Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Invitation to Retreat

The shorter days and cold weather of winter invite us to retreat, take stock of what's happened, contemplate change, and emerge with newfound energy and focus. That's what I'm planning to do- hopefully with a weekend in the mountains of North Georgia. No matter what, I will create some solo time and space to cultivate the seeds of life within me. I'm not referring only to the literal seeds of life some of us carry but the spiritual or transpersonal side of ourselves, as well. We are ripe with potential.

The business of life often distracts and disconnects us from our personal hopes and dreams. If we wish for something different, we must make time to envision it. Envisioning work is quite fun. What kind of relationships do you desire for yourself? What kind of community? Career? World? It's essential to do this powerful imagining work because we live in a world that's far from perfect. If we don't imagine a better world for ourselves, who will? This is the first step towards creating it.

Fellow local counselor and writer, Baraka Elihu, highlights the importance of retreat in her book, Birthing Ourselves Into Being, likening it to the third trimester of pregnancy. It is a time to align our inner worlds with the outer transformation about to take place. By taking time to lay the groundwork for the next chapter of our lives, we allow for a smoother transition. A retreat is any place where you can hear your inner voice, steadying and centering yourself before stepping out on the journey.

Only you know what you need to do to prepare yourself for the next stage of your life. How can you make space to tune into the beginnings of change brewing inside of you? What will give you a sense of comfort during this important time? Perhaps there are muses you can look to- real or imagined- for a source of support. Maybe you'll find guidance in the natural world. Change can be disorienting but this natural experience leads to an inner transformation. Let it be one that you desire.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Approach

My approach is eclectic! Just as each of us is unique, what helps you may be different than what helps me. So, the most important thing is getting to know you! In every case, I seek to use what works- that is, what studies have shown to be effective or what is evidence-based. Some methods I draw upon are:
  • Mindfulness
  • Guided imagery 
  • Grounding or Centering
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Expressive Arts
  • Gestalt Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Bibliotherapy
  • Seeking Safety
Every counselor, including myself, also brings with us all of our personal and professional experiences in life. My passion for women's issues, LGBTQ issues, and trauma treatment comes directly out of my experience. I love connecting with others and sharing my belief that you're not alone, you can feel better, and we'll figure this out together. The resilience we're capable of never ceases to amaze me.

The number one ingredient in effective counseling, which has been proven time and again, is the quality of the relationship between counselor and client. For this reason, it's hugely important to come in and meet with a counselor and see what it feels like. You deserve a powerful connection to help in your healing work. In order to get the most out of counseling, finding the right fit is key.

Seeing as it is the second week of December, I want to wish you a holiday season full of the best kind of gifts- whatever it is you're wanting and needing from yourself, others, and life at this particular time. I'm wishing for our safety, happiness, and health- exactly when we need it most. Be well!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thanks Giving

I recently shared an article I stumbled across on my professional facebook page entitled "10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make Your Happier, Backed By Science." Research shows that giving thanks is good medicine for our mental health; this is especially important this time of year, as we are naturally called upon to share our gratitude with each other.

Take stock of all you have- and activate your innate healing abilities- with this list, specially designed with giving thanks in mind...

1. Keep a journal of things you're grateful for- share with others for extra effect!

2. Go out of your way to express your appreciation when others help you- thankfulness is contagious!

3. Reach out to someone who has helped you through a difficulty in your life and share your gratitude- be specific for best results!

4. Take note of what's not going wrong, right now- maybe there's even a blessing in disguise!

5. Make your own personal gratitude mantra: Less Stressed, More Blessed! Gratitude, Not Attitude! What works for you?

6. Plan a meal to invite people over and invite each of your fellow diners to share one thing they're thankful for with each other.

7. What does it look like to be truly thankful? Integrate this image into your experience, painting, drawing, collaging, or a taking a picture of it!

8. Who embodies gratitude to you? Let yourself draw from all figures and from all times. What message do they have to share with you? Document as you desire!

9. Contemplate what it would be like to be feeling truly grateful, right now. Breathe in this curiosity. See what happens!

10. Does reading this list reek of cheesiness to you? Make your own gratitude ritual that feels right to you- these are the most effective!

As I write this list, I'm aware of much injustice in our world. People are hurting, right now, yet there is also much to be thankful for. We each have both pain and joy in our lives. Our wellbeing depends on our ability to allow both sides of experience- even as we work to create a more just world for all.

Wishing you a bright holiday season! May you share your one-of-a-kind light with others, making memories that bring a smile! I am thankful for each and every one of our unique gifts!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Women of Many Colors

Daughter. Sister. Wife. Friend. Counselor. Able-bodied. Cis-gender. White. American citizen. These are just a few words that could be used to describe me. These labels only represent  our best attempt to capture the infinite complexity of who we are. What about you? What words describe yourself? What do you think of labels?

No two of us are born into this world with the same DNA and no two of us have the same experience. We all posses differing amounts of power and privilege based on the circumstances we were born into. I have faith that most of us desire a more just society for all. We're not there, yet. But, it's the only direction I can see us heading!

No matter where we are, our families, cultures, and communities teach us who we are and who we ought to be. Sometimes, pieces of us don't fit that mold. As girls, we might try and push our anger, athleticism, or ability to do algebra away. Guys might deny themselves their feelings. But, it's painful when parts of ourselves are rejected.

Your whole experience is welcome here! There might be issues in your life that you're on the way to outgrowing, relationships or old habits that no longer fit. You are free to shed them, making room for even more of who you really are to blossom. Still closer to the woman you wish to become. The time to bloom simply comes.

I am a woman of many colors. My life has been full of moments of contradiction. How can it not be with all of the mixed messages handed down to us?

When things get out of balance, it's time to gather ourselves up, practice some self- acceptance, and watch as our problems become smaller. I invite you to take yourself as you are, in all your moments of contradiction. There is no box big enough to hold you. No one else exactly like you! The world is waiting patiently to see what unique gifts, talents, strengths, insights, and perspectives you have to share...

