We provide an option for clients to see Christian therapists on our staff if they prefer it. I am often asked by Christian families what counseling looks like when it’s Christ-centered. The most important thing to understand is that we are not theologians or pastors so we do not give any biblical interpretation or religious advice. The way we most often see faith-based counseling play out is us encouraging clients to engage more fully with their religious community. For someone with social anxiety, there is an opportunity to face a lot of the fear while attending youth group. There can be collaboration with the youth pastor to make this a more comfortable step. For clients with an eating disorder there might be a discussion about what God really wants for their life and whether He sees them as beautiful even if they aren’t the “perfect” weight. For families there could be an encouragement to pray together or start attending church together. The bottom line is that Christian-based counseling means the therapist and client are operating from a paradigm that believes the client’s connection to God is an essential part of healing.
Fifteen years ago a 16 year old boy was approached by an acquaintance at school (We’ll call him John). The 16 year old had a reputation in his high school as the kid to go to if you wanted to try a new drug. John sought out the 16 year old and asked if they could hang out after school. When the time came, John worked up his courage to ask, “Do you think I could try heroin with you?”
The 16 year old liked John. He told him, “No. Some people can’t just use it once. You could become an instant drug addict.”
John replied, “Look man, I’m going to try heroin. Would you rather it be with you where at least you know the drug is good? Or would you rather I get it from someone else?”
The 16 year old sighed and took out a syringe. Together they got high. John fell completely in love with the euphoria and never got off the drug. By 22, John was dead.
The 16 year old is now 31. He cannot forgive himself for what happened. When he talks about it he glazes over. His eyes fill with tears. He consistently suffers with two questions. Firstly, ‘What if I had stuck with my no answer? Maybe he wouldn’t have made the effort to get it somewhere else.’ Secondly, ‘Why did he die and not me? He was a good kid who wanted to live. I was a horrible drug dealer who didn’t care if I lived.’
How do you forgive yourself for the sin you’ve committed that you feel is unforgiveable? How do you come back from a deeply entrenched belief that your bad choice led to so much suffering?
This question has plagued the human race for millennia. While there are differing answers to this question, two stand-out as most helpful. The first is related to repentance and the second is related to self-compassion.
Repentance is a religious concept but is easily applied to a non-religious context. If a person commits a sin against God, they admit it and turn from it. It’s not enough to say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry.” There has to be an actual effort made at changing circumstances so it is not repeated. To go a step father, true repentance often includes helping others out of the same sinful trap. The Christian God requires repentance from sin. This is likely true in many other religious faiths as well. Even a secular humanist will agree that owning responsibility for bad behavior and actively turning away from it aids in self-forgiveness.
Self-compassion is the second part to forgiving the self. For psychological purposes it comes from a Dialectical Behavioral treatment model. Self-compassion requires a person to gather understanding for the many things that led to a bad choice. In the case of the 16 year old, he had been using drugs to numb PTSD caused by severe child abuse. The drugs led him to unclear decision-making. John also made many choices leading him to seek out heroin. Experiences in John’s life contributed to his belief he could “handle” trying heroin. In any case, there is understanding available for the drug dealer even though his choice to provide heroin was the first exposure to the drug which caused John’s ghastly and tragic death.
One must be careful not to use self-compassion to make excuses for wrong behavior. People these days love to find ways they are victims of their surroundings. Social media inundates its users with messages that bad things happen to a person just because of skin color, because “rich people are greedy,” because “all politicians are liars and selfish,” etc. In actual fact, the good and bad things in life are a blend of outside factors (race, socioeconomic status, who is in political office, etc.) and personal responsibility for choices. So how does a person practice self-compassion without falling into the trap of victimhood? Give understanding and grace for the factors contributing to past choices while committing to being better at the next opportunity.
The combination of repentance and self-compassion allows for self-forgiveness. These two things must work together for a person to become “unstuck.” They are the perfect blend of personal remorse, personal responsibility, and grace. They provide a path forward and a way to learn from egregious mistakes. Help your teenager by forgiving yourself for things you regret. Let your teen see you find a way forward that shows personal responsibility and kindness so your teenager will know how he/she can do the same.
Eating Disorders include rules like only eating salads. Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Parents of teenagers call me for a number of varying concerns, one of which is that their daughter has an eating disorder. Once in counseling for any reason, girls frequently reveal they believe they are fat. Of the girls who believe they are fat, a significant number are actively trying to lose weight. If their efforts are dangerous enough, they qualify for an eating disorder. Lately I have been seeing a lot of girls with eating disorders, so it seems like a good time to address this.
The first thing that might have struck you as odd is that I wrote, “If their efforts are dangerous enough, they qualify for an eating disorder.” You might be wondering what I mean by “dangerous.” Girls (and less often boys) that are trying to lose weight are usually doing so in unhealthy ways. For example, there are numerous risks associated with frequent self-induced vomiting. It rots teeth, has the potential to burn a hole in the esophagus, and can cause electrolyte imbalances; sometimes these electrolyte imbalances have caused death.
Other dangerous things adolescents do to lose weight is crash diet, work out too hard (causing sickness and injury), take laxatives, fast, cut out certain food groups, and use drugs. All of these things can be dangerous. Nutrition is an essential part of our health. Girls who are struggling with an eating disorder are nutrition obsessed, but often eat very unhealthily.
One example comes from a girl I know who has an eating disorder. She has numerous misconceptions about food based on the current cultural fads. She believes carbohydrates are like putting poison into her body. If she eats salads for lunch and dinner then she assumes she has eaten a very healthy diet for that day. In fact, all she has done is eat a low calorie diet while missing out on essentials like carbohydrates and proteins.
Therapists are by no means nutritionists, but we are often required to address nutritional issues. For this reason, in most cases, eating disorders are treated in conjunction with a registered dietician. The dietician helps the teen plan appropriate eating. The therapist then helps the teenage girl with the emotions surrounding staying on a food plan; this can be extremely challenging.
Eating disorders are primarily emotional. Girls with anorexia are in tight control over their diet. They control their food in what appears to be an unemotional manner. However, anorexic teens live with constant feelings of self-disgust, shame, and fear. This differs slightly from teenagers with bulimia, who also feel the self-disgust, shame and fear plus a numbing during a binge.
If you are concerned your daughter has an eating disorder, here are a few questions you can ask. First, ask your daughter if she feels comfortable with her body. You can directly ask if she’s ever trying to diet. Find out from her how much she is concerned with her daily diet. Nearly all girls are conscious of these things, but many still eat normally and exercise moderately. You want to determine if it seems a bit extreme. If your daughter is very defensive when you ask these questions, that can also be a sign of trouble.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Exhausted teens are less social, and more disrespectful to their parents. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Why Teens Need Their Sleep:
1. It helps them concentrate in school.
2. It keeps their moods more even.
3. It keeps the immune system strong.
4. They have more energy.
5. It reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.
6. Teens who are sleep-deprived eat more junk food.
7. It leads to better judgement.
8. It helps your teen with memory.
9. Teens who get enough sleep are more social.
10. Teens who sleep enough are more respectful.
The health benefits of sleep cannot be overstated. For your teenager’s psychological and physical well-being, make this a top priority. You are on your child about homework, hygiene, chores, etc. Make sleep even more important than these things. As a therapist for adolescents, assessing how much sleep a teenager is getting is one of the most important things I screen for at the first counseling session.
Teenagers need approximately 9.5 hours of sleep a night! Can you believe that? They are still growing. While they look like young men and women, their brains are far from finished developing.
Unfortunately most teenagers get about 6 hours of sleep on school nights. They are bogged down with homework, sports, and social media. There is so much pressure for them to excel in academics, sports, socially, and still be a good kid. Usually the easiest thing to forego is sleep. However, this is a mistake.
So for this next year, consider a New Year’s Resolution of everyone in the house getting enough sleep. Your whole family will benefit.
Quality family time is hard to come by during the holidays. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It’s the time of year when we all talk about spending time with family. While we do spend time with family on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, we spend a lot of the other days around this time of year being very busy. There are parties to attend, presents to buy, things to bake, and errands to run. It feels like a flurry trying to decorate, get a tree, participate in the church play, and the other million things you might have on the list for November and December.
Before you even realize what has happened, the holiday season really isn’t time with family at all.
This year can be different. If you choose to, you can make it a great time of connection for you and your teenagers. Here are 5 tips on how to involve them.
1. Include them in your shopping. While I realize they can’t come with you while you shop for their gift, they can certainly help you think of what to get everyone. They can then sit with you while you order it online, or go with you from store to store.
2. Make baking a family affair. Teens (especially teen girls) love to bake. They will actually have some fun if you make cookies together. Let them put on some music they like, and have a good afternoon together.
3. Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s truly fine to have limits around how you spend your time this holiday season. You don’t have to buy everyone a gift or decorate perfectly. Connecting with family and remembering to focus on your faith for the next 6 weeks is paramount.
4. Teach your children why Christmas really exists. We’ve made it all about shopping and giving. It is really nice to give presents. However, it also is a religious holiday. I know it can be hard to remember that based on what is shown on TV, where they will say things like, “Christmas is all about family,” or “Christmas is all about giving.” That is not the basis of Christmas and you have a chance to teach them this year that it is about the birth of Christ.
5. Prioritize some special family time. Perhaps plan a day to just stay home together, or go up to the mountains together. Pick a few days out of this busy season to just be “not busy” with your family. A lot of times you get resistance from your teens when you do this, but they secretly like it. Trust me, I know because I hear it in my office weekly.
Have a safe, love-filled, enjoyable holiday season. It’s my hope that you get in some quality time with your teenager- for the most part they love getting positive attention from you!
Helping families grow and teens improve connection,
Hello, I’m Lauren! If you notice your teen struggling, you might be feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated or concerned as a parent. Try to remember, there is hope. I want to help your adolescent feel better. My hope is for them to enjoy their life again. I want them to feel confident they can handle whatever situations arise.