a skill that doesn’t always develop completely in children with autism when they are younger. As you can imagine, this hinders their ability to learn, which is why school can be a major challenge for children with autism. Some may understand certain aspects of a subject, but are not able to put together everything they were taught in order to come to a complete and clear conclusion.

from Catharine Toso, Psychotherapist (Newtown, PA)

How Managing Your Emotions Can Benefit Your Relationship

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As you get older, you will experience an increase in responsibilities that will begin weighing more heavily on your shoulders. While these changes are an exciting transition into new stages of life, they can occasionally feel burdensome as feelings of overwhelming happiness, fear, heartache, and loneliness weave together and blur the lines between each individual emotion. This makes it difficult to separate these feelings in an attempt to conquer them independently.

When difficult emotions arise, it not only affects the person, it affects their relationships as well. If not addressed, these emotions can cause serious implications between a person and their family and friends – and, more specifically, with their significant others.

When you find yourself under the weight of pressure, it is imperative that you learn how to properly cope with your different emotions:

Allow yourself to fully feel the emotion.

You may think you are already doing this since you currently feel angry or depressed, but you most likely try to escape from your current state as quickly as possible – no one prefers to feel those negative emotions. However, it’s important that you allow yourself to truly feel through the emotion instead of pushing it away.

Separate yourself from your emotions.

Your emotions do not define you, they are just a part of life that requires your attention every now and then. If you identify yourself with your emotions, it is much harder to separate yourself from them when they are in full force. Be aware of their presence, but detach yourself from them as quickly and as often as possible.

Try to identify the triggers of your emotions.

Don’t try to do this in the heat of the moment because it will be difficult to try to deal with your current state of mind while also analyzing the reason for why you feel this way. Once the emotion has subsided, take the time to think back to what triggered the feeling. Why did it cause this reaction? Is it something that can be avoided in the future if you can just adjust your mentality? These questions may not be fun to work through, but this change in perspective will help to reduce how intense these emotions will feel in the future, making them easier to process.

If you can be more in tune with yourself, approaching every situation with mindfulness and the necessary attention, it will show itself in your relationship with your significant other. Instead of going from bad to worse, you will have more control in how the situation will play out because you will be better equipped to work through these difficult emotions before approaching your partner.

If you both approach life this way, it is going to positively show itself within your relationship!

Debunking Common Parenting Myths

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There are literally hundreds – if not thousands – of myths parenting that range from children throwing temper tantrums is a result of bad parenting to the number of parenting behaviors alleged to “scar your children for life.” Some of these myths come from people with no children, some of them come from other parents but the one thing they all have in common is that they are not helpful and generally only serve to deplete a parent’s confidence in their ability to raise a relatively stable and healthy child.

Here are four of the most destructive myths that need to be debunked.

A child’s needs should come first

When you are on an airline, they tell you “put your own oxygen mask on first, before you try and help your child.” What’s true on a plane is true in life. When you are tired, stressed out and exhausted, you cannot give your best to your children. Over the long haul, constantly putting your own needs on the back burner can lead to a number of issues ranging from depression to major ailments.

Only bad parents “lose it” with their kids

Learning how to “push buttons” is a skill every child will master and eventually use mercilessly. “Losing it” with your child is not only a natural part of parenting, it’s a healthy one. Because right along with learning how to push people’s buttons is learning why you want to refrain from doing so.

It’s not okay to lash out and hit your child or be verbally abusive, but losing your cool within certain limits is perfectly normal, natural and healthy. It’s important to teach your children that actions have consequences, so if their actions have the result of sending you over the edge, that’s an important learning lesson. Another valuable part of the learning experience is watching mommy or daddy apologize or how they handle messing up. This can go a long way towards helping them build valuable social skills.

Children learn best from over-explaining things to them

Reality check: children learn from what you do not what you say. Over explaining to them won’t do you any more good than me trying to overexploit this to you.

Parenting comes naturally to those who love their children and have good intentions

False. Parenting – like having a good marriage or being a good employee or coworker – requires a wide variety of skills and disciplines that must be learned over time. No one is just naturally a good parent, but no one who is a good parent got that way by accident either. The good news is anyone can be a good parent, the bad news is no one is going to be a good parent that isn’t willing to work at it.