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Is “self-care” just a trend?

The concept of self-care has become fairly mainstream in recent years as mental health awareness has increased. You may have heard about self-care from a magazine, a blog, or even from a training at work.

However, in the mental health profession, self-care has always been a vitally important topic for both professionals and clients.

What is your definition of self-care?

Does it look like binging a new season on Netflix? Maybe taking a nap? Treating yourself to something special on the weekend?

Those could potentially all be seen as self-care activities.

What does self-care actually mean?

Self-care is anything that increases mental and physical wellness, personal engagement, self-appreciation, and helps regulate stress.

There is no one self-care activity that suits everyone. Instead, there is a wide variety of techniques that can be tailored to each person’s needs. This means that while meditation might work really well for one of your friends, it might not work well for you and your needs.

Self-care is a continuous process of taking inventory of your needs and setting time aside to participate in activities that increase overall wellness and reduce stress.

It is very easy, in our quick moving society, to not put ourselves first or even be aware of our own needs. We might prioritize someone else’s happiness, easily bypassing our needs to take care of others. While this might seem like a very kind thing to do, not meeting our own needs regularly can have negative effects. We can quickly experience burnout, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and even irritability.

Incorporating self-care into an already busy schedule

There is no question that your schedule is already full. So, you might be thinking, “how am I supposed to add more things to my schedule?”

Self-care activities do not have to take up a large amount of time. While taking an afternoon off to relax or taking a yoga class might sound nice, it isn’t practical for everyone all the time.

These activities can be quick check-ins with yourself to take inventory of how you’re doing and what you need. Some options are listed below.

Meditation. There are so many apps that offer guided meditations.

Read. Grab a book at bedtime instead of picking up your phone.

Move your body. This can look like taking a walk, stretching, doing yoga, dancing in the kitchen etc.

Journal.

Practice gratitude.

Learn a new skill.

Try a new hobby.

Volunteer.

Spend time with a friend.

Do a puzzle.

Take a nap.

Create something. This can be with paint, clay, wood, paper, etc.

The options for self-care activities are endless. Sometimes the best way to practice self-care is to set limits and say no when you feel you are doing more than you are used to.

Continuous Process.

Self-care is the continual process of proactively tending to your needs to increase and maintain your overall wellness. It can be difficult to put your needs first. It might feel easier to stay busy and not have to sit with those difficult feelings and emotions.

But the most important part to remember about self-care is that it’s a journey. There is no one right way to do “self-care.” You will get better the more you practice.

You might feel that the concept of self-care is just trendy. But investing in yourself and your wellness is important, and self-care is just one easy way to do so.

September: Suicide Prevention Month

Trigger Warning: This blog talks about suicide and suicidal ideation. This is a heavy topic. You might need longer to read through and process all the information in this post. Give yourself the time and space to do so.  

We often shy away from talking about suicide. It can be a trigger for some. It might cause feelings of sadness, fear, anger, and even confusion.

However, the best way to prevent suicide is to become educated and talk about it.

This blog is a limited attempt to facilitate both.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is even higher among younger populations, the 2nd leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 34.

The suicide rates have been steadily climbing since 1999, increasing a total of 35.2% from 1999 to 2018.

It is important understand that there is a difference between suicide and suicidal ideation. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is defined as, “death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior.” They have also defined suicidal ideation as, “thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.”

This means that a person may have suicidal ideation, but may not be actively suicidal. It is best to let a professional determine this difference, as it can be difficult to tell. 

Risk Factors

Risk factors are factors that create a higher likelihood that someone might consider, attempt, or die by suicide. It is important to look for potential risk factors in those around you. Some of these are listed below.

  • Mental Health Diagnosis
  • Substance Use Disorder
  • Presence of Hopelessness
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • Job or financial loss
  • Lack of healthcare and mental health treatment
  • Lack of social support and a sense of isolation
  • Access to lethal means

It is also very important to keep in mind that these risk factors do not cause suicide, but only contribute to the likelihood of someone considering or attempting suicide.