You were born in many colors. Not just two dimensions.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Inner Advising

Last week, my husband and I returned from our honeymoon, one year after we shared our handmade wedding vows in the pristine rocky mountains with a few good friends. It was worth the wait to go on the honeymoon we wanted.

Towards the end of the trip, I came down with a nasty headache, upset stomach, and fatigue- feeling terrible on my honeymoon! And, it hit me- you know all that relaxation stuff you do with your clients? You need it, now!

So, I let my hubby wander down the many steps from our jungle cabin to yoga alone, laid down on the big white bed under the mosquito net canopy, and gently kindled the intention to relax and free up some healing energy for my self. Intuitively, I was drawn to an inner "resource development" exercise from my counselor's tool box.

It was time to summon my inner advisor...  In this particular process, we are invited to conjure up a figure we associate with nurturing and support....

I let myself slow down, deepen my breathing, and open my mind and heart. An image of myself at a  much younger age came to mind. This baby girl was smiling and laughing, throwing her hands up in the air on big white bed of her own in a light filled room. Maybe the image comes from a distant memory or family photograph. It doesn't matter. This little girl was truly happy just being there, being herself- the way only very young children can be! I was touched to see her!

See and be seen. It's what you want. It's what you need. I was in paradise with my partner but I had forgotten how to just be there myself! Having been with this little guru, for a time, my headache dissipated and I saw, smelled, tasted, heard, and felt everything in the world around me anew...

She is now available to me at any moment. Whenever I want or need her sweet presence, reminding me to just be myself and enjoy being in the world! You are welcome to summon your own inner advisor when you think it would be helpful- staying with the activity for as long as you want to, making it as vivid as you desire. What message does your inner advisor have to share with you? Only you know.

You are the remedy and you hold the answers.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

We Want To Live In A World...

We want to live in a world where... How would you complete this sentence? What kind of relationships, families, neighborhoods, and communities do we want for ourselves and others? As part of counseling, I often do some envisioning work with clients. Looking ahead to the people we want to become and the kind of lives we want to create can be extremely useful in helping us get there.

All of us come into the world with a mix of nature and nurture that gives us a unique set of core beliefs about ourselves and guides our thoughts and behavior. Some of us received more love and attention in our families than others and we adapted accordingly. That's okay. Wherever you're starting from is great because change generally begins with noticing where we're coming from!

Think back to the formative events in your life. What messages might they have conveyed to you about yourself? Maybe you learned that you're not important or it's not okay to show your emotions and now you'd like more intimacy and sharing in you life. I have a helpful list of beliefs that I use with clients to help us discover the often times unconscious bunch of beliefs that impact our experience.

Often times, we feel most anxious when we're already in the midst of inner change. Things becomes easier as we let our values direct our decisions rather operating from the perspective of past experiences- particularly if our past experiences left us unhappy. Sometimes we don't have a clue how to move forward and that's okay, too. You're the only one who can figure it out!

Who do you want to become? Just imagining puts you on the road to getting there.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Cultivating Abundance in the Age of Inequality

Are new age beliefs such as cultivating an attitude of abundance and concrete activism mutually exclusive? Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi suggest that having both makes the most effective change-maker.

My hometown of Athens, Georgia sure could use some abundance, right now. I remember coming across this article  about Athens' poverty rate during my final year at Naropa University and getting all fired up. If I was going to become a helper, I wanted to become a helper in my home community.

I was lucky enough to obtain a position at The Banyan Tree Center, where I am happy to report that I love what I do. And, I'm still aware of my desire to get involved in larger community building efforts. So, my eyes and ears are open to who is already having a positive impact and how I might lend a hand.

Gandhi said, "poverty is the cruelest form of violence;" we can change this.

Here are some folks who are already doing big things:

Community Connection
Project Safe
The Cottage
Athens Health Network

How can we be the change we wish to see in the world?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sometimes It's Good to Tune Out

With so many rapidly changing headlines, images, and soundbites and so many instantaneous ways to access them- from Facebook, to Twitter, to Tumbler- you name it!- it can feel impossibly hard to stay caught up! To say nothing of the dishes, pet hair, and/or bills that may or may not be piling up...

And, it's good to be able to follow the news! We're here to change things for the better and communicate with each other. But, with more outlets than ever before to stay abreast of the latest and greatest, what are we to do when part of us feels compelled to read as many articles as possible, regardless of the tension in our bodies? Well, remembering to breathe is always a good start!

What comes next is whatever works for you. To stay sane, we must make a habit of continually checking in with our bodies and minds to maintain, restore, or find balance in our busy lives. It used to be as easy as locking the door and unplugging the telephone. Nowadays, it can feel a little harder to take a moment for ourselves.

Or, is it? How can we make this global culture we are citizens of work for us instead of feeling overwhelming? We can pick and choose what and when we pay attention to the news. When we're tense and nervous, triggered and tired, it may be a good time for a comedy- or unplugging from the media! When we're feeling unmotivated, maybe tuning into a free online guided meditation would be useful.

With the world at our fingertips, it is perhaps more important than ever to be thoughtful about what we give our attention. The beauty of being human is that we are capable of caring deeply- but our very nature also requires that we take a breather every now and again to maintain optimal health. I'm suggesting it's beneficial to let the news pass us by sometimes! It will still be there when we return.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Soothing Back to School Jitters

You know that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach before the first day of school? Does that anxiety ever go away? Not according to the students, teachers, and parents I know. What about the anxious dreams about showing up unprepared- and being trapped to endure our out-of-control fate? There's something about back-to-school that's exciting, nerve-racking, and new- every time.

What if we approached each day with the same nervousness? Whew! It'd be nerve-racking. Thankfully, there seems to be a time limit on how long we can experience full-fledged anxiety. When we feel highly overwhelmed and helpless, we go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Our survival kicks in. Energy is diverted from our "unnecessary" systems, such as digestion, as we prepare to move quickly!

The same is true when we relax. Our body's feedback loop moves both ways. Try this. Take a deep intentional breath in, breathing in for three to five counts, fully expanding your chest and belly, pausing naturally at the top of the in-breath, and exhaling, slowly and fully. Feel your body and the world of sensation occurring there in this very moment. Gently and easily scan your body from head to toe.

Simply shifting gears by taking deep breathes and turning our attention towards our bodies, where we can begin to notice and release any tension stored there, sends a message to our mind that all is well. We're safe, now. Everything's fine and our energy is free to flow naturally. We don't know what the next moment will bring but our lives unfold moment by moment so feeling safe now is everything.

Trying to relax is a hard thing to do! We can't force it but we can relax naturally when we practice taking deep breaths and giving compassionate attention to ourselves- releasing our innate healing abilities. So, go ahead, take a deep breath- whether or not you've got your homework done! It can only free up energy, making you better able to respond to whatever comes up next...

Happy back to school! May we make all A's in the school of life!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Changing Skies Ahead

There is is flash flood warning for our area of Georgia tonight. There was a severe storm warning last night. And, there have been countless other warnings before that. It seems to rain and storm every day here, lately, with rainfall in the multiple inches some days. 

The doors of our house are swollen shut, making it difficult to open and close them. The garden is soggy. Our roads are flooded in places. The list goes on. What do you think of this weather? Does it seem unusual to you? How is all of this rain affecting your life?

All of these gray and stormy afternoons get me to thinking about how we're all connected with Mother Nature and each other. No one lives in complete isolation. We're each part of something bigger, even when we're alone. No one knows what the next season will bring but climate change sure seems to be happening. So, what does this mean for us? We have to take note and adjust accordingly to survive severe weather-  internally or externally. 

When things feel out of whack, when our sense of balance is thrown off- either by storms or sobbing- we tend to go into survival or fix it mode quickly and naturally. The unknown is uncomfortable for us creatures of habit! But, significant distress doesn't have to signal disaster. Instead, it can signal our need to shift things for the better. Easier sad than done.

One thing that helps is to have an anchor or regulating resource for when the going gets tough. If you're not sure what calms you down, remember, you are the only one who can find that out. Be encouraged by this fact. By experimenting with different ways to self-sooth, you will truly be the expert of your own life and able to practice what works!

I hope that we find ways to stay afloat amongst this changing climate together. Change will keep coming. Let's breathe deep, get creative, and get through this together. You can start by discovering what helps keep you sane. One small change can have a big impact.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Are You A Feminist?

Ah, the dreaded question. The word conjures up negative connotations. And, let's face it, it sounds harsh. But, feminist is not a dirty word or a bad thing. Unless you want to turn back the hands of time, caring about women and other people who are oppressed is the way to go.

Today's feminism is all about empowerment- and not just of women but of all disenfranchised folks. Ending violence against women continues to be a central theme- and also an understanding of the interconnectivity of all oppressions, in which the so-called isms (ie classism, heterosexism, racism) combine to make some of us more vulnerable to oppression than others.

Why care about women and other people who are marginalized? I tend to think we are all important and equally worthy of being in the world just as we are, without the threat of violence.

According to a report hot off the presses from the World Health Organization, more than one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual abuse. The report goes on to suggest why: "The authors describe a number of factors that likely contribute to high levels of violence against women, including economic factors, social norms that support male dominance over women, cultural acceptance of violence against women, and gender inequality in access to wages and education." Interconnectivity of oppressions. 

Why am I writing about this? Contemporary feminism is a wellness based do-it-yourself approach to happiness. As far as counseling goes, an empowering approach is key- regardless of what you call it! You are the expert of your own life and you'll know if it's helping.

Here are a few fun and empowering reads in case you're hungry for more (and my apologies for the formatting errors- blogger seems to be acting up):

Deal with It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain, and Life as a gURL

By Esther Drill, Rebecca Odes, and Heather McDonald
→ A better way to learn about the birds and the bees.

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence
By Inga Muscio
Candid, funny, and fresh views on traditional feminist issues.

By the Boston Women’s Health Collective

→ Classic text from the second wave of the women’s movement- all about women’s health.

Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters

By Jessica Valenti

→ Making feminism cool, again.

→ “With an attitude that is fierce, funny, and proud to be female... BUSTing stereotypes about women since 1993.”

→ This e-book is free to download (at the moment)!

Whatever you do, have fun!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Governing States

We all want to be happy but suffering is inevitable- especially when you live in a less than compassionate state. I'm talking about both our mental/emotional states and the governmental states in which we live- both have real effects on our health and happiness!

We saw some big decisions come out of the Supreme Court, this week. With DOMA and section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act being overturned, power was given back to the states in determining what constitutes legal marriage and fair voting practices.

Can you be happy and fulfilled in a state that doesn't grant you equal rights? The threat of violence and discrimination is a serious detriment to our bodies and minds but we have seen that we are resilient- even in the most challenging circumstances.

The first step to creating lasting positive change is noticing that we're unhappy- that what we're doing isn't working. Then we can choose to respond differently.

It will be a great day when we truly use our resources for the safety, happiness, and health of us all. Until then, we deserve our own compassion as we work towards progress- precisely because we're not there yet! Be well and be easy on yourself.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A New Path Forward

Breaking news on NPR today: "The Orlando, Fla., based Exodus International, which calls itself the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality, announced Thursday that it would cease its operations." What's more, the group's president, Alan Chambers offered an apology: "for years of undue suffering and judgment at the hands of the organization and the church as a whole." I welcome this refreshing message and see it as a sign of hope in our collective health and healing.

The counseling field as a whole has moved from seeing differences in sexuality and gender identity as "disorders" to better understanding the richness of our human experiences. Every reputable professional medical and mental health organization finds conversion therapy, which seeks to squash same sex desires or make a person straight, unethical- because it's harmful and it doesn't work.

Seeking to change who we are to fit someone else's idea of how we "should" be is not the answer; it's not sustainable and it actually increases our suffering. The more we realize it's okay to be who we are, the more willing we are to accept others. Let's continue on this trend of finding a new path forward, one that celebrates differences as well as commonalities. We're happier, healthier, and stronger this way.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Healing From Trauma

I was introduced to the work of  Jasmin Lee Cori while I was in graduate school at Naropa University where it just so happened that we lived in the same apartment building in Boulder, Colorado. Jasmin is a counselor, author, and self-identified trauma survivor who specializes in understanding, dealing with, and healing from trauma.

I saw a flyer in our building for a workshop being offered on healing from childhood abuse and neglect and came home with her book, Healing from Trauma: A Survivor's Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your life. I have since read it twice and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for some guidance in the aftermath of trauma.

Here is a sample:

Ten Points to Remember

1. Trauma is magnetic, and you have to work hard not to get swallowed up by it. There are a number of tools you can practice to help with this. The more you practice, the better you'll get at it.

2. Discover what anchors you to the here and now. Because this may be different at different times, you'll need to notice what works in any given moment.

3. The more grounded and present you are, the more you can handle and the more you can protect yourself if needed.

4. When you can manage your arousal level, you will feel more in control. So many trauma reactions are about runaway arousal.

5. When one channel of information (thinking, feeling, sensation) gets too disturbing, try changing channels or bringing in many channels simultaneously so that you can diffuse the intensity.

6. Find your rock, your regulating resource. Call upon it when trauma threatens to engulf you.

7. Identify people you can call on for help. Listen to your body in their presence. Caring others are a pharmacy all their own.

8. Having a sense of options is an antidote to the feeling of being trapped and powerless that are central to trauma. Just seeing that you have options will help you feel much better.

9. Soothing and support are important antidotes for activation.

10. It takes time for the body to recover after it has been flooded with stress hormones. Sometimes all you can do is create a safe space to wait it out.

Notice any patterns? Learning how to calm down and reach out for help is a central part of the healing process. It takes time but it can change your life. 

This is tough stuff. If you choose to explore the subject with this or another source, know that you can pace yourself and listen to your body, taking a break if you get overwhelmed. It's especially important to be kind to yourself when you're down. Consider it a prescription for your health and wellbeing. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Occupational Hazards and Gifts of Counseling

The other night I exclaimed to my hard working husband, who recently started his own tree service, "I feel bad that you come home with all of these scratches and bruises!" His response: "Yeah but your heart gets hurt at work." Goodness me!

I truly care about my clients and sometimes my heart really does hurt for them. But, I get to watch them feel better- and I am changed in the process. Just like it's worth it for my partner to get smacked by the occasional branch to get be around the trees and wildlife that he knows and loves, it's worth it for me to accompany people in pain to get to nurture and be touched by the resilience of the human spirit.

We all become changed by the people and places in our lives. It's just a matter of how.

But, returning to occupational hazards of counseling, for a moment, I was not aware of the dangers of spraining my foot in counseling- but I managed to accomplish it! My foot fell completely asleep during session and was not there to support me when I stood up. Instead, I rather dramatically fell over in front of my client! Not part of the treatment plan.

In the days since, I have had to slow down. While studying for the national counseling exam, managing a growing caseload, and adjusting to newly married life back home, I had to slow down. This wasn't easy or what I wanted to do. But, the message that my body was communicating was not lost on me.

When it comes to our health and healing, there is no finish line. No magic moment when we can begin to start living- but this isn't a bad thing. We might as well settle in and enjoy the journey. Life is happening around us right now- whether we're sitting, laying, walking, or limping for it!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When Life Is Full: Consider Compassion

Just like the moon today sometimes life is awfully full. How do you take care of yourself when the going gets tough? When your heart actually hurts and tears are running down your face?

Some of us are more comfortable with difficult emotions than others. Are you one of those people who identifies as "a crier?" Do you find crying a painful experience you would rather avoid? Or, perhaps you fall somewhere in between? Try as we all might, sometimes our glass overflows and the tears just come...

A lot of factors influence how we respond to ourselves when we feel down. Our values, our inner critic, and our upbringing all play a role. But, no one can ultimately control how we respond to ourselves but us. Whether we choose kindness or criticism, the choice is ours.

Do you reach out to a friend, give yourself some space, distract yourself with business, treat yourself to a nice meal, or berate yourself for "breaking down?" There is no right or wrong way way to respond. Only different options.

If you're like many of my clients and myself you might sometimes find that you don't know how to do things differently and be more gentle with yourself. Luckily many great teachers have laid out a path. Christopher Germer's The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion is one such guide. There are many things that we can do.

Simply stopping and taking a deep breath does wonders. We can observe what is going on in our bodies and minds and note what we find there: tension, sadness, fatigue- or whatever it might be. And, we can put our experience in perspective by realizing its ever-changing but habitual nature. It is the nature of the mind to think, wander, and worry and it is the nature of the heart to feel...

Spending a moment with ourselves in this way gives us the message that we're worthy of our own time and attention and helps us practice what works to feel better. Whatever our practice, may we grow wiser in our relationship with our whole experience, our one true constant companion...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Banyan Tree- A Holistic Counseling and Wellness Center

My colleagues at The Banyan Tree Center and I offer a holistic approach to counseling. As part of counseling, we'll discuss your whole experience- your thoughts and emotions, what you do for work, fun, how you eat, sleep, relax, relate, etc. It's all important because it's all connected.

We all have to find balance among the many pieces of our modern lives- work, home, school, relationships, fitness, spirituality. For many of us, part of our business includes managing our online presence through social media, as well. It can be hard to fit time for ourselves into the equation.

Counseling is a place that's just for you to explore your experience at your own pace. Counseling with a holistic minded clinician focuses on health and wellness and is geared towards helping you create the life that you desire. We all have changes that we want to make in our lives. Counseling can help.

If you or someone you know is considering counseling at this time, I hope that you'll take a moment and read more about our specific offerings at The Banyan Tree Center. Our services and our site was made with you in mind. Our intake coordinator would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Wishing you nothing but goodness.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sexual Assault in College: A Common Problem

College is full of challenges. On top of managing 'the usual' things- adjusting to being on one's own, balancing classes, studies, work, friends, socializing, and what's going on 'back home'- sexual assault is a common problem, especially for women. If we experience violence during this time it can turn our worlds upside down. When it does, counseling can help us get our footing back.

Statistics show that close to thirty percent of undergraduate women experience attempted or completed sexual assault before or since entering college. Experiencing sexual assault can make us feel ashamed and afraid and increase our risk of abusing alcohol and experiencing further trauma. It can be difficult to reach out. A counselor specially trained to work with trauma understands this and knows how to work with you to help you find your own answers. 

When and where you choose to see a counselor is a personal decision. The most important thing is to find a counselor who is a good fit for you. There are options on and off campus. Here in Athens, Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) at The University of Georgia (UGA) offers short-term counseling to students. You can give them a call at 706-542-2273. Many students choose to go off campus for counseling, as well. We see many students at The Banyan Tree Counseling Center. You can reach our intake coordinator for free and confidential phone consultation at 706-850-7041. Clinicians at The Banyan Tree Counseling Center and at CAPS will be happy to offer you community referrals, as well.

Counseling Today recently published a very informative article about counseling students after sexual assault. The article is geared towards counselors but provides useful information for anyone impacted by sexual trauma. Read the article in its entirety here.

Whatever you decide, if you've experienced sexual assault, know that you are not alone. And, healing is possible. Counseling can help.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Help Families Find Safety: Support Project Safe This Sunday

I received a copy of the empowering classic Our Bodies Ourselves for my eighteenth birthday and was forever changed by much of what I read. Some of the information affirmed what I already knew to be true and some was news to me, such as the fact that "Approximately 50% of the homeless women and children in this country are on the streets because of violence in their homes." I was shocked- but this is a reality for many people. If you're like me, you find this reality to be unacceptable.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone- but many factors combine to put some of us at greater risk than others. My previous employer, Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence, in Boulder, Colorado, does a great job of explaining how various forms and systems of oppression combine to perpetuate injustice against society's more vulnerable members, such as women and children (check out SPAN's community offerings here).

According to the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, women continue to account for 97% of domestic violence survivors, many of whom end up on the streets. This isn't a coincidence- and it will take time for us all to help change the fabric of society for the better- but there are immediate things we can do, as well.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness points out the need for immediate "safe housing away from the abuser," as well as "access to safe, stable, affordable housing" for the future. Project Safe provides both emergency confidential shelter and transitional housing for women and children seeking safety.

You can help women and children right here at home escape domestic violence by attending Project Safe's biggest fundraiser of the year this Sunday: Dancing with the Athens Stars. Buy your tickets online or at the Class Center box office. Read my previous post to find out what the fun event is all about. Violence against women and children effects us all- and we can all help end it!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dancing with the Athens Stars

It's nearly here! Project Safe's biggest annual event: Dancing with the Athens Stars! Mark your calendars. It's all happening Sunday March 24th at 7pm at the Classic Center. Tickets are on sale, now! Buy your tickets here.

Here's a little snippet from the Classic Center's event description: "Watch what happens when teams of novices are matched with experienced dancers in this exciting competition!"

And, more from the event's facebook page:

"Ten notable Athenians have been paired with dance instructors and each couple is creating one signature routine to be performed on stage at the Classic Center. A panel of judges will award trophies for their favorite, and the audience and community will select their favorite by voting (at $1 per voted contributed to Project Safe). This year's lineup features the most diverse array of dance styles ever, from ballroom and Latin to hip hop, Irish dance, and a martial arts routine set to music.

Tickets are $20 general admission, and all proceeds from tickets and voting go directly to services for survivors of domestic violence.

This year's lineup: Couple #1 John Bateman and Rachel Williams Couple #2 Johnetta Barnett and Amanda Carrithers Couple #3 Melanie Ford and Alex Bo-oCouple #4 Jackie Bishoff and Joseph Stunzi Couple #5 Chuck Dowdle and Natalie Cox Couple #6 Charlie Maddox and Barb Benson Couple #7 SJ Ursrey and Ladarius Thomas Couple #8 Emily Garrison and Oonagh Benson Couple #9 Jamey Loftin and Genie Wiggins Couple #10 Brett Atchley and Cassidy Carson 

To cast your votes, go to and click on the Dancing with the Athens Stars button."

Who doesn't enjoy a live dance show? Plus, proceeds go to support an important cause (from the facebook page): "Project Safe is a 501c3 non-profit organization whose primary mission is to end domestic violence through prevention and educational programs, crisis intervention, ongoing supportive services for survivors of domestic violence and their children, and advocacy/systems change work in our community... Our founders opened their homes so that victims of domestic violence could escape the pain and humiliation of abuse. Today we ask ourselves as an organization, 'What's the equivalent act of courage we must undertake to end domestic violence?'"   

Project Safe helps save and change lives right here at home- and we're all in this together. Let's help support their courageous efforts by attending this fun event. 

The night is sure to be entertaining! Read more about the exciting event's line-up here. It's interactive fun for the whole family that helps strengthen our whole community. 

See you there!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Consider the Snowflakes

A friend once wrote a song about how "people are like snowflakes." That concept popped into my head this morning as I watched the big juicy white flakes fall from the Southern sky. People are like snowflakes. No two of us alike. Yet, that doesn't stop us from trying. 

How many ways do we hurt ourselves trying to be something that we're not: "perfect?" The media seems to beckon us constantly with new ways to keep up with the latest thing we "should" be doing or worrying about. The title of one of the most popular stories on NPR today says it all: Are You Overwhelmed? You Don't Have To Be.

The piece's author, Alva Noe, asserts that "The New Perfection" fuels our sense of being perpetually stressed out or overwhelmed- in an effort to "keep up." With what? It's constantly changing. The bottom line seems to be that things are broken and need fixing. Is it possible that we feel the need to improve every aspect of our lives more so today than we have in the past? And that cell phones and other devices we keep tethered to our person have something to do with this? I think so.

Noe concludes her piece with the observation, "The bottom line seems to be that we know too much, understand too little and we are way too scared of what we might be missing." Our frenzied attempts to be "perfect" prohibit us from reaching what I imagine to be the desired destination: happiness and connection with each other. 

There is no need to "should" all over ourselves, as my Gestalt teacher used to say. Self-acceptance is the key. We're already perfect snowflakes right here in the present moment. Our attempts to behave otherwise, however well-meaning, ultimately keep us from ourselves and each other. 

So, go ahead and unplug for a minute, an hour, or a day if you want to. Let your body and mind unwind. Enjoy the snowflakes, raindrops, sunshine, or whatever it is that the rest of us might miss out on while we're all too busy tweeting and blogging... ;~) 

Friday, February 22, 2013

We Are What We Think

The importance of a holistic approach is becoming more and more evident by health care providers and consumers alike, as highlighted in a recent article Are You What You Eat? in Counseling Today. We are not only what we eat but the thoughts that we nourish ourselves with, as well.

It is the nature of the mind to think, to wander, and to worry- but this doesn't mean that we have to take all of our fears at face value. We can begin to notice when we've become derailed by negative or fear-based thinking and bring a little kindness to ourselves instead of remaining wrapped up in our stresses and struggles. By noticing when we are consumed in our worries and then responding gently and easily- perhaps by taking a calming deep breath- we can restore our peace of mind...

Counseling is a great place to explore our whole experience, including the workings of the mind. What we think, what we eat, and how we relate to ourselves and others is all connected. Luckily for us we have a say in how we choose to respond to our experience. Change is hard but it is possible. In fact, it's the only constant. Just as it is the nature of the mind to think, we can plant new seeds of thought, new avenues for our minds to wander, and explore they will... if we can allow it.

There are many great local wellness-oriented professionals we can visit, such as nutritionist Jennie Wolfe and naturopathic doctor Wyler Hecht, to enhance our counseling work. At The Banyan Tree Center, we cultivate good relationships with other health care providers in town so that we can share these connections with you. There are also a good many great books we can read. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer tops my list because- for most of us, anyway- learning how to tame our inner critic is quite the process! But, it can transform our lives.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

That Which We Call a Rose...

By any other name would smell as sweet... This Valentine's morning, I am aware of the power that our words and thoughts have on our experience.

My namesake Granny Anna Belle always said, "thoughts are things." Our thoughts directly impact our experience. Mindfulness, or paying attention to the present moment with acceptance, gives us a skillful way to respond to our thoughts and feelings- and is of growing interest to counselors and clients alike.

One of my colleagues, Tim Sweatman, shared a brief mindfulness-based intervention that he invites his clients to experiment with. The idea is this: notice when we feel uncomfortable and gently and easily shift our experience in a new direction by asking, "What would it feel like not to feel this way, right now?" We can tailor the wording to fit our experience. We might ask: What would it feel like not to feel anxious, right now? What would it feel like not to fear public speaking, right now? What would it feel like not to be worried about my health, right now? Whatever works for you.

The idea is to practice responding to our experience with compassion and curiosity rather than worrying about or fighting our experience, which oftentimes only makes it worse.

There are many ways to practice self-compassion this Valentine's Day. What would it be like to be a living love letter to yourself? Perhaps it involves writing one? Or, re-naming the day? Or, taking a break from an old worry? The possibilities are endless...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finding Balance: Our Challenge as Women

There is generally no shortage of material to talk about when first meeting with a client. The first session is a time for each of us to get to know each other, see if we are a good fit, and discuss how we might work together. In addition to talking about what brings the client in, we discuss her eating, sleeping, working, exercise, and relationships- as well as what she does for fun, what medications she is taking, how she nourishes herself, and where she turns for support. Whew! That's a lot! It's important to touch on these inter-related areas of a person's life so that together we can work holistically to address how each of these pieces combines to create a whole picture of our lives at a given moment.

My areas of focus as a counselor are women's issues and challenges and treating psychological trauma. Sadly, these areas still go hand-in-hand, as anyone who watches the news can understand. As women, we continue to ask so much of ourselves- to balance family, school, career, our physical health and appearance- and yet many of us are not feeling fulfilled. So, what gives? How do we find balance among seemingly impossible standards- not to mention a troubled economy (did I say still suffering from a double standard)? We must realize that our well being depends on our willingness to continually assess and re-assess the quality of our lives and take action when things get out of whack.

I'll give you some examples: when our health, relationships, or work suffer- or, heaven forbid, all of the above- we know that some re-adjustments are in order. This can begin with becoming aware of what it actually is that we desire. What kind of lives do we want to create for ourselves? I believe that we all want to be safe, happy, healthy, and loved. The details of this change from person to person.

For many of us, first steps towards creating the lives that we desire include learning how to really care for ourselves and trust in our own health and healing. This might mean carving out the time and energy to get more physical movement and pleasurable activity into our days and weeks. Or, it might mean finding the peace of mind to remember to take deep breathes when we're feeling stressed, reminding our bodies and minds that we can calm down- that "this" is not a threat to our survival, as our nervous systems can sometimes misinterpret. The number of ways that we can take care of ourselves is infinite. Each of us must find sustainable ways of taking care of ourselves- that is, ways that work for us.

Why aren't we doing this stuff already, taking better care of ourselves? Why does it seem so easy to forget that we deserve our own love and compassion? There seems to be an epidemic of distrust in our society- of ourselves and of others- which keeps us in a state of fear and frenzy. I recognize that living wages and even safety are in short supply for far too many of us. And, at the same time, I believe that there is no shortage of good will out there. There is enough compassion to go around. We have only to tap into it.

Talking with someone is a great way to begin your healing journey, whether with a counselor or trusted friend. Change is inevitable- and our health and happiness is on the line... So, let's reflect on our lives. Remember to breathe. Realize what it is that we desire. And, figure out first steps to get there...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

EMDR: A Promising Tool for Treating Trauma

New emphasis has been placed on the prevalence of Psychological Trauma in our lives- and its effects on our well being. Traumatic experiences are part of being human.

One well known trauma treatment center, The Meadows,  describes trauma as any less than nurturing event in our lives. This definition might seem liberal yet as a counselor I can understand its relevance. So many clients come in with trauma-related issues and concerns. My understanding of psychological trauma is any experience which causes us to feel highly overwhelmed and helpless. Psychological trauma causes our nervous systems to work too hard, which results in a number of stress-related conditions.

One tool I am happy to be able to offer clients suffering from trauma-related concerns- whether it be excessive worrying, anxiety, or depression- is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). I was initially drawn to this method by the wealth of research backing up its effectiveness. I can now personally and professionally attest to its usefulness in assisting us in healing from trauma.

The underlying healing mechanism in EMDR, and that in all trauma treatment methods, seems to be its ability help us revisit traumatic memories without feeling helpless and overwhelmed. It is immensely helpful to do this in a safe and trusting relationship, such as the counseling relationship. EMDR is just one tool available to today's counselors to help provide relief from trauma-related conditions and concerns. Specially trained trauma-informed counselors can help you through your experience, teaching you skills to stay grounded and calm and accompanying you on your healing journey.

Whatever approaches and interventions you may choose to try as part of counseling, know that you are not alone in your struggles and healing from trauma is possible.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Healing Power of Art

The daughter of two artists and an artist and counselor myself, I am never surprised to see studies documenting the therapeutic benefits of the art-making process. When the American Counseling Association's monthly magazine, Counseling Today, arrived in my mailbox, I was happy to find the article: "Thinking creatively: Expressive arts for counseling youth in the schools."

The author, Patricia Velsor, shares several illuminating points, including that "students participating in an after-school arts program showed increases in self-esteem, social skills and leadership." I have taught art in an after-school setting- and I now facilitate an experiential expressive arts group- and I can attest to this fact! Most of us learned to put away our pencils and paint-brushes at some point- that we are no good as artists. But, there is nothing like rediscoverying the benefits of the creative process.

Everyone can make art. We are all inherently artists because we are intelligent creative beings. The art-making process allows us to get in a flow state and connect with something larger than ourselves- often times each other- a good thing in an increasingly fragmented and individualistic society!

Athenians, need a little inspiration? Consider entering the Lyndon House juried art show (deadline: Friday, February 8th) and/or attending the gala opening Sunday March 3rd. Read the call for entries.

If that doesn't float your boat, pick up a Flagpole to find what other art and art classes are available around town. I will leave it to local venues to promote their specific offerings. Just know that when you engage in the art-making process, you are opening yourself up to its many-colored therapeutic benefits!

Friday, January 25, 2013

May We All Find a Little Help

A recent update from the American Counseling Association (ACA) in my inbox caught my eye:

"On January 16, 2013, President Barack Obama released a set of proposals to reduce the impact of gun violence, following the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In addition to provisions to restrict access to certain weapons and ammunition, the president’s proposal includes several initiatives to improve school safety and increase access to mental health services." 

National tragedies call for a national response and I'm glad President Obama is taking action. It is time to address the growing need for improved access to mental health services in our country. One thing we can do is to reduce the stigma associated with having mental health issues so we won't feel hindered to seek support when we need it.

We all experience challenges to our emotional well being and when we do we only have the tools at hand, the skills that we have been taught in life with which to work. For some of us, these coping mechanisms are few and far between. Mental health professionals can help us to outgrow our painful patterns and emotional problems- but only when we reach out for help.  

Brene Brown, in her new book Daring Greatly, points out "... the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection." Disconnection, as recent events illustrate, is a dangerous thing for us social beings.  

When our health and the health of our neighbors suffers it affects us all. Let's start to embrace this reality and the president's proposals to take better care of each other. We can begin by changing the way we talk about mental health issues and finding the strength, the words, and the compassion to encourage ourselves and each other to reach out when we need a little help feeling better...

Do you or someone you know need a little help reaching out, right now? Our intake counselors at The Banyan Tree Counseling Center are available weekdays to talk with you about how we can help. Our number is (706) 850-7041. What you share is entirely up to you and confidential.

May you be well, today and in the days to come, and may we all find a little help when we need it...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting Transpersonal on MLK Day

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested 30 times for his participation in civil rights activities. What give him the strength to face uncertainty and adversity constantly while pursuing his life's work?

Dr. King once said: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." It is in our nature nature to fear the unknown- but belief in something larger than ourselves can help us to face it; another way of saying this is belief in something transpersonal or beyond the personal.

What is transpersonal you? What allows you to take a break from being solely identified with your personal thoughts and emotions and tap into something bigger?

Dr. King's faith, which happened to be Christian, clearly allowed him to draw from a larger wellspring and work for the greater good. This MLK Day, in addition to finding your unique way to join in the work for equal rights which is far from over, why not also find a way to get transpersonal? Turn yourself over to a flow activity that allows you to lose yourself in the doing. Find a few quiet moments to meditate on a subject that is near and dear to you. Practice trusting your open heart and mind.

Dr. King's life's work reminds us that we don't need to know the outcome to let go of our thoughts and fears and find strength in our hope and faith instead. As poet Robert Frost said, "the best way out is always though."

Ready to be a part of the change? Here are some ways you can Get Involved.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Faith and Sexuality: A Deeply Personal Experience

Reconciling our religion or spirituality and sexuality can be a difficult dance for many of us. We all expect and accept different things for ourselves based upon our upbringing, culture, personality, and other factors. I believe that we are each the expert of our own experience. Counseling can provide a safe and nonjudgmental space to explore and make meaning from our deeply personal experiences such as sexuality and spiritual identity. What you talk about in counseling is confidential and up to you; however, you need not come into counseling to begin exploring your experience.

Much has been written about the important subject of faith and sexuality lately, including God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage, a book hot off the presses by Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson (check out this recent interview with the author on NPR), and "Overcoming the schism between spiritual identity and sexual orientation," a recent article from The American Counseling Association's monthly magazine, Counseling Today. Talking with someone you trust and feel safe with can be immensely powerful, as well. Just know that you can go at your own pace.

People are complex. May we each come to the understanding that is right for us and allow others to come to their own understanding on their own time, as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Intimate Partner Violence- All of Our Problem

Why does she stay? We've heard it a hundred times before. Putting the blame on the survivor of domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, removes the focus from the issue at hand: how we can all work towards creating a society that does not tolerate or expect such behavior. 

The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a wonderful website full of useful information for survivors, their advocates, friends, and loved ones. One of the many helpful resources you will find on this website is this list of Myths versus Facts about intimate partner violence.

A quick word on words: I use the language intimate partner violence because I want to convey that this type of violence happens to anyone- not just to straight couples or married couples, as the phrase domestic violence might conjure up for some folks.

When I imagine living in a world where everyone feels safe to be themselves, I imagine a world with a lot less violence. For this reason, I believe that it is part of my work to help dispel stereotypes. Complex problems such as intimate partner violence require creative solutions- but I believe that we are up to the task.

In Athens, Project Safe is a great resource. For more information, call the confidential hotline: (706) 543-3331.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Rules to Grief? There Are None

My cat went missing over the weekend. We have done everything we can think of to help him make his way back home. And, as for now, we still have hope. But, the whole experience got me reflecting on how there are no rules to grief and loss. Our reactions are as individual as we are.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross famously popularized five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But, she was also quick to point out that we do not move through these stages in an orderly fashion. Oh, no. We humans are much messier than that. To quote the website:

"... people do not always experience all of the five ‘grief cycle’ stages. Some stages might be revisited. Some stages might not be experienced at all. Transition between stages can be more of an ebb and flow, rather than a progression. The five stages are not linear; neither are they equal in their experience. People’s grief, and other reactions to emotional trauma, are as individual as a fingerprint."

There are many things that we can do to help with our natural grief process. Counseling, talking with others, and taking care of ourselves all help in our healing. The key is giving ourselves the compassion we need after a loss.

As for my kitty- wherever he is- may he and all beings be safe, happy, healthy, and loved... Nothing in life is certain. We never know what the next moment can bring. All we can do is pay attention. And, respond kindly.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Starting Counseling Just Got Easier

It's natural to feel intimidated about starting counseling. Meeting with the right counselor for you is the number one ingredient to effective counseling. That's why, at The Banyan Tree Center, connecting you with the counselor who is the best fit for you is our number one goal. We have 10 clinicians on staff with a wide variety of areas of expertise and personalities. If there is not a good fit on our team, we are happy to offer you a referral.

If you or someone you know is considering counseling, consider this:
1) Our intake coordinator can offer you a free and confidential phone consultation.
2) Together, you can discuss how you are hoping we can help- and possible treatment options as well as prices (most of our clinicians operate on a sliding scale).
3) If you desired, you can have an appointment set up with the counselor of your choice- usually within the week.
4) If we are unable to meet your needs, you can receive community referrals.
5) Taking that first step to feeling better can be a relief in and of itself!

Remember, we sometimes feel that we are not capable or worthy of creating the lives that we desire but change is possible. You can create the life that you desire. Meeting with the right counselor can help!

Out intake coordinator is available weekdays at (706) 850-7041 to help. Call today for a free and confidential phone consultation.

Best wishes on your journey, wherever it takes you...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Welcome to the New Banyan Tree Website!

It's here! Our brand new website at The Banyan Tree Center- complete with my latest article on psychological trauma. Hope you like it! Happy browsing!

Check it out:

Your Life in 6 Words

If I had to sum it all up in 6 words: It's all in our response.

To criticism. To spilled coffee. What can we control but our response?

What would your 6 word story be?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Revisiting Scarlett: Coming Full Circle

So much has happened in the past few months. I completed my master's degree program in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology at Naropa University, my partner- now husband- and I moved across the country from Boulder, Colorado back to our hometown of Athens, Georgia, I started work at The Banyan Tree Center, and we got married and set up an adorable rental house in the country. Now, we have made it through the holidays and I am diving into my counseling work with renewed energy.

One of the things that I've been up to is writing an article for our new website at the Banyan Tree Center, which I am looking forward to sharing with you, on the subject of psychological trauma. Our wonderful website and Google expert, Mike Usry, is still putting on the final touches- so stay tuned!

In the spirit of appreciating where we've been, I thought I'd revisit an article I wrote last winter while still living out west. The counseling program director and supervisor of my counseling internship at Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN) in Boulder invited me to write a piece for publication. I chose the topic: exploring the impact of gender roles on our experience. And, after several weeks of laboriously and lovingly writing and re-writing, I came out with this autobiographical piece:

Click here to read:

It just goes to show, you never know what the next moment can bring!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What's in a Name? Welcome to Many Colors!

This blog is named after a journal entry I wrote in college which has stuck with me:

Take yourself as you are
In all your moments of contradiction
You were born in many colors
Not just two dimensions

I wrote these words as part of a poem during a difficult time. I had just switched from studying psychology to studio art and was finding much value in the creative process. Today, as a counselor, I still contemplate the futility in trying to be someone we are not. The poem went on:

You could sit on the fence
But that's not really living

And two can play at that game
Til all the feelings go away
But what's the use pretending?
Life's worth living anyway

What's the use pretending? Life's worth living. When I read these words I am reminded of the depths of my despair- and my resilience.

For most of us, learning to love ourselves takes practice- but, I believe it holds the key to our happiness.

However you nourish yourself, I wish you well on the path! If there's anything that this poem reminds me, it's that you can trust your open heart.