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A Tip for Depression

Depression is a monster.  It is a joy-sucking, energy-draining, hope-stealing beast that sits on your chest until even the effort to breathe is strenuous.  Clawing your way out of depression takes a force of will equivalent to climbing the last 300ft. of Mt. Everest; one is devoid of oxygen or presence of mind.  The only way to climb Mt. Everest or to come up for air when drowning in depression is one small, intentional movement at a time.  Please watch this 60 second video on one of the most helpful tips for depression I’ve come across in my decade of counseling teenagers (The credit for this tip goes to Carrie Johnson, another outstanding member of the counseling team at Teen Therapy OC).

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Goals Have To Matter

Your teenager will end up feeling unfulfilled if the goals he or she is working towards are not actually meaningful.  We expend a lot of energy working on goals that prove to ourselves we rank higher than others.  We seek to have more money, drive a nicer car, etc.  There isn’t anything wrong with nice stuff at all, but have it for the right reasons.  Similarly, there isn’t anything wrong with a teen wanting to be a valedictorian, but let’s pursue that for a love of learning rather than simply to say we’re number 1.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Some Thoughts for Parents on Teens Attempting Suicide

Feeling alone and sad can lead to a teen’s thoughts of suicide.
Credit: Flickr/Andrew Schwegler

It’s late in the evening for me (9pm, and yes I know that makes me a whimp), but I had to get some thoughts down for you.  This comes from a place of saddness, so bear with me.

 

You seriously don’t know how long you have with your teen.  You think you know, but you don’t.  God is in control of the length of your life, and not you.  There are things that happen we never see coming and they can hit us like a car driving 60mph straight into a brick wall.  The twists and turns that befall a family are unpredictable as the wind, and sometimes these are tragic.

 

This year I have sat with two teenagers who came to therapy after making serious attempts on their lives.  I have sat with countless others who have wanted to end it all.  Thankfully none have succeeded.

 

Parents, this is something that seems to be afflicting our youth with a sickening prevalence.  Our teenagers are lost.  They cannot understand why their lives seem to be fraught with difficulty when their friends all look so happy online.  Many haven’t learned fortitude, and therefore become overwhelmed by their day to day problems.  In this digital age they expect instant results.  When they don’t feel better immediately, they presume they will be stuck in their depressed state forever; forever is a very long time.

 

We have a huge responsibility to teach our children how to 1) hope in the dark times and 2) communicate their angst.  To address the first point, your child needs to understand that he is created for a purpose.  Your child also needs to understand that in no way is he behind if he doesn’t know what his purpose is.  Your child needs to know his life isn’t ruined if things don’t go according to plan.  Do you know the number of college students I’ve worked with over the years who didn’t get into the college of their choice, and ended up glad to be at their second, third or even fourth choice?  Do you know the number of broken-hearted girls I’ve counseled who contacted me years later to say they’ve met their future spouse (and he isn’t that boy from high school)?  Your teenager needs to know that life evolves and there is always hope in God.

 

Regarding point number two, how to communicate angst, teach your adolescents that it is okay not to be okay.  This is something you’ll have to model.  Maybe you even need to learn this for the first time in your life.  Not everyday is good and enjoyable, and that’s just life.  Weird, upsetting, stressful things happen…to ALL of us.  Sometimes there is nothing wrong, but everything still feels wrong.  That is also okay.  No, we don’t sit helplessly waiting for someone else to fix our problems.  However, we do have to tolerate times where things aren’t right and we’re powerless to change our circumstances.  In those times acceptance is a big tool.  So please, don’t come home from work throwing things around the house and cursing because your boss is probably cutting you at the next layoff.  You cannot control that.  Just show that while you don’t like it, you accept it.  It does wonders for your watching teenager.

 

At the end of all this though, realize teens are vulnerable.  Even the most happy, popular, athletic kid who seems to have it all going for him is vulnerable.  Teenagers have intensely stormy moods at times without the maturity to wait them through.  These are the concerning moments; these are the times when impulsivity is a teen’s worst enemy.

 

So yes, this has been a hard fought year.  The 2017-2018 school year was full of difficulties for our teenagers.  They were faced with crazy pressure, and are some of the least prepared I’ve ever seen to deal with disappointment.  Let’s band together as a community and use our village to help them through.  Let’s set our phones down and pay more attention.  Goodness knows they need it.  And above all else, let’s make sure we’re talking to them enough to know if they feel suicidal.  We can’t help if we don’t know.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Congrats Class of 2018!

This year I have worked with a larger than usual number of seniors in high school.  It’s been really fun!  Each and every one of you have courageously pushed through your individual struggles.  You have been awesome!  Congratulations on the milestone of finishing high school well.

