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Licensed Psychologist

Growing a Healthy and Loving Relationship

Re-posted from an article by Jeannie Ingram, LPC-MHSP Valentine's Day just passed and love is in the air. Not for everyone, unfortunately. As a therapist, I'm often needed when love is no longer in the air. A heart has been broken, and love has turned cruel. Or the pain of loneliness has become unbearable. Only occasionally do people seek therapy when love is blooming like the daffodils. But take heart. Like the words in so many songs, love is indeed the answer; it always has been, and always will be. It's the question that needs examining, that question being, "who do you love"?

Love Yourself First

People often give their love to another before they've ever truly explored what it means to love themselves, and this can be a setup for problems in the relationship. Why? Because until you truly deem yourself worthy of love, you may sabotage the love of another, finding it difficult to trust. It's like building a mansion on quicksand. It may be beautiful at first, but after a short time, it will likely disappear. To experience a sustained, loving relationship with another, you must have a sustained, loving relationship with yourself to receive love with an open and undefended heart. I am not talking about narcissism, which is an ego-inflated sense of self-importance. I'm referring to a healthy and loving understanding of self and truly knowing that your value is at least that of others. All of us have equal value. Believe it or not, many people struggle with this. For some, it's due to leftover childhood shame or negative messages that program us into thinking something is wrong with us or that we're not worthy of love. Again, if we didn't get it as children, it's hard to trust when it tries to come into our adult life.

Love is a Verb

Love is about action. Love is about caring behaviors. Many people believe love is a feeling, and it certainly can be. Still, that feeling is ultimately the result of how we demonstrate our love in both giving and receiving. To expect the feeling of love without actively nurturing it through everyday actions is like expecting fruit from a non-existent tree. If we want to grow the fruit of love, we must first take the action steps of planting and nurturing the tree. Then we can expect the fruit or the feeling of love to blossom.

Tips to Grow the Love Tree

  • Find ways to express your love, and don't be confused by advertising messages. 
  • Spending money to show your love is unnecessary. 
  • Showing love through your language, thoughtful, caring behaviors, and realistic expectations. 
  • Replacing demands with requests and appreciations allow the flow of love.
  • Refrain from language that criticizes, condemns, disparages, and shames. It will create misery, not love. Instead, reframe into expressions of desire, encouragement, and gratitude.
  • Try seeing mistakes as opportunities for redemption and forgiveness rather than punishment.
  • Try seeing yourself as a human being who, like everyone else, is searching and worthy. 
  • Practice random acts of kindness toward yourself, as well as toward strangers.
This is the way we should all be treated, and no one, not even you — should be an exception. Because, like being in love, it sets you up for inner peace, success, and joy in life. Who doesn't want that?  When you have love and peace toward yourself, you're much more likely to attract and maintain genuine love with another person. So this Valentine's Day, may I suggest that you give yourself the gift of loveBegin by looking in the mirror and seeing the person who most deserves it. And love that person with your whole heart and your actions. Love is, after all, the answer.

Managing Loneliness During the Holidays and beyond

Originally posted at Beacon Lens The holidays are upon us, and the irony they bring is the potential for isolation and loneliness. Holidays’ essential identity is getting together with loved ones, but some people do not feel as connected as they would like or expect. In 2020, add COVID-19 and its quarantining dictates, and the potential for such feelings can strengthen. The holidays, therefore, present an excellent time to discuss how we can reinforce connections during a time that requires us to be apart to protect our physical health, a requirement that paradoxically can have a damaging effect on our mental health. We can, however, take charge of improving our mental health.

Loneliness and isolation and our health

What is the difference between loneliness and isolation? “Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Social isolation, on the other hand, is a lack of social connections. Put differently, one can have many social connections but still feel lonely. The physical and mental health risks of loneliness and isolation are significant. They include but are not limited to:
  • Social isolation increases the risk of premature death by 29 percent, rivalling smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.
  • Social isolation is associated with increasing the risk for dementia by approximately 50 percent.
  • Loneliness is connected to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
A 2020 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) states that more than one-third of adults 45 and older feel lonely, and approximately one-fourth 65 and older are socially isolated. Add the holidays and COVID-19 to an already preexisting condition, and the time is ripe for all of us to take action to protect our mental health.

Simple steps for better mental health during the holidays

Specific to the season and the times, there are common-sense tips that we all can practice to help manage loneliness. For example:
  • Talk to someone about your sense of loneliness and isolation. There’s stigma around loneliness so it can be hard to do. However, you may well find that you’re not alone in those feelings, and sharing them can help lessen their effect.
  • Manage your holiday/COVID-19 expectations. The holidays can fall short of expectations, but this year it may be worse. Understand that the pandemic won’t last forever, and that we’re all in this together. Indeed, many people’s holiday gatherings will likely be different this year.
  • Remember to take care of yourself, now more than ever. Sleep, exercise and good nutrition — with the proper amount of holiday indulgence — go a long way in addressing mental health.
  • Avoid social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, especially during the holidays. It’s easy to negatively compare one’s life to the “perfect” lives posted on social media, forgetting that people mostly post only the positive.

Loneliness and isolation as its own pandemic

The holidays don’t last forever, and we will get through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, loneliness and social isolation may persist, which presents a challenge for behavioral health providers. The recent NASEM report explores interventions that the healthcare system can take to address loneliness as a societal condition, such as engagement in support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, social determinants of health, social prescribing and more. Social prescribing is arguably one of the more interesting interventions in that it puts a clinical lens on non-clinical solutions. While there is no hard-fast definition of social prescribing, it is generally accepted as a way to connect people to non-clinical sources of support, according to the NASEM. Specifically, it is a “non-medical referral, or linking service, to help people identify their social needs and develop wellbeing action plans to promote, establish or reestablish integration and support in their communities, with the aim of improving personal wellbeing.” Examples of secondary services that improve social concerns affecting health include housing and food insecurity services. While known to varying community-based organizations, social prescribing is not common among practitioners, but it’s a common-sense solution. An analysis of one pilot program from the NASEM report — albeit a small one — found that social prescribing reduced inpatient admissions by as much as 21 percent and emergency room visits by 20 percent. A modern world — without COVID-19 — is more connected than ever due to social media and other technology. However, studies have shown we are more lonely now than in any other time in recent history. It’s time to think out of the box as we realize more and more how non-physiological conditions — such as issues ranging from a public health emergency to social media — can affect our health.
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