Warning Signs

Warning signs are things that someone might be exhibiting or experiencing that can be an indicator of suicidal ideations and possible suicide attempt. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves
  • Searching for or obtaining means to harm or kill themselves
  • Talking about being hopeless
  • Expressing that they have no reason to live
  • Discussing feelings of feeling trapped
  • Talking about being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of substances
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Isolating themselves from others
  • Extreme mood swings

Action Steps

So what happens if you are aware of the risk factors and start noticing the warning signs from someone you know? Great question! The National Institute of Mental Health gives FIVE action steps for helping others.

  1. ASK – “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  2. KEEP THEM SAFE – Reduce access to lethal items or places.
  3. BE THERE – Listen carefully and acknowledge their feelings.
  4. HELP THEM CONNECT – Give them the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number or help them get connected with a mental health professional.
  5. STAY CONNECTED – Follow up and stay in touch.

If you see any of those warning signs in someone you know, the best thing to do is ask. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests asking, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” This question can be hard and uncomfortable, but remember, it is the first step in getting your loved one the support and care they need.

Reducing their access to lethal means is an incredibly important step. This can look like removing firearms, locking up medications, or taking their car keys. Removing these lethal means immediately increases their safety.

Following with a listening ear is just as important. Listen to how they are feeling, what they are going through, and ensure them that they are not alone. Then, get them connected with someone. This can be the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number or a local clinician.

Additional links, resources, and numbers.

Here are some additional resources that provide more information and education. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line 741741

National Institute of Mental Health Website: www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention

#BeThe1To Website: Home – #BeThe1To

Suicide Prevention Lifeline Website: Talk To Someone Now : Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org)

CDC Suicide Website: Suicide rising across the US | VitalSigns | CDC

Some things to remember. 

Suicide is a very difficult, sad, and often painful topic. However, due to the rising rates of suicide, it is important to know how to recognize both the risk factors and warning signs of suicide. Speaking up when you see those warning signs is very difficult and uncomfortable, but has the potential to change the life of someone you know.

Offering a listening ear might make all the difference to someone experiencing suicidal ideation and/or contemplating suicide. If you are unsure of what to say or how to respond, just validate their feelings and emotions. Let them know they are not alone.

It is also important to know that you will not always notice the warning signs. This is in no way an attempt to put the responsibility on you for the decision someone else makes with their own life.  Our only responsibility is to love others well through the good times and the hard times.

Transitions: For both kids and parents!

Transitions are hard. For any and everyone.

With this being said, the transition back to school can be exceptionally difficult, for both kids and parents. 

On top of that, we are still experiencing a worldwide pandemic.  Many children have not been to a face-to-face class in over a year. It is safe to say, this transition back to school might be more difficult that years prior. 

In an effort to help ease some anxiety, here are a few things to keep in mind during the weeks leading up to the first day of school.

“Name it to tame it”

When feelings go unnoticed or unnamed it can increase anxiety. This is true for both children and adults. When it comes to transitioning back in the classroom, children might have various emotions: joy, anxiety, excitement, fear, or sadness. In order to help them name these feelings, have a conversation with them. Ask them how they are feeling about school starting. At first, they might be hesitant to share. This is a great opportunity for you to model this by sharing your feelings about the start of the school year. They might feel more comfortable to share their emotions after you have shared yours.

Children do not always have the language to fully explain how they feel, which makes it difficult to share or name their emotions. Hopefully, having this conversation will help them discover how they are feeling and gain the language to express it! The most important part of this conversation is to validate the way they are feeling. This will further encourage them to share in the future!

Create a routine

Transitioning from a relaxed summer schedule to a very busy school schedule might create anxiety. This shift can cause even more anxiety if it is an abrupt change, with little to no preparation. To best prepare yourself and your child, sit down and develop a schedule together. Discuss the upcoming change in routine with them and the thing things you both need to foster a smooth transition.

While they might be unhappy about waking up early, creating a routine might give them a larger sense of control leading up to the start of school. Make it fun! Create a schedule that can go on the fridge or in their room for them to refer to often.

Focus on the positive

It is so easy to talk about the negatives of school starting, like the end of summer, homework, and early mornings. However, there are many positive things about school starting. Your child might be looking forward to seeing their friends and teachers, playing sports, and getting back into a routine again.

If you find your child focusing on the negative, encourage them to name some exciting things about school starting. Ask them what they are looking forward to. If they can’t think of anything, help them brainstorm some of the positives of school starting. They might be so focused on the negatives, that finding a positive on their own is almost impossible.

These will certainly not eliminate all the anxiety you or your child experience.  However, they can help decrease anxiety during the weeks or days leading up to the first day of school. Creating a space where your child feels comfortable talking about their feelings and emotions is incredibly valuable and a great place to start!

What is telehealth? Is it a good fit for you?

The COVID Pandemic caused many shifts in the way our society operated. Restaurants more widely offered curbside pick-up, working from home became the new normal, and professionals were forced to change the way they delivered services to their clients.  

Mental Health professionals also had to shift the way they were delivering services. This shift included utilizing telehealth in order to provide services from a safe distance. This allowed clients to continue meeting with their providers from the safety of their own home.  

Telehealth services have been around for a long time but were not widely used because face-to-face services were generally preferred by both clients and practitioners. However, when face-to-face services were no longer the safer option, telehealth offered a much-needed alternative.  

You might be asking “what in the world is telehealth?” Or “Is this something I should be using?”  

Look no further! Jennifer Sommer, Ph.D., a clinician here at Carolina Psychological Associates, has offered some great insight on telehealth below.  

What is telehealth? 

Telehealth, sometimes referred to as telemedicine, is the practice of healthcare that is delivered electronically by telephone or through an interactive video platform. Carolina Psychological Associates uses Doxy.me, an online service that allows us to see our clients remotely while still providing the same confidentiality and quality of care. 

How long have you been providing telehealth services?  

Prior to the pandemic, teletherapy was becoming more well-known and accepted by psychologists as it was particularly helpful for people living in remote areas where it was difficult to find a mental health provider Nevertheless, many therapists did not conduct teletherapy on a regular basis. I had not used telehealth before, but my experience with it over the past fifteen months has opened my eyes to its benefits, both for the client and clinician. 

What were your initial thoughts about telehealth? Why?  

During my training as a psychologist, we were told about the possible disadvantages of telehealthand it has only been in recent years that it has gained popularity.  Potential concerns I had included not being able to build a connection with clients as well, difficulty noticing client’s nonverbal communication, clients minimizing their difficulties, or therapeutic approaches being less effective. 

Have your opinions of it changed? If so, what are some positives of telehealth services that you’ve seen? 

My opinion of telehealth has changed dramatically, and I appreciate the multitude of benefitsMost importantly, the research shows that clients and clinicians are still able to establish the same quality working relationship and the strategies used appear to be equally effective when engaging in telehealthOf additional benefit, many clients report it is easier to schedule and keep appointments, that they feel more comfortable talking in their own spaces, and that they are better able to access specialized care from providers who may not practice locally. Because of the success of telehealth during the pandemic, many providers are contacting their general assemblies in hopes that laws will be passed to increase access to telehealth and to ensure insurance reimbursement even beyond the pandemic.  

What are some drawback/negatives about providing telehealth services? 

I have not experienced many drawbacks to providing telehealth that cannot be overcome.  One challenge occurs when either the client or clinician experiences a technological issue. Thankfully, telehealth can be conducted using many devices (e.g., a cell phone, tablet, or computer), as well as by telephone.  Although I assumed some clients would find it difficult to participate in the session from a confidential location that has not yet been an issue. You would be surprised by the creative places that clients have decided to meet with me including homes, offices, cars, hammocks, even tree houses! I have even been introduced to beloved household pets. 

Who in your mind is the “best fit” for using telehealth services? Why?  

Optimally, telehealth seems to be the best fit for clients who feel that they are as able to participate in the virtual session as they would in-person. Initially, I thought telehealth would work best with clients I had already established an in-person working relationship with prior to the pandemic but it was equally as effective when meeting new clients. The largest caveat is that I would not recommend telehealth for someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis as it is easier to discuss safety plans and supports when meeting face to face. 

How has telehealth impacted your practice throughout the pandemic?  

It has allowed me to meet with people across the state, as well as to provide ongoing services to clients who have recently moved. It has also enabled me to meet with clients during times that I would not typically be able to conduct an in-person appointment. As a former skeptic of telehealth, I hope that other providers and clients will consider its use as it allows us to provide a broader range of services, while affording clients the flexibility, comfort, and confidentiality they deserve. 

 

Jennifer Sommer Ph.D. sees children, adolescents, and adults here at Carolina Psychological Associates. She is a clinical psychologist who specializes in comprehensive assessments and treatments for individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Prior to joining Carolina Psychological Associates, Jennifer worked at a clinic specializing in ADHD. She has experience directing treatment and research programs for children with ADHD and other social, emotional behavioral and learning difficulties. Jennifer also has interests in family and parenting issues, children’s behavioral concerns, learning disorders and giftedness, anxiety, and adjustment issues. 

We’re Halfway Through the Year. It’s Time for a Check-In!

Well, it is officially summertime, which means that schedules are hectic, the weather is hot, and time seems to go by even faster. It also means that we are halfway through the year.

Do you remember those goals you set last year or the New Year’s resolutions you were determined to keep all year long? How do they look now?

Maybe you have kept your New Year’s resolution. Perhaps you have already crushed a goal or two you set. Or, possibly, you have not been quite as motivated as you once were.

The middle of the year is a great time to stop and evaluate. It gives you an opportunity to reflect on the last six months and see where you have succeeded and where you have struggled. This is NOT a time to be hard on yourself or shame yourself for not doing as well as you anticipated, but to simply take inventory.

Spending this time reflecting will then give you the ability to better plan for the second half of the year. You can reassess, restructure, shoot higher, shoot lower, or change directions all together.

This check-in is also a fabulous time to dream! Let your mind wander. Think about the future. Look at where you want to go before figuring out the steps needed to get there!

Here are a few things to ponder throughout this process:

Remember your goals.

What were the goals you set? Can you remember them? Write them down again.

What did you accomplish?

Celebrating your wins is so important, even if they are small! There truly is no accomplishment too small to celebrate. So, give yourself a pat on the back or even grab a treat!

What did you use to measure your goal?

Did you use an app or good old pen and paper? Looking at numbers and data can be very helpful when tracking progress. Maybe you notice that you didn’t “track” your progress, so moving forward brainstorm some ways you can maintain accountability.

Where did you get off track?

Consistency is difficult! Looking back and seeing where exactly you started to get off track can help you in the future. You might be able to plan better, or find an accountability partner next time. Again, this is not a time to make yourself feel bad for losing momentum, but simply gathering information to better equip yourself for the next time.

Remember your why.

Finding motivation to do the hard work can be VERY difficult. More often than not, we are tempted to stop because we don’t think the result will be worth the work. This is why it is important to know your WHY. What is driving you to meet this goal or accomplish this task? Your WHY can be big or small, as long as it means something to you!

Think about your next 3 years.

Close your eyes and envision yourself 3 years from now. What are you doing? Who are the people around you? Where are you?

Think about your next 10 years.

Now close your eyes and envision yourself 10 years from now. What is different? Where are you? Who is with you? What are you doing?

The goals you have now should directly relate to where you want to be in 3 years and in 10 years. Spending time thinking about the future helps you better fine tune your current goals.

Set new goals.

Now that you have moved through the reflection part it’s time to set some new goals.

SMART Goals.

This acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Using this acronym will help you set good goals for the rest of the year! Check out our previous post for more tips on goal setting.

Now you are ready to move forward into the second half of 2021! It will be time to do another check in come January, so feel free to use the same process then.

Are you anxious about entering back into a “Post-COVID” World?

There is a large amount of uncertainty in the world right now.

Do I wear a mask or not? Should I shake their hand? What if someone tries to hug me? Are they vaccinated? Will they be okay if I want to eat outside? When will I have to go back into the office to work?

We do not quite know what this summer will look like, or even what the rest of the year will look like, but there is one thing that is certain- it will be different.

This different for you might be positive or it might be uncomfortable.

So, how do we handle the uncertainty?

There is certainly no manual to explain how to handle a “post-COVID” world and all that comes with it.  However, there are a few things you can focus on that might provide some guidance in approaching the next several months.

Start Small

There is no perfect way to ease back into the world. Some might be more hesitant than others, and that is absolutely okay. Start where you are and start small. Haven’t gone out to eat in a restaurant yet? No worries! Maybe start at a small restaurant and sit outside. You could even order your meal online so you only have to go inside to pick it up. Instead of going home to eat, maybe sit at one of the outside tables. This will give you some exposure to having others around you but will allow you to maintain a safe and comfortable distance. When you begin to feel more comfortable, build from there!

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are important for you and your family. These can include who your family will spend time with, what locations you will go to, and how you will interact with others in public. There is no shame in setting a boundary and keeping that boundary. You might need to remind others about the boundaries you have set, and that is just fine.

Take your time

There is no rush to jump back into life in the same way you were living before COVID. Would it be nice to go back to “normal?” Absolutely. But that is just not realistic. Pace yourself and understand that the fear and hesitancy about re-entry is both real and valid. This is not a race to win. Go slowly and go where you feel comfortable.

Be prepared

Know that during this re-entry phase you will be uncomfortable. One way to be prepared for this discomfort is to have some coping skills on hand. These could include deep breathing, a playlist to listen to while going out into public, meditate by focusing on an object around your while you are in public, say the alphabet backwards, or hum your favorite song. These are quick things you can do when experiencing anxiety in public.

Push yourself

This might seem contradictory to the others, but is still very important. Being in isolation for the past year makes staying in isolation a little easier. It might be easier to stay in and order take out. Or choose not to go to that function because you haven’t had to for the past year. As stated before, re-entry will be uncomfortable. So sometimes, give it a try, with the things needed to keep you healthy and safe. Don’t be afraid to phone a friend and have someone help you along the way. Find someone who can be an accountability partner and will lovingly encourage you to venture out in ways you might be more hesitant.

Remember, there is no manual. There is no perfect way to enter back into the world. Start small, set boundaries, take your time, be prepared, and don’t forget to push yourself a little! The fear, anxiety, and hesitancy you might be feeling are valid.

If you feel like it is too much for you to carry alone, reach out for help. We are always here to provide support and help! Call to make an appointment to see one of our clinicians.

Help us welcome our newest clinician, Susan!

We are so excited to welcome Susan Peek, LCSW to Carolina Psychological Associates! We figured there was no better way to learn about Susan than hearing from her directly. We hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as we have!

How long have you been working as a Clinical Social Worker?

“I have worked in a clinical setting for the past four years but have worked with children, youth, and young adults in a variety of settings for most of my adult life. I think that the skills I learned working in day treatment and residential settings, public and charter school settings, and from being a camp counselor help me be a more creative therapist — so I’m really grateful for those experiences.”

Why did you choose Social Work?

“I joined the long line of my family members who are teachers, nurses, doctors, clergy, etc…  Our family stories are often centered on caring for others and connecting in all sorts of different kinds of communities. Social justice had a prominent place in our family stories as well and is a component of social work that is important to me. I love that social work looks at all the elements from micro to mezzo to macro and that a core principle is empowering others on each of those levels.”

What population of clients do you serve? Why that group?

“I work with children, youth, and young adults, ages 4 to 25. Going to summer camp when I was young started me on this path. As soon as I was old enough to become a Junior Counselor I fell in love with working with kids and have always had some component of working with young people in my life. I love the creativity, the “aha!” moments, the process of coming into oneself and always feel privileged to witness it.”