 

Here’s a quick video of me singing your praises:

So proud of the class of 2018

A post shared by Teen Therapy OC (@laurengoodmanmft) on

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

One Way To Curb Worrying

Hi, my name is Lauren and I’m a chronic worrier.  I worry about the future, things I’ve said in the past, how I’ll get through my to-do list, what direction society is heading, if my kids are growing up right, etc.  It’s fine to think about those things, but I excessively overthink them.  As a therapist who treats anxiety, this sounds not-so-good, right?  Actually though, it means I know which tools are helpful.  Here’s one of my favorites.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The Cost of Addiction

Addiction is more expensive than you even realize. Image courtesy of sscreations at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Addiction is more expensive than you even realize.
Image courtesy of sscreations at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are many, many costs associated with addiction.  These range from financial, to relational, to spiritual and to physical.  For this blog the focus is only going to be on financial.

 

The statistics for calculating the cost of addiction are really difficult because there is a lot of fluctuation in the prices of illegal drugs. Even for legal drugs that are being abused, such as alcohol or prescription medication, the costs vary from state to state and by insurance plan.  If we are talking about addiction to gambling, pornography or shopping, the same principles apply.

 

Let’s consider the various costs incurred:

1. The actual cost of the drug.  With a very, very conservative estimate, 20 years of marijuana purchases cost about $20,000 and 20 years of heroin purchases cost about $200,000.

2. The cost of lost productivity.  For example, someone with severe alcoholism is less likely to keep up with their house or car repairs.  This results in further expenses later when major things start to break.  Someone also might be less focused on their job, resulting in lower wages.

3. The cost of a drug or alcohol addicted lifestyle.  Going out more often costs more money, as does the efforts made to obtain the drugs.

4. There are costs associated with increased sickness.  People using drugs tend to get sick more often, with more severe illnesses.  Imagine catching hepatitis C from sharing a needle with another heroin user.  This is a lifelong, chronic illness.  Drug users also catch the flu or cold more often.  This results in more missed work and more visits to the doctor.

5. The cost of legal bills, and tickets.  Most drug or alcohol addicts do end up with a DUI at some point.  Depending on the drug used there is a good chance of arrest and the need for an attorney.

6. There is the cost of loss of earned income.  People who use drugs and alcohol to excess often either take longer to finish school, or drop out.  There is a substantial loss of income from not finishing school.  They also miss more work, and are fired more frequently.

7. The cost of divorce.  Divorce is one of the most expensive processes a person can go through.  The incidence of divorce among addicts is about four times the normal rate according to some resources.

8.  The costs of treatment.  Nearly every addict will seek out treatment at some point.  While Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous is free, therapy and rehab are not.  That said, getting treatment and getting sober save much, much more money than they ever cost because addiction is so expensive and sobriety helps turn around a person’s financial situation.

 

All totaled, 20 years of continued addiction can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars when counting both money spent and lost opportunity to earn and save.  It is extremely tragic.  Addiction puts someone financially behind their peers sometimes by decades.  In cases of gambling, pornography or shopping the cost can be comparable or even higher.

 

For several months I worked with a methamphetamine addict who was trying to maintain sobriety.  He told me at the end of treatment that one of the most powerful sessions of therapy for him was when we calculated the cost of his addiction.  We did not even factor in lost productivity or the cost of treatment.  We figured out that over 10 years he had spent about $35,000 on crystal meth.  He then realized if he had applied that to his mortgage, he would’ve saved another several thousand in interest payments.  We talked about lost pay from jobs where he was fired, and the increased cost of car insurance after two accidents he caused while high.  All said and done, the estimate came out to about $65,000.  He was devastated when he heard that because his family was living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes could barely keep the lights on.

 

This is just another angle of how addiction costs.  People spend a lot of time focused on the emotional and physiological impact, but it affects so much more.

 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, count the cost.  Maybe, just maybe, that will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and it will finally be time to get sober.

 

Helping Teens Grow and Families Improve Connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

I Have Seen Miralces In My Job

I have the privilege of walking with hurting teenagers for 10 years now.  When I say privilege, I truly mean it.  Being a therapist for teens is an amazing job because I get to see miraculous things happen in people’s lives.  In this short video I will relay some of the amazing things I have been privy to in the ten years I have been in practice counseling adolescents.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The story of a girl who overcame her fears

Overcoming Anxieties and Overcoming Fears Image courtesy of scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Overcoming Anxieties and Overcoming Fears
Image courtesy of scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week I conducted a session with a 14 year old girl who has really worked hard to overcome her anxiety.  I felt so incredibly proud of her, that I asked her permission to write a little bit of her story here.  Just to help you understand what kind of person she is, she answered, “Sure, you can write my story.  Especially if it might help someone else.”

