Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Importance of Light

We have known for a number of years that light is very important for people suffering from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression common among people living in northern climates who have short amounts of daylight hours during the winter. Deprived of sunlight, these folks really start to feel depressed. Put them under a light box or full-spectrum light bulbs and they perk up enormously!

Now we are coming to understand that up to 50% of those suffering any type of depression are able to benefit significantly from this type of light therapy. Some studies have shown that for many people, light therapy can be as helpful as an antidepressant medication. Light therapy may even help those with Bipolar II Disorder depression. This is certainly something to try if one is depressed and he/she is not gaining relief by taking an anti-depressant medication or engaging in talk therapy. Even if they are benefiting from meds or counseling or both, light may be added for an extra boost.

As many of us cannot be out in the sun for enough time to really help depression (fair skin, concern about skin cancer, etc.), the light boxes and lamps with the right light bulbs are great. Some people buy one of the lamps and keep it on their desk at work. Others sit under the lamp while reading. Other people just bask in the glow of a light box – as if they were in a tanning bed!

If you are depressed, consider adding some light to your life. Couldn’t hurt, hey – and it may very well really help.
Just Google “Full Spectrum Lighting” to find a wide array of these gadgets. Some are expensive, but many are very reasonable in price. And let me know how this lights up your life!

Sandy Fournier, M.A., LMFT

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


What? You really believed that you would outgrow this….that it would simply disappear and never interfere in your life again? Well, for some children that does happen. Some youngsters hit adolescence and their ADHD really quiets down. For a significant number, however, it does not. One learns “coping mechanisms” to deal with it, but the ADHD that dogged them when they were kids continues to cause disruptions in their adult lives: They cannot organize their lives no matter how hard they seem to try; they forget important tasks (you know – like registering the car on time……keeping a dentist appointment) and their tempers just get the best of them, causing them no amount of grief with partners, friends and on their jobs.
But let’s, just for a moment, focus on the benefits of having an attention deficit disorder. You folks can REALLY hyper-focus on something! When something captures your attention, you are onto it 100%. You can juggle several things at once. I’ve never met anyone with ADHD who was not also creative and pretty bright. You have enough energy to power a whole house!
If you are wondering how to manage this “disorder” in your adult life, start with the web site This is an international organization that offers support to both adults with ADHD and to parents of children with ADHD (and their annual conference this year is in September, in Orlando). Their web site is large and filled with great information. Also, check out Edward Hallowell, M.D.’s website – lots of great information there, as well. Once you learn how to manage some of the things that are bothersome to you about this disorder, life can become so much easier.
I am thinking about trying to start a Deland chapter of CHADD. There isn’t a local chapter nearby. Would this be of interest to you? Let me know by e-mailing me at Your input would be most welcome!

Sandy Fournier, M.A., LMFT

Thursday, June 9, 2011


With Congressman Weiner’s recent gross indiscretion, this topic is on my mind. Why in heaven’s name would any sane person take the risk of sending suggestive messages or pictures to someone they do not know….that they have never met? I love the explanation by one commentator I saw on TV. “ NARCISSISM! “

All of us know by now, or should know by now, that our new communication gadgets and technologies bring with them many risks. There is the illusion when texting or e-mailing someone that we actually do know that person. We meet through chat rooms, dating services, whatever, and we rapidly develop a “relationship” of some sort. Please note the word ILLUSION, for that is exactly what that is. I “converse” with you via one of these methods and we become waaaaay too familiar with each other waaaay too soon. I would never assume such a “close” relationship with you if I had met you in person (certainly not so quickly).
Then, if I am a true narcissist, I simply assume that you want to really “know” me (with the narcissist, it is always all about me… know, “Hi, how are you?.....and, how are you feeling about ME?). I assume you want a photo of me in my skivvies or in the nude. Of course, you never asked me for this, but I just assume that you want this and I send it off to you with a “cute” message. And, I am totally bewildered when you are offended….or when my spouse finds out about this and is heartbroken. Repeatedly, I work with people who have made this very grave error. Many times one is married and comes for counseling after finding this type of communication taking place by their partner. They feel betrayed……and rightfully so. The pain all of this brings to relationships is enormous. Many relationships are unable to recover from this type of infidelity (and very often, the offender, regardless of multiple promises to his/her mate is unable to stop the egregious behavior without long-term counseling).

I suppose that sexting can be rather fun between committed couples – it is still far too risky. None of these communication systems is all that secure and a picture intended for just one can end up being sent to many – or being placed on YouTube.

What is the answer? So simple……just don’t do it! Don’t start this behavior, and if you are engaging in it stop. If you cannot stop on your own, ask for help. The consequences are just not worth it.

Sandy Fournier, M.A., LMFT

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Pill people. WHAT is with pill people? It used to be that we only took pills when we were sick (oh, yeah – I am really showing my age here, hey?). Now, they are a source of recreation. They are a way to leave reality when life becomes too hard.

Sometimes, a person develops a significant pain issue (think “The Back From Hell” here , folks). When we hurt….really hurt….we will do just about anything to stop that pain. Enter pills. Narcotic-type pills like Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Percocet, Oxycontin, Methadone, etc. These medications are designed to be used for a short period of time to help someone through truly God-awful pain. Sometimes a doctor will allow a patient to remain on them longer, in moderate doses, if nothing else addresses the pain. The problem is that the dose that worked yesterday may not be enough to control the pain today. The hurting person wants more…and then more… in order to stop the pain. Perhaps the doctor will even raise the dose somewhat. There comes a time, though, when the dose cannot be increased without placing the patient in jeopardy, and the ethical doctor balks. Too much of these medications can cause us to stop breathing (uh…isn’t that what happens with death?). So when a patient’s tolerance for the drug gets to a certain point, the doctor will not increase the dose. Sometimes patients whose pain is out of control will then hit the streets trying to get the drug without a prescription. Problem is, when we purchase such drugs in this manner we have no idea what we are truly getting (anybody remember some years back when heroin was being cut with rat poison and we watched a rash of deaths from this around the country?).

Sometimes, the person who initially took such a drug for pain develops a craving for the “high” they experience when they take such pills. I always thought that, with pain, narcotics only addressed the pain and did not produce euphoria or cause an addiction. I was wrong. Working on an in-patient unit in a drug-rehab facility showed me just how wrong. As two different doctors I spoke to stated, “It’s a very slippery slope!” Many people become seriously addicted to these pills quite rapidly. Any addiction is a serious problem, but the alarming increase in the number of people who are becoming addicted to these narcotic pills is almost unbelievable. The devastation such an addiction wrecks, not only on the person taking the drugs, but on their family members, friends, work situation, etc., is truly tragic. Relationships end……people lose their jobs…..quality of life goes down the tubes. Getting off such pills when one is addicted is not pleasant, and absolutely not easy. Here in Florida, with so many pill mills – supposed pain-management centers that are just a front for dispensing these pills –it makes obtaining prescriptions much easier than in other parts of the country.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with pills, there is help available. Sometimes only in-patient treatment will work. For others, working with a team comprised of a psychiatrist, a counselor, a support group and family and friends, one can “get off” pills and regain his/her life. There are ways other than these pills to manage pain. In addition, there are important, new, non-narcotic, pain management medications on the horizon (can’t get here too soon!).
To take such potent narcotic medications simply to get “high” is to tempt fate. ANYONE can become addicted to these pills. Please do not think that because you have used them and been able to stop that you will ALWAYS be able to stop. You are not the exception… just may take a little longer before you are captured by them. Please, smarten up and stay safe. This is definitely not a problem you want to create in your life.

Sandy Fournier, M.A.,. LMFT

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Are there any among us who don’t have some mother issues? Even those of us who love our mothers dearly usually have some small things that bother us about this oh-so-primal relationship. After all, this is the person who gave us life (as she frequently may remind us in the midst of disciplining us). This is the person who was (or was supposed to be) our primary caretaker when we were small. The one who actually kept us alive! She is the one who watched us step onto that school bus the very first day of school – albeit with tears in her eyes (and then returned home to FINALLY relax, all alone thank you, over a quiet cup of coffee). So, for all of this positive stuff, why do so many of us feel ambivalent about this important relationship – this relationship that is the basis for all future relationships?

Mothers guilt us, protect us, defend us, scream at us, count to ten over us, spank us, despair about us, put us down and build us up. Doing all of these things is what mothering is all about. Until we have our own children, and struggle with being the very best parent we can be, we really cannot understand how gratifying, and how frustrating, parenting really is. It is hoped that we “grow” as mothers (and as fathers), that we are able to take in new information about parenting and incorporate it effectively. After all, as the saying goes, “When I know better, I do better.”

Accepting that our relationships with our mothers (even with our deceased and long-gone mothers with whom we still have our inner dialogues) will never be the perfect “I Remember Mama” relationship that we have seen depicted on both the large and small screen is a start at some resolution of our “mother issues.” Accepting our mothers as the flawed folks they are, who never had an owner’s manual handed to them when presented with their little bundle of joy………accepting our mothers as people who usually try to do their best (and often really miss the mark)……and accepting the fact that our relationship with this all-important woman will never be exactly “right” is a start at healing some of our “mothering hurts.” Let’s give this lady a break, accept our life’s choices without blaming them on her, and enjoy what we can about our Moms. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you.

Sandy Fournier, M.A., LMFT

Friday, April 1, 2011


I absolutely-without-a-doubt know that when I present a positive attitude to the world I feel better. When I smile, or laugh, I feel better. This is not news – this information has been around for more than a few years. We feel better when we think positively, smile and laugh. So, if I know all of this – why do I engage in entertaining negative thoughts, catastrophizing, complaining, bemoaning, and being grumpy (Yep – I can really complain. Want references?). I mean, I am supposed to be an expert in this positive thinking stuff (and, I do know a lot about it). So, why would I not always smile and always be positive. I mean, I don’t think that I am a masochist!

We now know that each one of us is somewhat pre-programed to be either a positive or a negative person. We enter the world with a tendency toward one or the other. In other words, we have an attitude default. But if we consider the nature or nurture info, we also know that we have influence over our attitude, and we can change it. Actually, we have CONTROL over our attitude (and remember, there is not much in life that we actually can control). We get to choose our attitude.

I think that negativity becomes a habit. Even if our pre-programming called for us to be positive, we can override it, and choose to be negative. And that override becomes easier with time. Oh, come on! Even the most positive of us do this occasionally when we just want to have a good sulk (we feel justified to get a good grump on). The person born with a tendency toward negativity doesn’t have to work as hard to stay perpetually negative (Oh, and we sooooo enjoy being around these folks, don’t we?).

I’m working on this. I am trying to remember that what I project to the world is what comes back to me (in spades). I am definitely NOT a Pollyanna, but If I can choose to find something ludicrous in a situation instead of feeling irritated by it (like the guy who cuts me off when I’m driving and I really want to engage in sign language), I benefit. On the days when it seems like everything in the morning is going wrong, I can choose to stop, take a deep breath, force a smile on my face, and start the day over. I can choose not to dump my annoyances with the world onto others (I shall save that for my therapist – after all, she’s getting paid to listen to me), because when I do that I really don’t feel better and I have definitely rained on another’s parade. I can remember the saying that has become rather a cliché, but is still true: Give me an attitude of gratitude.

I’m inviting you to come along with me as I work on this. Send me some feedback. Smiles really are contagious. Spread the virus!

Sandy Fournier, M.A., LMFT

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Personal Boundaries Part III

OK, folks. Let’s finish up this chat about personal boundaries…..those invisible demarcations between ourselves and others. We cannot see them, but we sure do know when they have been violated. We violate the boundaries of our children all the time, thinking that is our right. Oh yes, we do! When we disrespect the little person by grabbing her harshly, when we scream at him, when we give one of them a smack (Yes, I do, oh, I DO understand the impetus to do this. They absolutely can try our patience!), we have violated their boundaries. As my one and only child is grown, I am allowed to pontificate on this… don’t know her name and can’t check with her, but if you could she would absolutely state that I violated her boundaries quite a bit when she was little. But, as Maya Angelou has explained, and as Oprah paraphrases, “When I know better, I do better.” I hope that I have learned something in the intervening years since she was small and now. Now I understand the damage we do when we disrespect our child’s boundaries while we insist that they respect ours. Children always learn by what we do much more than what we say. We model for our children how to set interpersonal boundaries. If you are a woman remaining in an abusive marriage or domestic alliance, you are demonstrating to both your sons and daughters that it is acceptable to be abused. Little boys who witness domestic violence are six times more likely (600% more likely) to batter their female partners than are those little boys who do not witness this. Little girls who watch Mom getting wacked or verbally abused grow up to experience the same. This is all true even if the children in question tell themselves, “I will never strike my partner.” Or, “I will leave in a heartbeat if my partner abuses me.” And, let us not forget that women can also engage actively in domestic abuse and that can have equally devastating consequences for children who witness the abuse.

Modeling appropriate personal boundaries for our children is one of the best “gifts” we can give them. Seeing personal boundaries respected as we grow up automatically instills good boundaries in our children. They don’t even have to address this issue….they just do it (Imagine how great it would be if you didn’t have to struggle with this issue).

To wind this up, ya gotta start somewhere. I didn’t understand the concept of personal boundaries until I was in graduate school (oh, yes, a late bloomer!). What I am saying, is that it is NEVER too late to “get it.” WHEN I KNOW BETTER, I DO BETTER!

Sandy Fournier, M.A., LMFT

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CFMHA Welcomes David Johns, LMHC

David L Johns, LMHC. David has been a licensed practitioner of psychotherapy in the Central Florida area for nearly 30 years. He has his Bachelors in Psychology and Masters in Counseling Psychology. Since 1985 David has begun to search for, study and utilize positive, solution-focused brief therapy models and has noticed that people respond quicker to these methods than "problem oriented" methods. He has certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and this combined with extensive training in Solution Focused Therapy and Certification in Rapid Resolution Therapy, he became aware of the importance of “languaging” and effect-driven verbal and non-verbal communication as key components in change work. David is past president and founder of an organization that supports survivors of homicide. His specialties include trauma related disorders, anxiety and depression, and has assisted victims of crime, physical and sexual abuse. He has conducted Critical Incident Stress Debriefings for local law enforcement agencies. He has often been called as a media guest for local television and radio news and has been the subject of newspaper articles in the Central Florida area.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Personal Boundaries Part II

Last time I explained the importance of interpersonal boundaries – that everything from towns, states, countries and people need boundaries. I also gave an example of an interpersonal boundary violation. So, how do we go about setting these things called boundaries? I believe that many of us were raised in families where our boundaries were not respected. Maybe you lived in a home where a locked door could be easily picked by a bobby pin – and where this was done while you were bathing and a sister wanted a hairbrush on the shelf in the bathroom (No….of course that never happened to me!). This would be a home where children did not learn about the importance of interpersonal boundaries. Probably all family members disrespected individual boundaries. If you were raised in such a home, no one ever told you that you have a right to set and maintain such boundaries. If that is the case, please “listen” very closely, because I am giving you permission to set and maintain appropriate boundaries. Begin slowly – learn the wonder of the word “No.” Not, “No...I can’t watch your kid because……” Just “No,” with a smile, and without any explanation.
I think that sometimes when someone imposes on us (and do not kid yourself here – this person absolutely knows that they are imposing on you!), we are so busy not being impolite that we sacrifice our own boundaries on the altar of good manners. Not necessary. If you say, “No,” and someone asks “Why?” – your answer should be something along the lines of “Because I do not want to.” -- with the smile. If the requester continues pestering, smile and say nothing. You have already answered. You do not have to engage in answering any further. This is NOT being selfish – it is engaging in self-care. Try it – it is absolutely liberating.

Sandy Fournier, M.A., LMFT

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pre-marital Counseling

We have all heard the statistics, nearly half of all new marriages end in divorce. According to, the actual numbers are 41 percent of all new marriages, 60 percent of second marriages and 73 percent of third marriages, end in divorce. In pre-marital counseling therapists can work with couples to address common areas of difficulty in relationships, strengthen the relationship and improve your chances of going the distance with your partner.

The reasons for divorce vary, from communication problems, to life situations, to financial reasons. Pre-marital counseling can assist couples with preparing for the obstacles that life throws at us.

One of the areas that pre-marital counseling can help with is communication skills and conflict resolution. Communication struggles are one of the most common problems within a relationship. In counseling, we can work with couples on improving their ability to listen, understand one another and empathize with each other. It is also important to know the ways in which each partner in the relationship expresses their communication, non-verbal, subtle, etc. I do not know of a relationship that has never had some form of conflict, and pre-marital counseling can help couples learn healthy conflict resolution skills to effectively deal with problems.

Another important area to explore within the relationship are the role expectations for each partner. Who will work? Who is responsible for the home? Who is responsible for the children? Cooking? Cleaning? These are just some of the various roles that are within a relationship, and sometimes, who will assume those roles can be the cause of conflict. Exploring each partners beliefs and expectations ahead of time, can prevent hurt feelings, resentment and conflict later in the relationship.

What are the goals each partner has in the relationship, both individually and as a family? What about career goals, and will those career goals possibly mean moving to another area or state? How does each partner feel about the possibility of moving? The exploration of these goals and the clear communication about the goals is another important aspect of pre-marital counseling. Along similar lines, the way in which the couple plans on attending to their finances can be explored and figured out.

In today's world, people have all sorts of levels of religious beliefs and spirituality (including none at all), and that can impact a relationship. Things such as where to get married, or who will marry the couple, will come up. If the couple has children what faith (if the couple so chooses to select a specific faith) with the children be raised in. These are issues that are important to identify ahead of time, because they can be very difficult to resolve after the fact, and pre-marital counseling can assist with that.

Another issue that can be addressed in pre-marital counseling, is that of family. Family issues that can be addressed are things such as whether or not each partner is interested in having children, blended family issues, and the roles that in-laws will play in the relationship as well as the family.

The top two reasons for entering into pre-marital counseling are that it will help bring you closer with your partner, and according to research, pre-marital counseling can reduce the risk of divorce by as much as 30 percent. If you are dating, preparing to take that next step, or if you are already married and would like to strengthen your relationship, Central Florida Mental Health Associates would like to help, give us a call.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


All of us seem to know when our personal boundaries are being violated -- we may not always be so sure as to when we are violating the boundaries of others. Oh, sure, we know about not getting into another's personal physical space....we know when we are standing closer than we should to someone, etc. BUT, what about violating another's psychological boundaries. For example -- when we ask someone to do something for us that we know that they do not want to do, but we exert some sort of pressure to get our way. "Yeah, I know that you had plans to do some gardening this afternoon, but is that really so important that you can't watch my kid for just a half-hour while I run to the store?" -- and, of course, the mother of the dear-little-one is gone for over two hours. That's a boundary violation! One has violated the "friendship" boundary.

Boundaries are what keep the world in balance. They define one country from another...they define one state from city from home from another....and, they set the line between one person and another. When one country violates the boundary of another country (enters without permission), countries go to war (just think about Iraq invading Kuwait back in the 1990's -- see where that took us). When our interpersonal boundaries are violated, we engage in some sort of "war" (even if that war is within ourselves, and not stated). Therefore, it is important that we learn the skills needed to allow each of us to set and maintain the appropriate personal boundaries that we need so that we don't feel put-upon, angry or hurt. As we first start to set interpersonal boundaries, we will probably feel quite uncomfortable ("He won't like me anymore....She may abandon me!"). Learning to say "No" when that word is appropriate takes practice. We don't have to be angry to set appropriate boundaries. We do need to know our bottom lines. Stay "tuned" for more on how to set appropriate interpersonal boundaries.

Sandy Fournier, M.A., LMFT

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Recognizing and Dealing with Burnout

Does this picture feel familiar? Ever feel like you have gotten to the point where you no longer care, are exhausted and overwhelmed? You might be dealing with burnout. Burnout is the state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion that results from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity. Anyone can experience burnout, whether you are someone who works in an office, a stay-at- home mother, or a student.

Some possible signs that you are experiencing burnout are that every day seems bad or hopeless; you are exhausted and wiped out; you spend your day doing nothing, focused on boring or overwhelming tasks; feel that regardless of what you do it will not make a difference; and when it comes to trying to make changes you wonder what is the point.

Some of the symptoms/effects of being burned out are:
1- decreased productivity
2- decreased energy
3- increased feelings of hopelessness
4- increased feelings of helplessness
5- feeling detached
6- lack of motivation and energy
7- apathy
8- lowered immunity
9- feelings of failure
10- use of food, alcohol or drugs to cope
11 - isolating
12 - procrastinating

There are three factors that tend to lead to burnout: personality; lifestyle; work/school/home environment. Some personality factors that can lead to burnout are being pessimistic, always in need of control, and being a perfectionist. Lifestyle factors that can cause burnout are things like all work and no play, lack of proper sleeping and eating habits, lack of a support network, and taking on too many responsibilities, trying to be too many things to too many people. The workplace/school/home environments have many factors that can lead to burnout, such as: working in a high pressured work environment; working in a dysfunctional situation; having unchallenging or boring work; lack of recognition for one's work, over expectations of work responsibilities; having different values; and having little or no control over your work.

Now that we know the effects/symptoms and factors that lead to burnout, let's talk about how to prevent them. One of the main things you can do for your overall health, physical, mental and emotional health, is to have a positive support network. Having a positive support network to turn to, can help to relieve some of the feelings of being overwhelmed. Try to re-focus your attitude, instead of looking at the things that did not happen, look at what did. Work on improving your problem-solving skills, evaluate your options and get creative with possible solutions. Work on managing the stressors that led to the burnout, and establishing healthy boundaries. In other words, if school was the primary source of your burnout, maybe take less classes, get a tutor, form a study group or re-organize. Be sure to get the proper amount of sleep, eat properly and exercise routinely (check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program). And finally, unplug. Give yourself time to get away from your computer, phone and television. I know a lot of my clients tell me that they use their television to unwind, but the truth is that it simply postpones reality. Go for a walk, swim, or read a good book.

If you are feeling burned out, counseling can be one way to help you manage your feelings and get back on your feet. If we can help, please give us a call.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

To Sext Or Not To Sext?

Does your teen have a cell phone? According to, seventy-three percent of teens do. So how up to date are you about their texting habits? Did you know that teens who text send an average of 118 texts per day? Are any of the texts your teens are sending sexts? Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit pictures or messages by the use of cell phone.

Sexting is a growing habit amongst teens. Check out the following statistics:
20% of teens sext
22% of teen girls sext
18% of teen boys sext
11% of teen girls between the ages of 13-16 sext
23% of teens think sexting is okay
48% of teens think that adults over-react to sexting
86% of teens who sext are not caught.

The problem with sexting is that there is NO way to control it once it occurs. Once the images or texts are out there, the person receiving them has the power/control to do whatever they wants with those images/statements. There was a case in Cincinnati in July of 2008, where a teen girl sent her boyfriend a nude photograph, and it was circulated around her high school. She ended up committing suicide after the ensuing embarrassment and harassment from fellow classmates. In addition to the control factor, in some states teens caught with sexting pictures on their phones can be charged with possession of child pornography or felony obscenity.

So as parents what do we need to know? First off here are some key texts that parents should be aware of:
PAW - parents are watching
PIR - parents in room
POS - parent over shoulder
PAL - parents are listening
P911 - parent alert
CD9 - parents around
Code9 - parents around
These are just some of the abbreviations that teens are using to alert the people on the other end about parents are around. If you google "sexting abbreviations" you can find out what some of the other abbreviations mean (not listed here due to graphic content).

It is important to educate your teens about the consequences of sexting. Let them know that in some states they could face criminal charges, including possession of child pornography/distribution of child pornography, and the possibility of having to register as a sex offender. Make sure that they know that once they send those images out, there is no way to control where they go, or who sees them. The number one thing that you can do to help your teens is to talk with them. Have open dialogues with them and don't be afraid to have difficult discussions with them. It is better to have open discussions with them before something happen versus trying to make things better after the fact.

If you would like more information about sexting and what you can do check out

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Importance of Support

Who do you turn to during times of need? Who do you celebrate important events with? Who do you call when you are stressed out? And lastly, who do you call when you simply just want to talk? Regardless of your answer to each question, the answer is the same....the person that you call or turn to is part of your support network. A support network is an informal group of people we assemble during our lives, whom we participate in a reciprocal relationship with, sharing information, support, advice, guidance, good news, and celebrations. A support group is different from a support network in that it is typically a formal group of people, with a leader (either the group leader or a mental health therapist), that meet at a specific day and time, for the purpose of discussing a specific issue.

Support networks are beneficial to our overall mental and emotional health. By having a positive support network, studies have shown that it can help improve our self-esteem. Our support networks can improve our sense of belonging, self-worth, and feeling of security, knowing we have people that we can turn to. There are many places you can look, if you are trying to build or strengthen your current support network. Listed below are just a few:

-Family - try to focus on family members who can reciprocate a positive and healthy relationship
-Volunteer - volunteering is a great way to meet people who share similar interests as you
-Join a league or group - bowling and softball leagues are popular ways to meet new people

However you assemble your support network, the key is that you must be sure to cultivate your relationships. Remember your support network is not only there for times of need, but also in daily life and times of celebration. Stay in touch with your support network, call someone, go out to dinner or coffee. Make sure that you return the support to the people in your network, do not only contact them during your times of need, be there for them, and be a good listener. And finally, be sure to let the people in your support network know how much you care for and appreciate them. A sincere thank you goes a long way. By building and maintaining your positive healthy support network, you will also be strengthening and building your mental and emotional health.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gamer or Addict?

Two questions.....first, do you remember the first time you played a video game system? I do, it was Atari, and my favorite game was called River Raid. Video games have come a long way since then, now there are multiple game systems, handheld game systems and cell phone gaming available to choose from. The second question, are you, your child, or someone you know a gamer, or an addict? Yes I said addict. Most people think of addiction as pertaining only to substance use, however video gaming is being equated with the same type of addiction as gambling.

After looking at multiple definitions of a gamer online, I came up with the following definition. A gamer is quite simply, someone who is a devoted player of electronic video games. According to the definition of an addict is a person addicted to an activity, habit or substance. also defines addiction is the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit forming, such as narcotics, to such an extent that cessation causes severe trauma.

There is a recent University of Iowa study that has come out, that focuses on the effects of video gaming on children. The survey spanned three years, and surveyed 3034 Singapore children from third through eighth grade. The results of that study were that 83 percent of those children played video games approximately 21.5 hours a week. The more concerning result of that study was that 9 percent, almost one out of ten, of those children study were to be considered addicted to video gaming. Those considered addicted were observed to play more than thirty hours a week, lacked social skills, had a decrease in empathy, increase in impulsivity, and increased levels of anxiety and depression. In addition to that study, there is an addiction treatment center in Amsterdam that now has a detox type unit for gaming addicts.

Here are some warning signs of video game addiction:
- playing for an increased amounts of time
- thinking about gaming during other activities
- gaming to escape real life issues
- lying to people about how much you game
- feeling irritable and frustrated when you don't get a chance to play

Now, just because a person spends large amounts of time playing video games does not mean that they are addicted. Simply to get to a stopping point in some games takes a minimum of an hour. However, if they meet some of the warning signs above, or if they become angry, violent, or depressed when they attempt to stop playing or have their games taken away, you might want to pay attention, and seek some assistance. As parents, don't be afraid to set limits and boundaries on video gaming. Those limits and boundaries can include where they can game, when they can play and for how long. Video games are fun, but just like most things, should be done in moderation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cyberbullying - Part Two of Two

In last week's blog I addressed some of the issues relating to cyberbullying: what it is; ways kids cyberbully; and the effects of cyberbullying. In this week's conclusion on cyberbullying I will address: why kids do it; statistics; a recent case in the news; how to prevent it; and some resources.

Over the past week I came across a news article in which two teenage girls in Florida have been arrested and charged with cyberstalking. In this case the two girls (ages 15 and 16) were charged with cyberstalking after they created a fake Facebook page for a classmate. On the page the two teens allegedly created altered pictures of the classmate - in sexually explicit situations - and made disparaging remarks about the classmate. The reasons the two girls gave for this behavior? "Because nobody liked her," and the other one stated she "thought it would be a funny joke."

With that being said, here are some other reasons kids bully/cyberbully:
- for power and a feeling of control
- entertainment, for laughs, or because they are bored
- they think they will not get caught
- do it as a result of peer pressure
- they are motivated by revenge, anger or frustration

In a survey done in 2009, by Cox Communication, of kids ages 13-18 they found the following results:
15% said that they have been bullied online
10% said they have bullied via their cell phone
7% said that they have bullied another person online
5% said that they have bullied another person using their cell phone

So how do we keep our children safe? What can we do to prevent this, or decrease the likelihood of it happening to our children? The first thing is that you have to educate your children. Teach your children never to give out personal information online, never share their passwords, and never meet someone that you only know online. Inform your children of the consequences that can come with cyberbullying, such as losing your ISP, or various accounts (Facebook, IM accounts, etc). Also, as parents be aware of what your children are doing online, and keep computers in public areas of the home, keep them out of bedrooms.

However our children have power in this cyber world as well. Children have the power to block communications with any bully, and can delete messages sent by a bully without reading them. Children can encourage their friends not to participate in cyberbullying, and refuse to pass on messages bullying others. And last but not least, children should tell someone - an adult, a friend or even report bullying/threatening to the service provider.

The most important thing you can do is to talk with your children. Keep open communication and teach your children how to be safe. If your children feel comfortable talking with you, they are more likely to come to you when they have problems. Together you can help them work through any situation, including cyberbullying.

If you are looking for further resources on cyberbullying go to:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cyberbullying - Part One of Two

Last week I focused my blog on bullying and your child. This week I wanted to take more time to focus on the increasing problem of cyberbullying. Some of the differences between cyberbullying and traditional bullying are that cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, even in the victim's home, which with traditional bullying is typically a source of refuge from bullies. Additionally, because cyberbullying can be anonymous, it can be hard to track. One of the benefits of electronics is that they are quick and easy to use - which also helps to spread the cyberbullying so fast. The definition of cyberbulling is the willful and repeated harm/attempt to harm, threaten, harass, or embarrass one child, by another child/group of children through the use of electronics (cell phone, Internet/computer, etc). Because of this definition, the only limitations cyberbullying has, are the child's creativity, and the type and access to electronic devices. With cyberbullying both the bully and the victim must be minors, otherwise it is considered cyberstalking or cyberharassment. Here are some ways in which children are engaging in cyberbullying:

1. Developing websites with the express purpose of bullying, or posting pictures or personal information of the victim. If you watch the television show Two and a Half Men, aside from the fact it happened to an adult, there was an episode in which this occurred to Charlie, via an ex-interest.
2.Through the use of social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, where they are free to upload pictures, and make posts. Another thing that bullies are doing is utilizing these networks to have votes regarding 'who is the biggest slut,' 'who is the dumbest person,' and you can imagine some of the other categories.
3. By using their phones and sending either harassing or threatening text messages. Groups can also get together and focus on one victim and send mass amounts of text messages, which have the potential of causing more trouble for the victim as they might get charged for the messages and then have to deal with irate parents due to a large phone bill. Another way in which kids bully through their phone is by sending pictures of the victim. Sometimes the pictures are embarrassing, others are degrading, and some are pictures of the victim nude (sometimes taken in locker rooms or bathrooms), which are considered child pornography.
4. Through the use of their computers, bullies can bully by using instant messaging; tricking others into believing the bully is the victim and spreading lies/rumors about the victim; hacking victim's computers; sending viruses; and signing the victim up for mass email lists.
5. Another new way in which cyberbullying is occurring is through gaming. Things such as online gaming, whether it be through the computer, or online game consoles such as XBox Live.

Cyberbullying tends to have the same types of effects on its victims as does traditional bullying. The victims might make efforts to avoid school, or may display changes in mood after being online. Children may isolate themselves, have increased feelings of anxiety or depression, some may even attempt suicide. No matter how you look at it, cyberbullying is an ever growing problem among our children.

In next week's blog, I will address some of the reasons why kids engage in cyberbullying, some statistics, and things both parents and children can do in order to prevent cyberbullying and keep themselves safe.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What's on your mind?

The human brain processes up to 60,000 thoughts per day. When anxious or depressed we typically spend more time attending to negative thoughts and images. As a result, things around us tend to get affected negatively, which, only encourages us to be more down and anxious. This is what can make anxiety and depressive disorders so difficult to manage at times.

Now, I am not going to say that thinking positive will make all your problems go away. But I feel confident saying that becoming more mindful and aware will help us not waste so much emotional energy on the negative thoughts and images.
Travis McBride, MA, LMHC

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bullying and Your Child

Bullying is an ever growing issue with our children these days. Three out of four children report having been bullied or teased at school, and approximately 160000 kids miss at least one day of school due to bullying. When I was in school, bullying generally consisted of physical and verbal harassment. However, in today's world, kids not only have to deal with physical and verbal bullying, but with social exclusion and cyber bullying as well. Cyber bullying is the new form of bullying that is rapidly growing, in which kids bully each other through the use of electronics, such as cell phones (texting and picture taking) and through the Internet utilizing social medias like MySpace and Facebook.

Bullies bully for many reasons. Some bully because they like having the feeling of power over other people, thusly they tend to pick on people who are smaller, possibly more emotionally sensitive, or have trouble standing up for themselves. They also use bullying as an attempt to build their self-esteem and feel important. Sometimes it is displaying behavior that has been role modeled in their home. Or possibly they bully because they themselves, have been bullied.

Whatever the reason someone bullies for it can have a serious impact on the person being bullied. Here are some possible signs that your child might be getting bullied:

- Your child starts missing school, or trying to stay home from school
- Your child no longer talks about school
- Your child's grade begin to decline
- Your child has unexplained injuries or ripped clothing
- Your child has a loss of appetite or sleeping problems
- Your child begins withdrawing or having mood swings

As a parent, if your child tells you that they are being bullied, be sure to take it seriously, DO NOT minimize it. Be sure to keep your lines of communication open with your child, and do not assume that just because your child has stopped talking about the bullying that it has ceased. Even though your child may ask you not to, if the bullying is happening at school, it needs to be reported to school officials. Nowadays, many schools have a zero tolerance policy for bullying and harassment, so check with your child's school and find out about its policy. Be sure to be empathetic with your child if they come to you, DO NOT tell them they are being oversensitive, otherwise you have just closed your line of communication with them.

Some tips to tell your child if they are being bullied:

- Do not hide from the bully, but if possible avoid the bully by taking a different hall to class
- Try ignoring the bully
- Speak out - tell your child to make statements like "I don't like that" or "stop that"
- Tell your child not to fight back - if possible - as this will not only increase the likelihood for increased violence, but will also provide the bully with the satisfaction of having "gotten to you."
- In the heat of the moment, while it might be difficult to withhold their feelings, tell your child not to show their feelings to the bully, as the bully could view this as motivation to continue the bullying. In contrast, if possible, deflecting the bullying with humor, or having a nonchalant attitude, has been shown in studies, to diminish the bullying.
- Tell an adult
- Tell your child to use the buddy system, and walk with a friend or friends
It is important to listen to your child. If you feel as though your child may be being bullied, ask questions. How do you feel when you are at school? Who do you play with on the play ground? How do kids treat each other as school? Provide your child with the opportunity to communicate with you, how they are feeling. Empathize with your child, and work with them on finding a solution to their situation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

While this is a common mental health disorder for millions of children and adults, a great deal of myth and mystery surround this disorder. Typically a classroom teacher is the first to notice the symptoms. This is most likely due to the structured school environment that requires extended periods of focused concentration and attention. Some behaviors you might observe in adults include distractibility, impulsivity, trouble getting along with co worker and avoiding activities that require sustained attention. In children common behaviors are distractibility, difficulty getting along with or fitting in with peers, impulsivity or hyperactivity and very short attention span.
The DSM IV (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition) is utilized in making a formal diagnosis. Further items that are considered in making a diagnosis are the persistence of the symptoms. The symptoms must have been present over a six month period. Another factor to consider is the number and severity of symptoms. There must be a specific number of symptoms in each criterion and considered by the clinician as maladaptive. Another factor is the age when the symptoms began. The clinician must be able to determine that prior to the age of seven the symptoms were severely impairing a person’s ability to function. The last factor to consider is that the symptoms must be present in two or more settings.
In conjunction with the DSM IV, a clinician will interview client, gather a thorough history, observe client’s behavior, and utilize standardized assessment measures. Some typical standardized tests that are used include parent rating scales, teacher rating scales, self rating scales, WISC and WAIS intelligence scales and family functioning scales. The typical treatment modalities for ADHD are behavioral and cognitive. Behavioral approaches can include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, time out, and extinction. Cognitive approaches include contingency management, parent training, classroom behavior management, academic skills therapy, social skills therapy and multi modal therapy.
Medication is often utilized to treat ADHD. This type of treatment is often utilized when the symptoms are severe enough to impede client’s daily functioning either academically, socially or occupationally. While the research varies on whether or not this is the most effective treatment for ADHD, most clinicians agree that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is the best approach. A licensed child psychiatrist is the most qualified person to determine whether or not medication is appropriate for a minor under the age of eighteen. A licensed psychiatrist can make that determination for an adult.
Jennifer Nadelkov, LMFT

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tips for Protecting Your Children on the Internet

Do you remember the first time you experienced going online? Using email? For me it was the early 1990's and I was using an email provider, who, for the life of me, I cannot even remember the name of. Things back then were simple, there were not a lot of options. We had two computers, a PC and what I can only imagine was an early model of a "laptop" computer (it was just as big as the PC terminal, only with a screen and keyboard built into it). Quite the contrast to what you might find in a home today. Nowadays, kids have their own computers, and access to things online, I never thought imaginable in the early 1990's.

With social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, and search engines like Google and Yahoo, kids today are growing up in a world with no boundaries. They have access to a wealth of information and experiences. But like most things, those opportunities come with responsibilities. The Internet, for all of its wonderful contributions to society, has also created things such as cyber bullying, identity theft, and expanded the reach of predators. So how do we keep our children safe online?

Here are some tips to help protect your children while on the Internet:
1. First and foremost, talk with your children. In an age appropriate manner, warn them about some of the dangers of the Internet and ways that they can be safe, such as not giving out personal information.
2. Set house rules for computer use, things such as all computer use will be in public areas and setting time limits for the Internet.
3. Teach your children about responsible ways of using social networking sites, and about things like identity theft.
4. Role model for your children. Be careful about the things that you post on your social networking sites, as your children will see it.
5. Use parental control devices. Things such as key loggers to keep track of your children's online activities and web filters to block harmful or inappropriate sites.
6. Be sure to set your privacy setting appropriately to protect yourself and your children.

The Internet is a wonderful resource for education, socializing and entertainment, and hopefully these tips will help you keep your children safe while utilizing it.