Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Is my Marriage Worth Saving?"

Many couples have this question when first contemplating couples counseling.  After several weeks and many arguments, they decide to seek help.  The couple goes to my website, schedules an appointment, walk into my office, sit down and literally ask me to pick a side.
Early in my career I would assess this couple as doomed! I would do what I could to buy them some time before the inevitable break up, but at that time that’s all I had to offer.  The minute I choose a side, the other is justified in believing their innocence.  Ten years and many couples later I now know that this type of couple is not asking for help, they are asking for permission to break up.

When the question of marriage worth saving is broached now, I squarely look them both in the eye and admit, “I do not know”.  The question I offer the couple requires them to look in the mirror and ask “How much work am I willing to put in to save this marriage, and how honest can I be to my partner?”  The other side of the coin is also important; what if the marriage is not worth saving?  Then what?  It’s not up to the professional to decide whether a marriage is worth saving or not, it’s up to the couple. Their self-motivations, hidden agendas and tolerances are better barometers of their ability to survive this rough patch.  Consider these common phrases: “My husband/wife doesn’t listen to me, or puts their biological child ahead of me.” or My husband/wife lets the children get away with too much!” Then they may add  “And unless they get their stuff together we are not going to make it!”  Once this negative thinking is fully manifested and communication breaks down, the couple has entered into a very tenuous cycle of doubt, fear and confusion.  But couples that take inventory of their own needs and ways to improve themselves have a better chance of salvaging their relationship and staying together.  My role as their therapist is to encourage them to begin the work as well as being their cheerleader when revelations or behavioral changes occur.  So, the next time you ask yourself “Is my marriage worth saving?” know that what you are really asking for is permission to call it quits.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Urban Trauma; is it Real?

If your child told you they were afraid to leave the house for fear of something bad happening to them what would you say?  Would you dismiss it as an over reaction or would you consider for a moment that they could truly be scared.

Welcome to Urban Trauma.  Children who grow up in very poor neighborhoods in Chicago and other urban centers witness violence on an almost daily basis, whether in their homes, on their block or at school.  Imagine yourself, as a school age child walking to school and stumbling upon a crime scene were a body is lying in the street, alley, etc.  How would you react? 

 In order to cope you would need to normalize the situation. To a traumatized child, the fear of death is a fact of life. So much so, it needs to be managed.  So how do you as a parent, teacher or caring adult deal with a child that has witnessed violence on a regular basis?  With caring and understanding. 
 Think about this for a moment, can a young person exposed to daily trauma be expected to adhere to normal rules?  Can a young person exposed to violence expect to receive straight A’s?  As a therapist I’m disappointed that post traumatic stress is taken seriously in war veterans but not with urban children.  PTSD is real!  Ask any child who has experienced real trauma. Exposure to a traumatic event leaves one with no choice but to start over and try to pick up the pieces.  They must re-create safe zones and make sense of things that don’t make sense.  Most suffer from recurring nightmares, hyper-vigilance and depression.  They are easily startled at loud sounds or suffer sudden bouts of emotion including crying and anger.  These symptoms are a problem for both victim and family.  Most just want to forget but cannot.  In their quest to become normal they are often misunderstood and simply told to get over it.  Most experts agree that it is necessary to seek professional help when symptoms don’t go away on their own.  Remember they are the victims and their behaviors are justified, so we as adults need to be more caring.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

5 Tips for Step- Fathers

1).     Never take on the role as sole disciplinarian, follow the lead of Mom.  Ask her how would she would like you to support her, while taking note of her style. You should not be expected to raise the child alone, but are there for guidance to both Mom and child.

2).     Take your time. Don’t rush to replace the other father. Most times the father is still in the picture, if not, proceed carefully and ask the child if they would like to participate in any activities with you.

3).     Allow your wife/significant other to spend time with her child(ren) without you being present (especially in the beginning). It signals security on your part and helps to communicate that you are not there to replace anyone.

4).     Create new family rituals like vacations, dinners, sporting events etc. that will slowly replace past rituals. Step-children feel threatened when they are excluded and these activities will go a long way in easing their insecurities.

5).     When the time is right ask each individual child to spend one on one time with you, take them to places like coffee shops, ice cream parlors etc. Never to a movie, amusement part or other distracting activity. Use this time to get to know the child by listening.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Pressure!!! It's NOT Normal

We live in a society where high achievement is expected of our children by parents, teachers and administrators.  The child's reward? Enrollment in high performing schools with rigorous academic programs and schedules. Case in point, Chicago High School for the Arts (Chi-Arts). Why talk about this school?  Because I currently have a client who attends Chi-Arts and I have a relative who graduated from Chi-Arts several years ago. 
The academic pressure on Chi-Arts students is tremendous. Imagine being a teenager with a school day that begins at 8am and ends at 5pmMonday thru Friday. The first 6 hours are devoted to academics while the last 3 hours are devoted to the arts or conservatory (dance, music, visual arts, theatre). These students are being trained as artists in a professional level program and expected to maintain a grade point average comparable to selective enrollment high schools around the city. Talk about tough! When these students come to my office, the first thing I notice is sleep deprivation, followed closely by poor nutrition. It is at this point that I position myself as a coach and not a counselor per se in order to encourage them to care for themselves.  Most of my work then is sharing self-care  activities like deep breathing, frequent breaks, massages and even weekend trips to recreational parks.  Anything that will give them a break and recharge their bodies and mind.  Of course the first push back is "My grades will fall!" It is here that I balance the equation and point out if they have a psychotic break their grades will also slip, so which do they prefer? That usually does the trick.  
So, for you parents out there who have a child(ren) in this situation, pay close attention to their health and make appropriate adjustments as necessary. And be sure to include a day of REST!  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Blended families take a great deal of work and patience.  Can families make it? YES, even as the harsh reality that 66% of second marriages, that include children from previous marriages fail. Sometimes differing parenting styles and how to administer discipline cause the failures. It takes time for families to adjust to the stepparent's style and to become a cohesive family unit.  I hope you will journey with me as I share my thoughts, experiences and advice on the road to cohesion.