Where did you move from?

“I grew up in Western New York near Buffalo, spent 16 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and returned to Western New York to be near family. Family was also the reason for the move from Buffalo to North Carolina.”

What are you most sad to leave behind?

“This may be an unpopular answer but I really don’t mind the snow, so I will miss that! The people in WNY are some of the most stalwart-of-heart folks I have ever encountered, and I will miss many of the friends I made and folks I worked with over the years there.”

What are you looking forward to the most about living in Greensboro, North Carolina?

“I have been blown away by the warm welcome from everyone and really appreciate it! I look forward to exploring new places and creating new traditions with friends and family. We are already making plans for live music adventures and beach trips.”

What is something that you enjoy doing for fun?

“I tell everyone that I fly my Geek Flag high – really high! I am fluent in most things Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek, and know a little about a lot of general geekdom culture. I love to read and have an issue with collecting books (as in “my friends won’t help me move any more” kind of book issue.) My undergraduate degree is in English Literature and I love making the connection between folklore from different cultures and pop culture.”

Share a fun fact about yourself!

“For many years I volunteered with the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA as a direct care volunteer and public education docent at Pier 39. I helped feed and care for elephant seal pups, California sea lions, harbor seals, and occasionally a sea otter. It wasn’t glamorous – I often came home with fish scales in my hair — but I loved it! I am still passionate about protecting marine mammals and general marine conservation.”

Intersectionality in the LGBTQIA+ Community with Laura O’Neal

Laura O’Neal is a clinician here at Carolina Psychological Associates and has experience working with individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community as well as those struggling with anxiety, depression, chronic stress, disordered eating, trauma, and other varying topics. She is dedicated to cultural humility and incorporates this into her work with clients. Throughout her career she has noticed the importance of understanding intersectionality and its impact on the individuals she serves.

 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “intersectionality” as, “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

Simply, intersectionality is an attempt to conceptualize the varying levels of discrimination individuals experience. This term validates that two individuals can experience very different levels of discrimination based on their differing race, class, sexuality, ability, religion, age, etc. It sheds light on the complex dynamics of identity and the impact of those dynamics on the individual.

For example, an African American, elderly female may experience racism, sexism, and ageism simultaneously.  Intersectionality acknowledges the compounding affect that her race, sex, and age have on her lived experiences.

Below, Laura discusses the impact of intersectionality within the LGBTQIA+ community.

 

  1. How does “intersectionality” impact the LGBTAIQ+ population differently than other minority groups? Or just impact them in general?

The Theory of Intersectionality was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe how individual characteristics influence interaction with and treatment by the dominant culture here in the US. It was originally developed in a legal context, but over the last 30 years, its relevance has transcended domains. In brief, it is a helpful tool in the exploration of how structural and systemic factors impact all of us.

An understanding of intersectionality is incredibly important when working with any marginalized group, LGBTQIA+ folks included. People who identify as LGBTQIA+ routinely experience various forms of systemic discrimination, overt and covert forms of oppression and dismissal, and the stress of these experiences is compounded by other individual characteristics- such as race, class, ability, religion, education, and age. What Intersectionality helps to demystify is not just the fact that humans experience the world differently depending on factors like these, but how those differences inform justice, chronic stress, policy, and treatment.

 

  1. How, in your practice, have you seen the intersection of race and LGBTQIA+ identity impact your clients?

Repeated experiences of invalidation, dismissal, and injustice have a cumulative effect on wellbeing. This is also known as allostatic load- chronic stress accumulates over the lifespan when environmental challenges exceed an individual’s capacity to cope or succeed. This does not mean the individual “can’t hack it” or “just needs to learn new skills” – it is more a way of acknowledging that due to pervasive stressors in our culture (such as homophobia, transphobia, white supremacy, antisemitism) folks will experience stress, pain, and a desire for belonging via community or counsel.

In my practice, I have worked alongside many folks for whom the way society responds to their race, gender, sexuality, age, and religion results in, at times, tremendous distress. I have also witnessed clients manage that in a variety of ways. Sometimes, a nonjudgmental outlet is enough for now. Other times, validation and trying on different coping strategies is requested. Other times still, folks are considering or already directly involved in work to change these systems which indeed comes with stress, but also unique opportunities for profound joy and growth. 

 

  1. What about the intersection of social class/status and LGBTQIA+ identity?

The intersection of social class and LGBTQIA+ identity can certainly influence wellbeing. LGBTQIA+ folks frequently encounter discriminatory policies in education and the workplace which directly influences SES. Furthermore, folks may already have negative experiences with healthcare providers which can result in obstacles to care. Stigma plus the associated financial and emotional costs of seeking help contribute to well-documented health disparities.

 

  1. What do you do as a counselor/therapist to incorporate the concept of intersectionality in your practice?

As a therapist, I seek out opportunities to learn more about affirming intersectional counseling theory and practice. The Code of Ethics that applies to all practicing clinical social workers stipulates we have a shared commitment to promoting affirming, supportive, culturally-responsive services and I take this seriously! That means doing my research, staying informed, and being aware of potential stressors for clients.

Most importantly, though, it means honoring the principle that each person is the expert in their own life. My duty as a therapist is to be aware of how my own intersections and lens influence my conduct, being aware of my blind-spots and the power dynamic present in therapy, and to always listen to my clients. To assume these trainings or direct practice experiences directly equate to an intimate understanding of what someone lives or “needs” with is unreasonable. In my practice, I work to demonstrate a culture of respect with clients by working to enhance understanding of various dynamics in their lives and believing them when they share how something does or does not affect them.

The Art of Looking Back: The Pandemic

It has been an entire year since the beginning of the COVID Pandemic. How can it be???

What were you doing exactly a year ago? Do you remember?

There was a ‘stay at home’ order in place, toilet paper was flying of the shelves, and you probably did not leave the house without hand sanitizer. Oh, and we were all wearing masks for the first time.

So often, it is easy to move through life and rarely reflect on the events that have taken place. Even when these events shape and impact our worldview, personal life, and relationships. Think of the ways COVID alone has shaped each of those: your worldview, personal life, and relationships.

What is the number one reason you don’t look back and reflect? Regrets? Negative experiences? Or do you simply just forget?

For some reason, the ritual of reflection has become clouded and often given a bad name. But I would argue that reflection is important, for many reasons.

Reflecting on the time that has passed during this pandemic gives us the opportunity to notice changes. Changes in ourselves, others, and life as we ‘knew’ it.

The COVID pandemic has changed so many things about the world. There’s no more shaking hands when we meet new people, no more blowing out candles on a birthday cake, and wearing masks has become the new normal. The phrase ‘smile with your eyes’ has a whole new meaning these days as we try to show facial expressions with a mask on. But it has also changed if, and when, we can see family and friends, something that might have been the hardest change of all. The pandemic may have caused some loss as well. You may have lost a job, a friend, a family member, or an opportunity. These are all things that are incredibly difficult to deal with.

While there are some changes that are weird and hard, there are also other changes that are beneficial. Like the fact that it’s socially acceptable to order groceries online and have them delivered to your front door. Or that you can order food curbside. What about the fact that you can see your doctor from the comfort of your own home? These are all things that are generally seen as better, right? They make things like grocery shopping, getting meals, and visiting the doctor more convenient.

Reflecting also allows us to notice the things we have learned. Every challenging experience teaches us new things, things that we can carry forward into the next challenge.

This pandemic might have allowed you the time and space to learn more about yourself, how you deal or don’t deal with stress and uncertainty. You might have discovered a new coping skill for your anxiety, or even picked up a new hobby along the way. Being quarantined with family members might have allowed you to learn new things about them or make you realize how much you took alone time for granted. Maybe you learned how difficult a teacher’s job is as you were suddenly responsible for your child’s learning.