 

A few months ago she was finishing Freshman year of high school.  She says she was struggling with her attitude toward school, and really toward life.  She had days where she felt very anxious about attending school.  The anxiety could be bothersome enough to cause physical symptoms, or make her want to miss school.  She says this really affected her grades.

 

A lot of kids in this situation just give in to the anxiety.  They let it wash over them until they become fearful of any social situation.  This girl did the exact opposite.  She decided to walk straight towards her fears with a rare tenacity.  She has a dream of becoming an editor someday.  So, she applied to become the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.  She told me it was a longshot because that’s typically a position reserved for upperclassmen.  She also decided to join the cross-country team; this is a girl who told me she’s not sure she could have run one lap around the track when she made this decision.  She said she wanted to get healthier and have the chance to make more friends.

 

All summer long she worked on building endurance.  She stuck to a running schedule and joined the summer team practices as often as she could.  She frequently had to walk, and sometimes felt sick.  She said she was usually coming in last on the runs.  Sometimes she felt discouraged and thought she didn’t add any value to the team.  After a short time of struggling with self-doubt, she gathered her courage and decided to play a different role on the team; if she couldn’t be the fastest runner then she was going to be the spirit of the team.  Imagine for a second how difficult it must feel to be inwardly shy and even socially anxious, but outwardly be consistently cheerful and encouraging.  She’s done such a good job at it that other teammates have started to notice.  Now you are beginning to see why I felt so proud of this girl!

 

She also was just named the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper as a sophomore.  Thought she had felt terrified to try, she decided she had nothing to lose.  You can’t get what you want if you don’t at least ask.

 

This 14-year-old has something most of us don’t get until we’re much older, if at all.  This 14-year-old girl has learned to swim against the current of her anxieties to pursue her goals.  She wanted more school involvement, experience editing, a chance to make some friends, and a way to get in shape.  All of these things scared her, but she went after them anyhow.  It has not been easy at all; she says she is just starting to feel the reward for several months of going outside her comfort zone.  She has come to understand what it means to work hard for a goal even though the payoff takes time to realize.  She is learning lessons that will bear fruit for the rest of her life.

 

How does this story help you help your teen?  Hopefully your child can realize that even though risking failure and facing fears is overwhelmingly scary, it can be done and it can be rewarding.  So, for those of you facing tough situations, hang in there because the payoff is somewhere around the corner.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Fear of Vomiting (Emetophobia), Part 3

Counseling can often be helpful for emetophobia.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/David Castillo Dominici

To quickly summarize last week’s post on emetophobia, we covered that it is a really ovewhelming anxiety response to the idea or feeling of throwing up.  We also covered that one of the first things done to treat it in therapy is determining the fear’s origin.

 

The next step taken is to find out what things are avoided because of the fear.  For example, does the emetophobic refuse to eat sushi?  Does the emetophobic wish to go on a cruise, but won’t because of the reputation cruises have for viral outbreaks?  What else is avoided?  I knew someone when I was younger who wouldn’t drink alcohol because he associated drinking with throwing up.

 

Then we find out what the safety behaviors are.  When I was more frightened of vomiting than I am now, I would make sure there was medication in my purse for a stomach ache.  Sometimes safety behaviors don’t even really relate to the problem.  Someone with emetophobia might make sure she always wears a lucky bracelet because she has never gotten the flu since she bought the bracelet.

 

With the list of avoided behaviors and safety behaviors in hand, a fear hierarchy is created.  This is when therapist and client work together to make a list of most scary event to least scary event.  At the top would likely be “vomiting.”  At the bottom might be something like, “Write the word ‘vomit’ and all its synonyms on a piece of paper and then read them out loud.”  Yes, for someone with emetophobia even that can induce anxiety.

 

Together we work our way up the fear hierarchy as much as possible.  Some things can’t be replicated in therapy.  For example, a therapist doesn’t really have a way of making a client actually vomit, so they probably aren’t going to do that in a counseling session.  A therapist can have a client imagine doing it though, which still helps alleviate overall anxiety when done properly.

