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Guest Post- Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder is no longer something the psychiatric community recognizes as a “real” diagnosis. In previous editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual we had this diagnosis. It represented the portion of the population who feels depression in dark, cold months. It was supposed it existed from a lack of sunshine and outdoor activity. Now there is still an understanding that these factors contribute to feelings of depressed mood. It is a consideration therapists and psychiatrists make when diagnosing depression.

Kimberly Hayes has kindly written a guest blog post on this topic for you to better understand what it is, what it feels like, and a few things you can do about it. Just so you know a little bit about who she is:

Kimberly Hayes enjoys writing about health and wellness and created PublicHealthAlert.info to help keep the public informed about the latest developments in popular health issues and concerns.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is something more keenly felt in winter months.
Photo via Pixabay by
Pawel_Kozera

Winter Wellness Tips: Staying Healthy When You’re Living with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter can be a difficult time for many people; across most of the US, it’s a cold, bleak season that strips the greenery bare and doesn’t offer much sunshine. Because of this, many people find themselves suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. This disorder is often accompanied by feelings associated with depression and can have a profound effect on your ability to function at work or school, as well as keep you from enjoying yourself with friends or loved ones. There are many causes where SAD is concerned, but thankfully, there are just as many ways to help relieve those feelings. So, how do you find a way to stay physically and mentally well when winter rolls around?

There are many ways to care for yourself. For example, taking care of your gut health can promote positive mental health, as well as keep you feeling good physically, while getting some sunlight can boost your vitamin D exposure and lift your mood. You can also create a good diet and exercise routine to keep confidence and self-esteem balanced.

Keep reading for some great tips on how to stay well this winter.

Keep Your Gut in Check

Many people don’t realize how much their gut health affects them, both physically and mentally, but it’s important to make sure you’re eating the right foods and exercising daily to keep your digestion on track. You can also make an effort to get as much sunlight as possible, as this can help to boost serotonin production — a hormone that impacts your mood and energy levels. Open the curtains on sunny days and use natural light as often as you can, or step outside on your lunch break and soak up some rays. This is important during the winter, as the days are shorter.

Boost Your Energy Levels

Many people who are living with SAD find that they don’t have much energy during the winter months, which can leave them feeling inadequate at home or at work. You might start exercising daily, or look for a supplement that can help. There are many energy supplements on the market today that can help you feel better even during the slow winter months, but it’s important to find the right one for your needs. Some are based more in the physical, while others help you take care of your mental health at the same time. Look for a supplement that will focus on the things you need to take care of, and talk to your doctor before starting a new regimen.

Focus on Your Mental Health

There are several ways you can focus on boosting your mental health when cold weather seeps in, including journaling, keeping an active social life, and spending time outdoors when the days are nice. You can also try picking up a new hobby, such as painting or learning a new language, which will help keep your mind occupied until spring.

Find Support

One of the keys to getting through any difficult time is finding support in a friend, family member, or support group. Look for an online group that you can attend from home; this can help to relieve anxiety and will allow you to get through the season with relative ease.

Staying well when you have a condition like seasonal affective disorder can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful ordeal. Creating a good plan for your physical and mental well-being will help you stay on top of things even when you feel the least motivated.

Thank you Kimberly for your insightful thoughts on seasonal depression. We appreciate you writing this for us.

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

Recovering From Sexual Assault or Rape

Earlier today news broke about the details in a rape case in Delaware. A young girl was lured from her bus stop by schoolmates. They took her cell phone and ran. She gave chase and ended up at a boy’s house. There a group of 4 boys (ages 12, 13, 13 and 14) gang raped her. This is a hellacious story. It’s heartbreaking and sickening. The road to emotional recovery will likely be longer for this poor girl than even her physical recovery.

If you or your teenager are the victim of a sexual assault or a rape, coming back from that is grueling and often excruciating. Here is one thing I know makes a difference based on my years of working with teens, many of whom have been the victim of a sexual crime.

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

For Parents of Addict Teens

If your child is addicted to drugs, it feels devastating. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

If your child is addicted to drugs, it feels devastating.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

When your teenager becomes a drug addict, it is one of the most scary, tragic, overwhelming things that can happen.  It breaks your heart into pieces.  You feel like you can’t get your head above water.  Even when you’re having fun with family or friends, you always sense a dark cloud lingering in the background.  Your prayers are desperate, you feel broken, and you feel disconnected from family and friends because they don’t understand the depth of your pain.

 

It can be scary to talk with your friends and family about your teenager’s addiction.  You just never know what kind of reaction you’ll get.  Some people are kind, compassionate and understanding.  Others try and go back into the past to determine where you went wrong as a parent.  When people react this way it’s excruciating and insensitive.  Many, many times I’ve worked with families who truly did everything right.  There are no parents who are perfect, but these families were wholesome, loving, fair and genuine.  Despite this, their teenager still got into drugs.  It’s not necessarily a product of the family system, and it’s very painful that family and friends don’t always realize that.

 

The other thing that parents have said is really difficult for them when their teens are addicted to drugs is feeling like a burden to their loved ones.  What they mean by this is the well-being of their child is always on their mind.  Sometimes parents don’t even know where their addicted child is, which is also very scary.  These parents don’t feel like they can call their friends or family and lament about the same problem every single day.  They have told me they live in a world where their pain is central to their existence, but they’re alone in their hell.  They worry that discussing their heavy heart everyday becomes a drag to those around them.

 

It’s important for parents of addicted children to get support from people who truly understand how intense the battle against addiction is for both the addict and the addict’s family.  A good place to get this support is Alanon, Celerate Recovery, CODA, or some other support group type of environment where it’s okay to voice how much it hurts.  There will be others around who feel the same way.  There will be some who have learned how to live with this and even carry on with their life.  There will be people there who can really understand your fear and helplessness.  There will be people there to gently point out ways you might be enabling your teen’s addiction, and then to support you as you try to stop.

 

Most of you who have an addicted teenager also have other kids.  You have to continue being a parent to the children who are healthy and try to make things as normal as possible for them.  You have to help them through their own pain they experience because they have an addict sibling.  Somehow you’re supposed to do this while fighting through it yourself.

 

Addiction rocks families.  It’s not just a problem for the addict.  For parents it is terrifying.  A child’s addiction has destroyed family finances, marriages, hopes and dreams.  Putting people around you who really understand this, and who don’t blame you, is critical.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

For people who suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, etc., it can be hard to share this openly with family and friends.  If your teenager has any of these diagnoses, the stigma is even more profound.  As a rule, your teenager’s peers are not the most accepting when it comes to psychological struggles.  On the surface they might be, but they tend to gossip about these things to their friends.  In my work with teenagers I’ve noticed they are not the best secret-keepers.  If your daughter takes an antidepressant and she confides in one of her friends, there is a decent chance a lot of other teens will find out.

 

This means you’re left with two approaches.  The first is to encourage your kids not to tell anyone about their counseling, psychiatric treatment and challenges.  While this will prevent them from experiencing teasing, it also might create a sense of shame in them.  It’s tough too when they want to spend the night at a friend’s house and need to take a pill at the end of the evening.  Their friend might be curious, which means your teenager will have to lie.

 

The second approach is to work hard with your teenager on not feeling shame.  The thing I tell a lot of my clients is that even though they don’t know it, there are a handful of their friends who get medication and/or are also in therapy.  I remind them that very likely some of the most popular, good-looking, athletic, smart kids in their school get counseling for things.  I try really hard to help them know that emotional struggles happen to most people at some point in their lifetime.

 

If they can feel confident in their knowledge that they are just fine even if they have a psychological diagnosis, other teens will be more comfortable with it.  It also really helps to have some others know in terms of getting support.  There will be days when your adolescent needs a pick-me-up from their friends.  If their friends know what’s going on, they might better know how to help them.

 

I had one client who struggled with OCD.  It caused her to do a few things that were noticeable in social situations.  She just confidently said she had OCD and then was able to laugh about it.  Her friends felt a lot more comfortable after that, and laughed right with her.  Another thing started to happen.  Different teens would come up to her in confidence and tell her about their experiences with anxiety, depression, etc.  Because she refused to give in to the stigma of mental illness being something shameful, she became a safe refuge for a great number of struggling teens.

 

The stigma associated with mental illness makes us want to hide.  It makes us want to keep it to ourselves, and fight through it alone.  Unfortunately that makes the battle a lot more challenging to overcome.  When I struggled with an eating disorder my junior and senior year of high school I didn’t tell anyone.  When it progressed and continued into college I was much more open about it.  At that point I found I was able to get the support I needed, which was the first step toward healing.  I want the same for your teenager.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Pain Increases Depression

There is a strong correlation between pain and depressed moods. If you find your teenager seems irritable and down, one thing that might be worth exploring is if they are in chronic pain. Not every kid will complain when they have something nagging in their body. Perhaps your child has always had allergies, and everyone is so used to him having a runny nose that it’s easy to underestimate the negative impact this has on his moods. The bottom line is, pain can lead to feelings of depression. This means not every case of depression is psychiatric. It also works in reverse. Depression can lead to symptoms of pain. Things are not always as clear-cut as they first appear.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Technology Addiction In Teens

Some teens send hundreds or even thousands of texts per day. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some teens send hundreds or even thousands of texts per day.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dear Teens,

You live in an era where it’s easier to spend time in front of a screen than go do things out in the world.  It’s hard to go more than three minutes without some form of entertainment.  If you look at what you’re parents are doing, there’s a good chance mom, dad or both are also addicted to technology.  They don’t even go to the bathroom without taking their phone!  This means it’s not just your age group, so don’t feel condemned.

 

Here are the positives of being on social media, playing video games, watching Netflix, or spending time on any other app.  First of all, you’re pretty much staying out of trouble.  You could be out doing drugs, or getting into all kinds of stuff; instead you’re at home where mom and dad know you’re safe.  Secondly, you’re probably never bored.  You always have something to keep you occupied.  When I was your age, if we couldn’t get ahold of our friends then we had almost nothing do do at home.  Thirdly, you probably communicate with your friends all the time.  Between commenting on their pictures or messages, and sending them texts or Snapchats, you’re always in contact.

 

Like anything though, there are some negatives to too much screen time.  I bet you can guess what I’m going to say.  First of all, you might not be taking great care of your physical health.  One study came out that said people who use a lot of electronics are more sedentary, and eat more calories than those who don’t.  The combination of not moving much, and eating in front of the TV because you’re bored can equate to carrying excess weight.  The second problem you might have is that everyone looks happy on social media.  They tend to post pictures when they’re with friends, or put up posts that say how much fun they’re having.  You’ve probably heard, but this isn’t real.  Every single person who posts things has times where they lack confidence, are lonely, feel angry, etc.  It’s just not very common to write things on Facebook like, “I’m feeling ugly today because I have a huge zit in the middle of my forehead.”

 

Thirdly, some of you struggle with face to face interactions.  When you text or post things all the time, you get to think before you hit send.  That’s so nice because you have a few seconds or even minutes to formulate your answer.  When you’re in person though you feel awkward and uncomfortable.  You’re not with your peers in person as much as generations before you, so you haven’t spent as much time practicing the nuances of conversation.  It’s really an art to be funny, witty, deep, and thought-provoking in a face to face conversation.  Most people need a lot of practice to get there, and they practiced it growing up with their friends.  Now you don’t do as much of that.  It just makes things harder when you go on a date or interview for a job.

 

If you worry that you might be addicted to technology, here’s a quick self-test.  Put down all forms of technology for 3 days in a row.  Can you do it?  If you can find books to read, enjoy going on a walk, and figure out how to talk with people, you’re probably okay.  However, if you feel a sense of withdrawal, and a little bit depressed without your technology, then recognize that you might have a psychological dependence on it that goes beyond what is within healthy limits.

 

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

Don’t Wish To Be Someone Else

As an adolescent I was overly eager to fit in with the “Scrippies,” which was our sarcastic name for the cool kids.  I’m sure my overeagerness was off-putting.  In sixth grade some girls were called biters, some were called the b-word and some were called the s-word, but I was called annoying.  Let me tell you, obsequiousness doesn’t really get you far when it comes to fitting in.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help! My Teen Wants A Tatoo (Or Some Other Style I’m Not Happy With)

Oh no!  It’s finally happened!  Your teen has come home asking for permission to get a tatoo.  Maybe you have a hundred tatoos already so this doesn’t really bother you.  However, if you’re like most parents you’re not exactly ecstatic about this new development.  Here are some therapist thoughts on what to do when your teenager wants to do something to their body you aren’t really comfortable supporting (or flat out refuse to permit):

 

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

PTSD/ Trauma in Teens

Hypervigilance is a common symptom after a trumatic event.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/Graphics Mouse

I’ve been a therapist for a decade now.  I’ve worked with teens in private practice for that entire duration.  I’ve heard a lot of different stories, many of which involve trauma.  I’ve noticed with trauma there is a natural tendency to incorrectly predict its effects on teens.  Some parents overreact, and others are so overwhelmed that they downplay the significance of the traumatic event.  For parents it’s a very helpless feeling when something horrific has happened to your child.

 

In 1926 a sweet baby girl was born to a young mother who was divorced with very few financial prospects in life.  While this girl’s early life was pleasant and full of love from her mother, eventually things began to unravel.  Her mother did not have enough money to care for her and she was placed into foster care.  Finally her mother was able to get her back, but when the young girl was 7.5 years old, her mother had a psychotic break from reality.  Her mother ended up diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.  What was a young girl with no father and now no mother to do in the 1930’s?  She was moved through foster cares and orphanages where she either felt alone and abandoned, or was sexually abused.  Eventually she married the first guy she could find simply to put some stability in her life.  Do you know whose story this is?  It’s Marilyn Monroe.  We all know the tragic ending her life took after three divorces and drug abuse struggles.  By the age of 36 she had overdosed, and it was called a likely suicide.

 

This isn’t to say that if you’re child has experienced a trauma they will end up like Marilyn Monroe.  What I am hoping to point out from her really sad story is that recurring trauma absolutely wears a person down.  We all have some amount of resilience build into us, but if we come to the point that we expect to be battered by life again and again, we will look to whatever escape we can find.  The tragic irony of this is that many of those escapes ultimately cause further trauma.  An example of this is using drugs to escape the deep anxiety, sadness, shame and hopelessness caused by trauma.  Over time though, being around people who use drugs means being exposed to people who resort to all means to obtain more drugs.  Now there is increased risk for more traumatic exposure.

 

To heal from deep trauma there are many components.  I will talk about only a couple of them here.  One is having something reliable and unchanging.  People die and places change, but God never changes.  A deep, meaningful faith is really helpful to healing from trauma.  Knowing there is still hope, still love, and still something to lean on is important.  But, this is complicated because a lot of trauma survivors feels abandoned by God as they question how He could have let something awful occur in the first place.  While there are good answers to these very important questions, it’s outside a therapist’s purview to answer them.  I strongly encourage you to have this discussion with your own religious leaders as you try to seek answers.

 

Another extremely important element to healing from trauma is addressing and uncovering shame.  Shame says, “I am bad,” for whatever happened.  This is different from regret or some other similar emotion which says, “That event was bad.”  Many trauma survivors feel the event was somehow their own fault.  It takes some deep work to change this belief.

 

Overcoming trauma is extremely important.  During a lifetime each and every one of us will experience deeply disturbing and upsetting circumstances.  Some of us will be unlucky enough to witness death, have our own lives threatened, or see our own children hurt in unimaginable ways.  Resilience is built into our psyches and our hearts, but it can be really hard to find it sometimes.  If you worry about your teen’s reaction to trauma, please seek a professional opinion.  Sometimes just one event can continue to traumatize its victim over and over again.  At Teen Therapy OC we desperately want your adolescent to have a joy-filled life, not one full of fear, anxiety, shame and hypervigilance.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Coaddiction or Codependency

Sometimes our efforts to help our teenagers accidentally make their addiction worse.

Sometimes our efforts to help our teenagers accidentally make their addiction worse.

People get confused by the term codependent, or coaddict.  I thought today I’d address codependence/coaddiction to see if it clears it up.  If someone you love is engaging in an unhealthy behavior such as drug abuse, gambling, excessive shopping, etc., it is very noble to want to help.  As relational beings we are called to help others when they are struggling.  Coaddiction occurs when the attempts to help are misguided.

 

Let’s say Jane has a gambling addiction.  Her brother, John, decides he wants to help her stop.  At first he has a good conversation with her, and she agrees she should quit.  However, Jane is unable to quit.  John then threatens to stop talking to her if she does not stop gambling.  She quits for a week and then goes back to it.  He doesn’t stop talking to her.  John consistently sets boundaries he does not keep.  Jane comes to John and says she cannot afford her rent this month.  He gives her $500 to cover the rent with the stipulation that she does not gamble that month.  She gambles anyhow, and the next month tells him she again can’t cover her rent.  She apologizes for gambling and promises never to do it again.  John believes she is sincere.  John continues to give Jane money for her necessities like food, clothing and shelter.  Meanwhile, John’s wife is becoming very upset and wants to stop giving Jane money.  John tells his wife, “If I don’t give her money then she can’t buy food for her kids.”  John’s whole existence and self-worth becomes tied up in keeping his sister above water.  John rationalizes this by telling himself that he is not giving her money with which to gamble.

 

John has become codependent.  His self-value has become entrenched with helping Jane.  If he is helping her then he can assume he is a good, loving brother.  He is allowing his own marriage and financial security to suffer in order to take care of someone else who is not truly trying to get better.  On top of that, John is really hindering his sister’s ability to beat her gambling addiction, albeit unintentionally.  He pays her rent and buys her food, which frees up money for her to use at the casino.  He fears she would use it at the casino and then not be able to pay her rent.  That usually is not what happens, but if it does, she will finally feel the consequences of her addiction, and seek to get better.

 

If your teen is using drugs, or has some other unhealthy behavior, think carefully about the ways you are unintentionally enabling the behavior.  If you recognize your enabling behavior, but are afraid to stop, then you have developed codependence.  A great website to check out is coda.org (Codependents Anonymous).  Therapy is also a good tool for overcoming codependence/coaddiction.

 

It is scary to stop “helping” your own child work through an addiction or struggle.  However, we’ve all heard the old adage about how someone might not get better until they reach rock bottom.  After doing therapy with addicts for a number of years, I believe there is truth to that statement.  If you are trying to help your teenager avoid harsh consequences for their behaviors, you are prolonging when they hit rock bottom.  Let your child experience natural consequences for their choices; the sooner you do so, the sooner they can realize they need help.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Vaping Among Tweens and Teens

Vaping is becoming an extremely common means of substance use among tweens and teens. Many of my later teen clients are completely addicted to nicotine. It all started innocently enough, and usually in middle school. Please watch the following video on a few basics about vaping you need to know so that you can have a good conversation with your tween or teen. It is really important you weigh in on this topic because otherwise they only learn misinformation from their peers.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Getting Your Teen to Help Around the House

Getting your teen to do housework is possible! Image courtesy of artur84 via freedigitalphotos.net.

Getting your teen to do housework is possible!
Image courtesy of artur84 via freedigitalphotos.net.

You work full-time and your teenager is home after school.  It feels very frustrating that they stay home a good part of the day, or are out having fun with friends while the house needs a lot of attention.  Maybe you don’t even care about the chores around the house if they’d just keep their room clean, bathroom picked up, and put away their dishes.  How do you deal with this?

 

1.  Let them know how you feel.  This is not to be said in anger or with hostility.  That is the quickest way to ensure a teenager isn’t listening to you.  On the other hand, if you gently tell them it’s frustrating for you, or that you feel taken advantage of, or that you are overwhelmed and stressed, they will often listen.  This isn’t true for every teen but if you don’t get a kind reaction when you’re truly being kind, there are likely other problems in your relationship that need addressing.

 

2.  Make sure you ask.  As obvious as this sounds, a lot of parents lament they don’t get any help around the house, but they don’t specifically ask for what they need.  You might have hoped your adolescent would take the initiative, look around, and just see what needs doing.  This is great in theory but pretty much will never happen.  Try writing them a reasonable list each day before you leave to work, asking things be done before you get home (Reasonable for a teen who has no history of cleaning is probably a 30 minute task).

 

3.  Attach monetary value to certain tasks.  This works for the highly social child.  If you have a teenager who loves to be out with friends, this will be effective.  Here’s the caveat, if you plan to make them earn their going out money by doing tasks around the house, you can’t give money otherwise.  It’s fine to pay for their sports or things they need for school.  However, if they want to meet a friend for lunch, absolutely no money!  You can gently remind them they will get a few dollars when the house has been vacuumed, which is a great way they can pay for their own lunch.  Something else you’ll notice happening, when they have to earn their spending money they are more careful with it.

 

4.  Require it.  There are certain minimum tasks that each household should require of every member.  If you want to require everyone to keep their bathrooms and bedrooms picked up, make sure yours is too.  There’s nothing an adolescent resents more than a hypocritical parent.  It’s fine to attach privileges to the completion of these minimum tasks.  One family I worked with had success when they told their teen daughter the bathroom and bedroom had to be picked up each night by 8pm.  If it was, she got the privilege of using her cell phone the next day.  If not, they would keep it and she could try again to have everything picked up by the following evening.  They were very careful not to bend on this, and she fell into line within a week.  If she finished at 8:05pm, they thanked her for cleaning up, but still did not give the phone the next day.  Boundaries around these types of limits must be strict and unemotional.

 

It is possible to get your teen to help you around the house.  It’s all in how you ask, and how consistent you are with whatever rules you set up.  Once you are able to get their help, it’s great for your relationship because you’re nagging less often, and they feel a sense of pride.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT