Why would I go to counseling? I mean… I’m fine.

It seems pretty obvious to have a blog post about why counseling can be helpful on a counselor’s website. But sometimes the most obvious things are most often overlooked and so I wanted to slow down a bit and take a minute and talk about this. We live in a culture today where busyness is prized and intentional self-care is seen as selfish, or at the best, not the noblest use of our time.  Self-care can happen in a lot of ways-many we have heard about for years: exercise, eating good, getting good sleep. When is the last time you have seen “counseling” on a list of suggestions for self-care? I can't think of a time either. We go about our lives thinking, “I mean, I’m fine.” People ask us how we are, and we respond, “I’m fine.” We have this internal dialogue of all the reasons we are “fine”…or should be ”fine”…but…there is something lacking. Something missing. We have good, fulfilling-enough lives filled with careers we tolerate well enough, family that gets along well enough (at least others think so), we are healthy enough, have relatively enough stuff…and yet, it just does not seem like enough. And not in the materialistic sense of the word. As in “there has got to be something more to me…to this life…to my marriage…to raising kids…to my career” sort of enough. The longing, the knowledge of something more that is planted inside of us that will not be silenced, no matter how much we have told it to hush and be fine with “fine.” Counseling is the roadmap to more. Even if you are “fine,” these are some reasons to consider counseling, because, afterall, we are meant for more than “fine”:

  1. Going to counseling does not mean you are not fine. It means you want better than fine. It means that you are responding to that urging in your heart that says, “This is OK, but you were meant for more.” We push it aside, demoting ourselves and our place in this world when we do. Through counseling we can take a journey to wholeness and fulfillment that used to feel out of reach. Counseling gives us a dedicated time and a dedicated place to work through tough emotions and experiences that frankly, we don’t have the time or emotional energy to deal with in our day to day lives. It gives us space to talk about the hard things and the support to know we will not walk through them alone. It gives us the tools to make changes to longstanding ways of thinking and acting which can profoundly impact our relationships and our views of ourselves and the world. 
  2. Counseling is confidential in a world where everyone’s business is everyone’s business. The age of social media has thrust us into a world where nearly nothing is private. 
  • The birth of children: a celebration highlighted by a 45 picture album on facebook within moments of the birth
  • Vacation of a lifetime: day by day photo journey on Instagram of all the things you did and saw
  • Your son hitting his first homerun: documented on Instagram and put on youtube for family viewing
  • Our kids potty training, our fiance’s proposal, the death of our parent, our friend’s sudden illness

Nothing is private anymore. I am not taking a position on social media and whether it is good or bad, but I am simply stating a fact-there is little that is personal or private anymore. AND YET, research tells us that people feel more isolated and alone than ever. Why? Because a lot of people know a lot of THINGS about us, but few i people actually know US.  Counseling can bring an authentic and genuine relationship to our lives that results in us being fully known and fully accepted. Counseling provides a place and the relationship that is deeply personal, yet objective and highly confidential so that you can talk about things that you do not post on social media. Just because nothing seems private anymore does not mean that we do not have things are very private and personal that we need a safe place to talk about those things and their impact in our lives. 

  1. Through counseling you spend dedicated time focusing on YOU. To really talk about you. Just sit and think about it for a minute. When is the last time you talked about you? Not about an issue in your life, not about something going on at work, or something your child did. But actually about you. Your past. Your experiences, your expertise, your perspective. If you are like most people, rarely do we actually talk about ourselves. We skim the surface of our lives in conversation. Skimming the surface will never lead to growth and self-awareness. Examining ourselves and our experiences and our perspectives is how we begin to grow into the person we want to be and have the relationships we want to have.   Talking about you is not selfish; it is fundamental to growth and change. 
  2. Counseling gives us a chance to learn about ourselves. Curiosity is a great trait and I submit that we would all be a bit better off if we were more curious about ourselves.  In college, I went to counseling because I did not have a hobby. I was in graduate school for social work at the time, and I had started interviewing for internships and jobs and the usual topic of “what do you do for fun?” or “what are you hobbies?” would inevitably come up. It bothered me so much I could not respond with “Golf” or “running ultramarathons.” Truth was, I pretty much enjoyed doing most anything, well, except for golf or running ultramarathons. So like any good new social worker, I was all about self-discovery and learning myself so I went to the counselor’s office, sat on her couch and when she asked, “so what brings you in today?” I told her it bothered me I didnt have any "hobbies." I came out of that experience with something better than a discrete list of hobbies: I came away with a clearer understanding of myself and this thing that bothered me didn't bother me anymore. This may seem small and insignificant to some, but that’s the beauty of counseling. It’s about YOU and what bothers you.  If it matters to you, it matters.  Always keep learning, especially about yourself.

  There is no “wrong” reason to go to counseling and it’s up to you the amount of time and money you invest. But ultimately, if we will not first invest in ourselves, how do we invest in the lives of others?  There is better than “fine” and I hope you do everything you can to find it. If any of this resonates with you, please contact me  or any number of great therapists in the area. 

Posted by Sarah Pendleton at Wednesday, Apr 10

Why Video Counseling May be right for you

Teletherapy , online therapy, video counseling, are all synonymous with a relatively new way of delivering counseling services using technology. A quick entry into a google search bar will show that video based counseling is by no means a newfangled, untested approach to counseling. While services run the spectrum of everything from intensive live video (like Journey Clinical Services) to text/chat support coaching, it is easy to see that people are interested in accessing mental health care online. This really speaks to the need that people want counseling that is convenient.  It simply utilizes technology and brings the counselor into your home or work place, or car, where it is convenient and private for you.  Some key things to know about video counseling are:

  • Online medical and mental health care has been employed by large corporations and federal entities for decades. Mainstream popularity is still fairly new and definitely growing, but it is by no means an untested, unproven way to deliver services
  • Practitioners must have the same credentials regardless of if they are providing in-office or online counseling. All counselors, regardless of location of sessions must have appropriate education and licensing requirements in order to provide the service.
  • Client security and safety is paramount whether the sessions are in-office or online. There are a a few circumstances that in-office care would be the preferred mode of treatment for a client, however, most clients can be treated as safely and effectively over video counseling as they can in-office. There are special accommodations made for online counseling sessions to ensure patient safety in the event of a medical or psychological emergency during the session.

Other key benefits to video counseling to consider:

  1. Convenience. We are busier than ever and evidently more depressed than ever. 1 in 6 people are on depression medications and there has been a 64% increase in depression medication prescriptions since 1999 (Pratt L.A., Brody D.J., & Gu Q. Antidepressant use among persons aged 12 and over: United States, 2011–14. NCHS Data Brief, No. 283. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2017). Being busier and more depressed than ever poses a crisis for many; they know they need counseling but quite frankly don't have the time for it.   Journey Clinical Services was born out of personally seeing this need for myself and my family. As a working mom to three, I had a child in counseling that required 3 hours of time out of my day for a 50 minute appointment and a single counseling appointment often required:
    • Taking leave from work 
    • Hour and a half round trip drive to and from the counselor's office
    • Checking child out of school for appointment
    • Interrupting my younger kid’s nap schedule
    • Toddler crawling all around waiting room floor during flu and cold season
    • Rush hour traffic
    • Screaming baby who was hungry while stuck in rush hour traffic

It was too much. I thought there had to be a better way.  I know there are other people like me. Other people who desperately want counseling for themselves or for a family member, but do not have the time for a 50 minute session, an hour round trip drive, and childcare for their kids while they are there.  So often others find they are between a rock and a hard place of knowing counseling could be beneficial, but are simply unable to meet the demands that it requires, along with everything else. With online counseling like Journey Clinical Services, you need a high speed internet connection (wifi or 4g), privacy and 50 minutes. You can have a live, face to face video counseling session from your couch or kitchen table at home while your child naps, or from your office on your smart phone during your lunch break or from your car while your kid is in soccer practice.  It makes counseling as convenient as possible. Online counseling aims to fits into your life, rather than asking you to fit your life around counseling.

  1. Confidential. All counseling is confidential, but online counseling offers an additional layer of confidentiality that in-office sessions do not: it eliminates the potentially uncomfortable situation where you see someone you know at the counselor’s office. I live in a pretty large city and I have had experiences of running into neighbors and coworkers at the counselor’s office. I do not particularly mind, because counseling is my field and I think it is a great resource, but I have felt bad for the neighbors and coworkers I have seen who have felt a need to “explain” why they are there, or try their best to hide behind the large potted plant in the office waiting room. This can be even more of an issue in smaller towns or when the client is a well-known or has a position of prominence in the community. Pastors of well-established churches or business owners or the favorite teacher at the elementary school may shy away from getting help they need for fear of running into someone at the counselors office. Online counseling eliminates this concern, making it truly confidential.
  2. Cost Effective. While the hourly rates are the same for in-office or online sessions, online counseling can be cost extremely cost effective. Online counseling does not require your time to commute to and from the appointment, which can save you from taking unpaid (or paid) leave from work. It eliminates the need for gas to and from appointments. It eliminates the need to pay for childcare if you can log on to a session while your spouse is home in the evening, or the hour while your daughter is at gymnastics, or during your lunch hour at work. Given the amount of time we have each day is finite, video counseling inherently places a high value on time and makes counseling as efficient as possible.
  3. Comfortable. We conduct so much business and aspects of our lives online, it only makes sense to offer counseling in a manner that is consistent with how we obtain the vast majority of our information and the things we need. Research shows that online video based counseling is just as effective in achieving desired outcomes as in-office counseling. It also reports as high, and sometimes higher satisfaction rates when compared to in-office counseling. Gone are the days when we should accept that life-changing counseling can only happen in a therapists office miles away from our own homes. Today we have the ability to access the same services from the comfort of our homes or own offices where we do life each and every day.

Online counseling provides a great alternative to in-office counseling and is another avenue that enables us to get the help we need.  I see clients who reside anywhere in Alabama, from the convenience of thier work and/or home.  I'm happy to answer any question(s) you have about online counseling in general or as it pertains specifically to Journey Clinical Services. I'm here to help

Posted by Sarah Pendleton at Monday, Apr 8

Myths About Counseling

Myth: I will have to lie on a leather sofa and tell all my darkest secrets to a stranger

Truth: For most people who have not tried counseling before, this is often an image that comes to mind. Now it is true, some counselors have leather sofas. I suppose it is up to you if you lie down on it or not. As far as Journey Clinical Services goes, it is completely up to you where you sit, because you will be at your home, or anywhere else you choose. As far as asking or requiring you to share all your dark secrets to a stranger, that is not the objective of counseling at all. The objective of counseling is to work on your goals and to provide a safe and supportive place for you to be able to achieve your goals. It takes time to establish trust and rapport with the counselor. Oftentimes the first few sessions are spent doing just that, the counselor building your trust through seeking to know you and building a foundation of understanding. A counselor knows that trust is absolutely required for a client to have a transformative experience and counseling cannot be truly effective if the client does not have absolute trust in the counselor. Sometimes reaching goals does involve talking about difficult things, but you decide what you are comfortable with and your emotional well-being is being continually assessed. A counselor should NEVER process a difficult issue with you if they do not also have time to ensure you are feeling emotionally safe and stable to leave the session. Everyone has secrets of sorts, and difficult things in life but honestly, they are just not all relevant to your counseling experience. We focus on you and what you want to get out of counseling, and certainly uncover some things in that process, but it is at your pace and comfort level. 

Myth: Only crazy people go to therapy. 

Truth: Therapy is for everyone and besides we do not use the word “crazy” anymore, unless you are talking about my child’s hair in the morning. Therapy or counseling, whichever you prefer to call it, is simply healthcare for our minds. No one bats an eye at anyone for getting a physical, going to the doctor for a cold, yet for some reason we still raise an eye brow when we find out someone is in counseling, or we feel weak to admit we probably ought to go ourselves. This is a soapbox I could stand on all day long, but instead I will sit here and write about. Therapy is a useful, clinically proven method of helping us deal with past and current life circumstances in order to live full and content lives. Do we necessarily HAVE to go to therapy to live full and content lives? No.  Is it very beneficial sometimes? Absolutely. Counseling is a great way to carve out space for ourselves and the things we want to work on in our own lives. We can spend hours perusing websites on how to work on relationships throughout our lives, or we can invest a handful of hours working directly with a therapist to learn insight to ourselves and new ways of thinking and relating to others to improve our relationships. Counseling is for everyone at different times. If we live long enough, we will experience some stress, some trauma, some way in which our own coping skills have reached their maximum capacity. These are the times we can really benefit from the supportive, unbiased relationship with a counselor and the skills they can introduce. 

Myth: If I prayed more, loved Jesus more, had more faith, _________more, I wouldn’t need counseling. 

Living in Alabama, considered part of the “Bible belt” I hear this one a lot. I am a Christian and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and He alone is capable of saving me and He alone gives purpose and meaning to our lives. And I have been in counseling at different times over the years. This myth saddens me in particular because I think it is at the root of why one person commits suicide every 16 minutes; because it makes people who are already struggling feel like they cannot even seek help because they feel it is further proof of their insufficiencies. Nothing could be further from the truth and we must do everything we can to eradicate this myth from every circle. Does anyone tell a person with cancer they need more faith or should just pray more rather than seek treatment from an oncologist? Does that reflect a lack of faith in God because they choose to seek treatment instead of SOLELY relying on God to heal them? Certainly not. And yet, with mental health issues, people tend to take the stance that if they prayed more, or read the Bible more, all their problems would go away. The need or desire for counseling in no way implies a lack of faith, or a lack of fellowship with God. All throughout the Bible are stories of people who sought counsel from others AND were people who loved the Lord. The reality is because of God, and the way He has designed us, we all have a need for connection and significance. He has made us all for a purpose, which is ultimately to glorify Him. It is the bravest thing someone can do to reach out for help-whatever the thing that ails them-to take a first step toward fighting cancer and getting chemo, or a first step to healthier emotional wellbeing by making a counseling appointment. Acknowledging the need for help displays faith that there is hope-and hope always points Jesus Christ.

Myth: Counseling is just a bunch of talking –I have friends for that

Truth: Counseling obviously involves a lot of talking. But there is a lot more to it than that. It depends on the issue at hand, but it can involve concrete education and learning. It involves practical exercises to do at home to continue learning and progress in between sessions. It can involve activities in the session that are designed to get you thinking about things in new ways. It can involve writing and exercises and experiences all designed to help you. It always involves unbiased and non-judgmental listening and dialogue. The focus is always on you. The counselor does not tell you what you want to hear, but rather what will get you to where you want to be. They will know when to challenge you and when you need to be coddled a bit. It is literally their job to know you and how to help you. Friends are fantastic and much needed. To say you do not need a counselor because you have friends is like saying you do not need friends because you have a counselor. You always need friends; and sometimes you need a counselor too. We can benefit from the confidentiality and the unbiased perspective our counselor offers. 

Myth: I don’t need/want/like medications so I don’t need to see a counselor.

Truth: Counselors or therapists do not prescribe medications. You must be an MD or a nurse practitioner to prescribe medications. Anyone with LCSW, LICSW, LPC, LMFT or PhD after their name is not someone who can prescribes medications. I can refer to psychiatrists based on your particular needs and situation.

Posted by Sarah Pendleton at Monday, Mar 11

Got kids? Read this before you get married

With the prevalence of divorce being around 40%, it is no surprise that nearly 1 in 5 children are currently living in a blended family. Unfortunately for many of those children living in a blended family, the reality is that second marriages fail at a higher rate than first marriages with 60-70% of second marriages ending in divorce. Given that, it seems especially important to enter into a second marriage very carefully and thoughtfully for many reasons, but particularly to be a permanently stabilizing force for the children being raised in these blended families. So before you even think about marrying your significant other, and bringing your families together here are a few things to honestly look at before you say, “I DO”:

  1. Is your significant other a generally  happy person? Being a stepparent is not easy. It is often thankless at best, and at worst can result in a whole host of life turned upside down issues. If they are someone who complains a lot, who fault finds, who is melancholy or prone to depression and not actively treating it, proceed with caution. Things are not going to get easier just because you get married and you will be caretaker not only to your children but also your new spouse. Your spouse-to-be should be a “stand alone” person-meaning they don’t need you to make them whole, complete them, make them happy or any of the other things that are cute in movies, but not in real life. It is OK if you make them happier, but it is not OK if you are the only thing that makes them happy. It is great if you add value to their life, but it is not OK if they feel worthless without you.
  2. Do they have obvious good, healthy relationships? Look around them. How are their friendships? Do they have any? How are relationships with their family, their coworkers? Do they typically exhibit the ability to maintain and keep good friendships/relationships with others? This is so important. Past behavior is a great indicator of future behavior and while people certainly can change over time, someone with a strong history of close and steady friendships show they are willing and able to do their part to keep a good relationship.
  3. How do they treat other people? This is similar to the point above, but speaks more about how they relate to people not in their immediate circle. Outside the context of close relationships, how are they towards others? Are they warm and kind? Are they more critical and judgmental? Someone who will make the best partner for you and stepparent to your child(ren) is someone who is able to give others the benefit of the doubt; someone who can easily overlook offenses, or at least is willing to try. It does not mean they are immune to hurt feelings or sadness or anger, but it does mean they are able to recognize these feelings and deal with them with a spirit of reconciliation. If you find they are harsh or overly suspicious of other people’s motives, or if they feel they are frequently the “victim” in circumstances, this should not be ignored.
  4. How are their finances? It doesn’t matter if they have a little money or a lot; the point is to know their attitude about money and if it lines up with yours. Financial issues are the number one cause for divorce and when you are entering into a space where the odds are already stacked against you, you would be wise to make sure this is not going to be another area for conflict. What are their attitudes about money? Are they entitled, or generally pretty content? Are they concerned about keeping up appearances and opinions of others, or pretty confident in their own situation? Are they open and transparent about their circumstances with you, or defensive? The way someone communicates (or does not) with you about money illuminates a lot about how they will communicate with you about other difficult topics that come up. It shows where their heart is, and if they are largely focused on others, or on self.
  5. Can they communicate? Not just talk. But can they and WILL they, communicate with you. Communicate means “to share information, news and ideas.” SHARE. Not just disseminate information, news and ideas to you. And not just to sit and listen to you passively. But to give back and forth. Communication for all marriages is critical. Even more so in blended families when you are merging families and histories and complex emotions of kids and navigating custody and child support issues, dealing with loyalty conflicts, ex-spouses and in-laws and new kids. Do they talk with you until you have both reached an understanding and good place when issues arise? Do they genuinely care about your feelings, or just do their best to avoid conflict or frustration altogether? Do they get mad and angry and then act like everything is fine the next day without really every addressing the heart of the issue? These are important, and hard, questions to ask and answer honestly, but so very critical to a successful first marriage, let alone a successful union that joins and permanently bonds a blended family.

People who live in blended families have a wonderful opportunity to create something whole in its own right and new out of parts of something that usually came from a loss like from divorce or a death. It is certainly possible to have a thriving blended family, and picking the right partner is the first and one of the most important things to get right. Pick the one you know will hang in there with you through all the challenges, who is someone who puts others first, someone who knows themselves and someone who WANTS to be with you, not someone who NEEDS to be with you-pick that person. And also, become that person yourself. I am here to help with relationship issues, couples counseling and premarital counseling. I am in good company of many excellent counselors in the area, so if you need or want help to ensure you are setting your new marriage up for success, please contact me ([email protected]) or another counselor in your area.

Posted by Sarah Pendleton at Tuesday, Feb 12

Do’s and Don’ts for Blended Family Bliss

It is estimated that 1 out of 3 people live in a blended family-that is, they are either a stepchild, a stepparent, or have step or half siblings. In most people’s lifetime, approximately half will be part of a blended family whether by inheritance or marriage.  Given the prevalence of blended family homes, my hope is that families and individuals will move beyond the survival mode, and look at ways that they can truly rock this blended family thing. Here are some do’s and don’ts to make this blended family life a thing you are truly proud and something you would not trade

  1. DO give yourself permission to mourn the loss of “Traditional” family. Whether you are a child of divorced parents, or a new wife to a man with children, you are entitled to grieve over what you always thought was “normal.” Newlywed life for a woman marrying someone with kids is going to be different than the newlywed life she dreamt about or read about in magazines. It is expected to feel sad and a sense of loss over what you thought you would have one day. Years ago, my best friend who had just gotten married to a man with a 3 year old told me, “we didn’t even get to be real newlyweds.” She is not alone in this experience and it’s something she had to grieve as a loss of something hoped for. She was not begrudging being a stepmom; she was, and is, fantastic. She was just painfully aware that her life was different than how she envisioned it. Once she was able to give proper place to it, and truly acknowledge it as a loss, she was able to grieve it and then move on. If you try to ignore the sadness, or the sense of loss, it will not go away. It will usually just show up in other ways like frustration or resentment. Grief is something that must be walked through in order to get past the loss. So acknowledge it. Grieve it. Honor your feelings the way they deserve to be honored.
  2. DON’T try to be all things to all people. The quickest path to making yourself feel like a shell of yourself is to try to fit every role every family member needs you to fill. To be the always-accepting stepmom, the ever-supportive wife, the master-negotiator with the ex, the firm but super fun parent with your own kid well, you just cannot be and do it all. Somehow when we are part of a blended family, we can expect ourselves to be super human and have the superpower of EMOTIONLESS (WO)MAN. We expect ourselves to stay even-keeled and that we shouldn’t be frustrated, or if we are we should express it only controlled and contained sort of ways. We try to keep the peace regardless of the war that is raging inside and outside of our home and inside our hearts. The quicker we realize we are only one person and we cannot meet the needs of all the people in our life all the time, the quicker we will be on our way to living a life in a blended family true to ourselves and happier as a result. Our relationships will be more genuine, even if less peaceful for a time. And while raw real emotion is painful to tolerate sometimes, NOT allowing ourselves to feel emotions is so much more painful and detrimental. So be yourself. Don’t pretend not to be mad if you’re mad. Don’t be the middleman between your husband and your ex if you do not want to. Be true to you and you and your family will be better because of it.
  3. DO THINK BIG PICTURE. Researchers show that it takes on average 5-7 years for a blended family to fully “blend,” and it can be more or less time depending on the ages of children when the marriage occurred. That is a long time and because of this, it is imperative we think big picture as life pertains to our family. Thinking big picture is paramount to our family’s success, and our sanity. We have got to constantly and intentionally turn our focus to 5, 10 even 15 years

If you are looking for a counselor to help navigate the blended family scene, please reach out to me any time. Whether you are about to be part of one, or are already in one, Journey Clinical Services can help no matter your stage or situation

Posted by Sarah Pendleton at Tuesday, Feb 12