 

The point of all this is to say, emetophobia is almost always treatable.  If you or your teenager is living a less fulfilling life because of a fear of throwing up, please call.  It doesn’t have to stay this way.  Things can improve if you’re willing to put in a little work.  One of us here at Teen Therapy OC would be honored to walk through this difficult journey with you.  I personally have been quite afraid of it at one point in my life, and had to work myself back to a place of it not interfering with my daily happiness.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Fear of Vomiting (Emetophobia), Part 1

For someone with emetophobia, a stomach ache is a scary event. Credit: marin/freedigitalphotos.net

When I first became a licensed therapist in 2010 I knew about fear of vomiting, but I hadn’t come into contact with it as a therapist.  Then one sweet young teen girl came in to see me and one of her primary problems was a fear of throwing up.  At that time I had no idea how common this fear was.  As one client jokingly tells me, “There’s the big 3: fear of death, fear of public speaking, and fear of vomiting.”  According to anxietyuk.org, 2-3% of males and 6-7% of females deal with fear of vomiting.  That tells us it’s pretty common.  That means either you or somebody you know is not just uncomfortable with the idea of throwing up, but actually feels a fear response when they have to vomit.

 

Emetophobia has a wide range of how much it can affect someone’s life.  For some (like me), fear isn’t experienced until it is actually time to throw up.  Then a panicked feeling comes over the body and it takes a concerted effort to calm down before allowing the vomit to come up.  For others though emetophobia can dominate their lives.  The sweet girl I wrote about above spent nearly all her time obsessed with the question of when she might next throw up.  She wouldn’t eat any foods she associated with any kind of stomach ache, even when those associations logically didn’t make sense.  She wouldn’t spend time around young children because she assumed they were more likely to spread germs, and she had vowed to never get pregnant for fear she might have morning sickness.

 

I wish I could give you a happy ending to the story of the sweet little girl, but sadly I was an inexperienced therapist back then.  I did a passable job with the necessary type of therapy someone needs to go through when they have a strong phobia.  However, it wasn’t good enough for her to feel all the way better.  I know so much more now about how to deal with this kind of challenge.  That said, even now, I’m still learning.

 

Here’s a little sample of what I do know about the treatment of emetophobia: We start with trying to ascertain when and why it began.  In my case, I became fearful of vomiting because I hadn’t gotten the flu since I was 11 years old.  When I finally had a stomach virus at 22 I didn’t remember how it felt to vomit.  I was caught off guard when I threw up even though I had been feeling nauseated.  Because of this it went through my sinuses at the same time as coming out my mouth.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe, which caused me to panic.  It’s taken a lot of cognitive-behavioral work since then to completely overcome this frightening experience.  I’ve thrown up many times since then and none of them have been anywhere near as frightening as that.  In fact, none of them have ended up being a big deal at all.

 

Once we know where it started, we move on to a fear hierarchy.  I’ll tell you more about that when I continue this post next week.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Taking Shortcuts

We can’t sneak through our pain quickly without it coming back to get us later in most cases.  If you numb deep pain with drugs or alcohol, you’ll have an added challenge of beating addiction and still have the deep pain left.  We have to learn feeling intense emotional pain doesn’t kill us.  We have to learn to tolerate it and cope productively.

 

Taking a shortcut through your pain isn’t usually what’s best for you.

A post shared by Teen Therapy OC (@laurengoodmanmft) on

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Pieces of Advice I Wish I’d Had in High School

Don't take things so seriously in high school. Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t take things so seriously in high school.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1.  You’re not going to be a professional athlete.  There are so few of us that have the talent, resources and support necessary to become professional in any sport.  I spent hours and hours working at becoming the best soccer player I could be.  I was convinced that soccer was my ticked to free or reduced college tuition.  Eventually there were some scholarship offers, but they were very limited.  It was part of my tuition, or only one semester, etc.  When it came down to it I had to use a lot of my own money to pay for school, and a lot of the academic scholarships I was able to earn.  I put tremendous pressure on myself in my sport and it turns out the main purpose of youth sports was for making friends and staying in shape, not paying for college.

 

2.  You will not marry him.  I took my high school dating relationships far too seriously.  It seemed to me that having a long-term boyfriend was some kind of sign that I was worthy.  I dropped friends for him, ignored morals for him, changed hobbies for him, etc.  It is extremely uncommon to marry your high school sweetheart.  Though you’ve heard it before, really and truly, just have fun and don’t take the opposite sex too seriously yet.

 

3.  Get more sleep.  It was so normal to practice sports until dinner, eat, and then do homework until midnight.  Sleep was considered a low priority.  It’s not surprising then that sometimes immunity was low and exhaustion was high.  I now understand that a full night of sleep has more to do with happiness and productivity than almost any other factor.