Have you reflected on the COVID pandemic yet? If not, here is your invitation. While reflecting, it is so easy to focus on the bad things, but it is just as, if not more, important to remember and reflect on the good things, even if there aren’t that many. So, below you will find several prompts that will guide you in this practice of reflection. Take a few minutes to slowly work through these questions; grab a friend or loved one to join you.

 

How did you feel at the beginning of the pandemic?

What was most disappointing part of the pandemic? Why?

What brought you the most joy during the pandemic? Why?

What did you learn about yourself throughout the pandemic?

What did you learn about others?

Who and what did or do you miss most from pre-COVID times?

What/who have you been most grateful for during the pandemic?

Is there anything about the pandemic you enjoyed? If so, what is it?

How has your life changed since the beginning of the pandemic?

 

The practice of reflection is difficult. It is something that takes intentional practice. I hope you were able to sit still and gather some thoughts about this past year that you may had not realized before.

Why Pronouns Matter

This is the beginning of a Spring Series to provide education and create awareness for the LGBTQIA+ community. For this specific blog post Blake Herd, MA, LPA has given some great insight into his work with individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community and the importance around the use of pronouns. Blake is a therapist here at Carolina Psychological Associates who has been working in a therapeutic setting with members of the LGBTQIA+ community for 4 years. 

Blake Herd, MA, LPA

Pronouns are used when referring to a person without having to use their name repetitively in conversation. Historically, pronouns are gender specific, therefore individuals are generally referred to as he or she. This can be problematic for individuals who do not identify as cisgender and heterosexual. The use of preferred pronouns for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community is incredibly important, and Blake offers some great insight and advice below.

From your experience, why is the use of preferred pronouns so important?

“Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community deal with stressors that most heterosexual cisgender individuals do not.  Using the correct pronouns is important because it helps to alleviate some of the day-to-day stressors that people of the LGBTQIA+ community deal with on a regular basis. The simple use of preferred pronouns helps to make them feel seen and accepted.  Although using the correct pronoun may seem like a small thing, pronouns are used to refer to us even more than our names, so being called the wrong pronoun day in and day out can really add up and impact someone’s self-esteem, perceived value, and mental health. Using a person’s preferred pronoun is a simple way to alleviate some of these daily stressors.”

What is the best way for parents to start the conversation around preferred pronoun use?

“I often find that a great way for parents to start a discussion about pronouns is by identifying what pronouns they prefer themselves.  This creates an opportunity for a conversation and lets their children know that they are open to discussing the topic now and in the future.”

What do you normally tell parents who have reservations about using their child’s preferred pronouns?

“I usually tell parents that one of the strongest protective factors against mental health and other related issues in members of the LGBTQIA+ community is family acceptance and support. Using your child’s preferred pronoun is a way to show them that you accept them and support them even if you don’t completely understand what they are going through.”

What is the best way for friends to start the conversation about preferred pronoun use?

“As with parents, I usually tell friends that one of the best ways to start a conversation about pronouns is to open up about how they identify and creating an environment where others feel able more comfortable to talk about their own preferred pronouns.  For both friends and parents, it is important not to force someone else to talk about how they identify or to “come out.”  Even if you try to start a conversation about pronouns with someone, they may not yet feel comfortable talking about their gender identity and that is okay.”

What are some helpful resources for the topic of pronoun use?

“One website that can be helpful when working with parents of LGBTQIA+ children is: www.leadwithlovefilm.com It provides videos from varying perspectives to help parents and friends of LGBTQIA+ people to be more accepting and affirming.”

Your child, friend, or loved one might not be ready to have a conversation about their preferred pronouns yet, and that’s okay. Don’t pressure them. Simply offer your support by expressing which pronouns you prefer for yourself. This may seem like a simple step, but it shows your child, friend, or loved one that you are available to have that conversation when they are ready. Stating preferred pronouns is also a great thing to include in your name on a Zoom call or on the signature line of your email.

Always remember, if you are not sure which pronouns to use, just ask! This prevents you from assuming and potentially using the wrong pronouns.

To learn more about Blake Herd you can head over to “Our Providers” and read the biographies!