 

4.  You look how you look.  Yes, it is a good thing to groom, keep up with styles to some extent, and care about physical appearance.  However, in many high school age teens it goes way too far.  Teenagers (I was one of them) are overly self-conscious about their skin and their weight.  Unless it’s recommended by your pediatrician, don’t start dieting and trying to be thinner.  Don’t let yourself believe the world is coming to an end because you have a zit.  These things happen to everyone in the school.  If you look at the adolescents who have a lot of friends, they all have their flaws.  It truly is what’s on the inside that counts.

 

5.  The most prestigious college isn’t necessarily the best college for you.  Like so many, I was caught up in the belief that I had to be accepted to the best school possible.  If I fell short of one of the top universities then I would be forever at a disadvantage.  What a bunch of crap!  The best college is the one that is the best fit for each individual student’s life and personality.  That varies tremendously based on finances, personal circumstances, preferences and academic ability.  Harvard (even if I had been accepted) would have been a horrible school for me because it is too far from my family.  Seeing my family a few times per month is essential to my mental health and quality of life.  If I’d moved to Boston for college I would’ve wilted.  It is better to spend your time attending to all the facets of life (physical, emotional, spiritual, familial, etc.) than just your academic future.  Otherwise, you might end up like I did.  I was Miss AP class, straight-A student.  However, I missed out on a lot of personal growing opportunities and a lot of fun because I was doing homework.  In hindsight the brand name of the university has had absolutely nothing to do with my professional success.  With rare exceptions, this is true for you too.

 

At the end of the day, what is most important is that you responsibly enjoy your time while attending to your growth as a person in all areas of life.  Work hard in school, but even this can be taken too far.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Sober Ideas for Summer Fun

Sober fun during summer isn't as hard to come by as your teen might think. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sober fun during summer isn’t as hard to come by as your teen might think.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Summer is here.  For most parents this is a relief.  You’re thankful your teenager is out of school because there is so much less stress when they aren’t doing homework, playing sports, etc.  However, for those of you who have a teenager with a history of drinking or drug use, summer is a dreadful time.  Every day of the week is a Friday night, and they spend a lot of time unsupervised during the day.

 

Here are some ideas for sober summer fun that might help your teenager have fun without using substances:

1) Plan a movie night.  Let your teenager invite a few friends over to watch movies late into the night.  Teens like to do things at night, and usually if they have a plan first they make better choices.  You can have snacks ready, and several movies available to choose from.

2) Teens always enjoy a day at the beach.  Again, have some planning in place.  Make sure you’re driving and another parent is picking up.  They’re less likely to use drugs or drink if they know a parent will pick them up.  Pack a cooler of food and sodas/juice/water for them and their friends to enjoy.

3) Go for a hike.  Even if your teenager doesn’t want you there with them, taking them to a spot where they can hike with a few friends can be a great activity for them to do during summer.

4) Swim in a backyard pool, or a busy neighborhood pool.  One place teenagers tend to drink alcohol is at the pool when nobody else is around.  In a backyard pool with a parent home it is hard to get away with this.  The same goes for a busy community pool.

5) Learn to surf.  Any surfer will tell you the best time to surf is very early in the morning.  Teens who love to surf might be less likely to party late because they want to get up early the next day.  I realize surfers have a reputation for marijuana use, but the act of surfing doesn’t really go well with being high or intoxicated.  It takes way too much energy and concentration.

6) Get involved with a high school church youth group.  These groups are always planning fun activities during summer from bowling to camping trips.  Of course these are always sober outings.

7) Volunteer time.  Spending time helping others who are less fortunate is actually fun, and feels rewarding.  It also causes teens to think about something other than themselves.  When teens are getting high or drinking they tend to be thinking about themselves so volunteering is a great way to break through self-focused thought.

8) Play a sport.  I worked with a kid who got high multiple times per day for two years.  When he decided to get sober he realized a lot of his friends played basketball each day.  He started to play with them and then didn’t want to smoke out anymore because he ran better, reacted faster and played smarter when he was sober.

9) Take a class.  There are a lot of interesting, quirky classes offered throughout the community and at the local colleges.  Encourage your child to take a class on pottery or dance.  They’ll grumble at first but they will most likely end up enjoying honing a new skill.

10) Start exercising.  See if your teen can get a friend to work out with on a regular basis.  This is really good for self-confidence and stress relief.  While your teen might not be extremely stressed over summer, they also might use and drink less if they feel better about themselves.

 

If you’re the parent of an adolescent and you’re worried about too much summer free-time, hopefully you’ve found this a little bit helpful.  It will probably work even better if you let your teenager read through the list and see what they’re willing to do.  Sometimes they will say ‘no’ simply because you suggested it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT