Counseling Blog

Asking for Help

Asking for Help

Have you ever been faced with a tough task, life transition or struggle where you pushed through, on our own and made it out on the other end? We all have, and we often count those moments of hard work and resiliency as some of our best moments. Moments when we triumphed over struggle.

But what about those times when you were facing a struggle and you pushed through on our own and you “tough it out” coming out with more damage on the other end? How could that outcome had been different if you would have asked for help? Could asking for help have avoided such a hard struggle overall? Could asking for help have avoided the damage done? The physical or mental exhaustion? Sleepless nights? High stress or anxiety? Feelings of sadness or depression? The heaviness that comes with struggle?

Why is asking for help so hard? Has society sent a message to help others, but not to ask for help ourselves? Did our parents encourage us to push through and get the job done no matter what? Do we believe that asking for help makes us too vulnerable, look weak or too needy? Has the message to “be independent” been pushed to the forefront of our consciousness.

Asking for help is a strength. It builds confidence. It demonstrates resourcefulness. The ability to be vulnerable enough to say, “I’m struggling” is a superpower. It shows others that it’s okay to ask for help and works to build a culture of collaboration, confidence, and empowerment. We do not have to carry our struggle alone, all by ourselves.

I challenge you to ask for help. Ask your friend to help you with the kids. Ask your boss for more clarification. Ask your partner to make dinner. Ask to see a counselor or therapist. Ask for a day off. Ask to talk to a friend. Ask for advise from a colleague. Ask your doctor for more options. Ask about the resources in your community.

Don’t hold it all, when you could easily have someone help carry the burden with you. Lighten your load and ask for help. Give others a chance to show they care. Because they do.

Why Don’t People Go To Therapy

Why Don’t People Go To Therapy

Why don’t people go to therapy? We go to the dentist every six months for cleanings and check-ups. We go to the doctor when we are sick. We get our hair cut or our nails done as needed, or as desired to feel and look our best. We get a massage or go to the chiropractor when we are in pain. But why do so many people avoid addressing the mental or emotional needs. Why don’t people go to therapy?

After working in the mental health field for many years I can say that taking the leap and reaching out for help is the hardest part. There are many reasons that people either don’t reach out or they take a long time to finally take that leap.

I have heard many people say that they would rather talk to their friends instead of a stranger. It is so important to have someone to talk to. You should talk to your family and friends and utilize your support system. But friendship is not psychotherapy. In a therapeutic relationship you are getting support and being challenged to take a deeper look at your life, your emotions and your motivations. Through therapy you gain valuable insight into yourself and the source of your problems. Not only are therapists trained listeners, but they are also trained to work alongside you as you address those problems. Remember that therapy is confidential too. Sometimes we can’t guarantee that with friends or family.

People have also shared that they can take care of mental health issues by visiting their doctor. Yes, if necessary, your doctor can provide medication to address a diagnosed mental health issue, and they can also help you rule out any medical condition that may be contributing to your mental health. But medical doctors are not trained therapists. Therapists will listen, provide feedback, help you identify healthy coping strategies and work empathically to help you find joy in life and in your relationships.

I have also heard people say that they went to a counselor once and it just didn’t work. I always say that every therapist has a different style and approach to their work. Just because it wasn’t a good fit the first time doesn’t mean it wont work out if you try someone else. Our personal perspectives and circumstances change with time. Sometimes we are more ready for therapy than we may have been in the past.

Another excuse is time and money. For any real change you want to make, it will also take real resources. Time does not just appear; you must make the time. Making time to address your mental and emotional needs will save you time. Consider all the time spent being unhappy, time spent fighting, scared or unsure. Taking the leap means more control over your time in the long run. It’s true that therapy can sometimes be costly as well, even with insurance, but consider it an investment in yourself, in your relationships, in your well-being. You are worth it.

So, what’s holding you back from taking the leap? Ready to make an appointment? Call us at 231-714-0282 or visit

Dating your Spouse

Dating your Spouse

Whether you have been with your spouse for 2 years or 20 years, it’s normal to hit a period of boredom in your relationship. The everyday responsibilities of life like taking care of the household, going to work, taking care of the pets or children and the many other roles each partner may take on; all add up. And it is often your relationship that comes last on the list.  This often means lack of quality time, romance and adventure in the relationship. And this lack of quality, intimate or fun time together can lead to less connection, distress in the relationship, potentially to lead to conflict and feelings of being unsatisfied.

One way to address this is to ‘date your spouse’. Most couples know the importance of quality time together, but making it happen is another story. Many things can get in the way such as schedules, money and other responsibilities. But by making the commitment to each other and to the relationship, it can not only bring a much-needed spark, but an also prevent hardships in the future.

First make the commitment mutually. Talk with your partner about the importance of quality time together. Discuss what the hopes are for this commitment and the outcomes for your relationship. Then decide together what that time could look like, how that times together will be decided and how often if could realistically happen. Make it a team effort with commitment on both sides.

Next decide on a budget. Committing to ‘dating your spouse’ should not break the bank or cause financial stress. It may be unrealistic to go out on a dinner date once per week. So, decide on what else could be a date. A walk together, a picnic, or a movie on the couch after the kids have went to sleep.

Maintenance is key when you make a commitment. Do not let other things get in the way of your time together. It’s so easy to push aside a scheduled date when life gets in the way. ‘Dating your spouse’ is not easy. So set a schedule and do your best to stick to it.

And if life does happen to get in the way, don’t be afraid to get creative with your time; a breakfast or coffee date, a quick lunch, a nap together, a mid-day walk or even intimate conversation over the phone.  Yes, sometimes things get in the way that are unavoidable, like an important event, travel plans, sick children or pets. But maintaining the commitment means sticking to it and making it a priority. Put your relationships first.

Battling Negative Thinking

Battling Negative Thinking

Many times you may catch yourself with negative thoughts running rampant through your head. Although it may feel that these thoughts have a mind of their own, you have much more power than you may believe. The good news is that you are able to switch out those negative thoughts for positive ones with the right practice and techniques. First, you must identify those not so fun thoughts, the negative ones. Here are a few common forms of negative self-talk you can find yourself using:

  • Filtering. This is when you magnify the negative aspects of your life and filter out all of the positive ones. Instead of focusing on the compliments you may have received on a work task or personal endeavor, you chose to focus on what could have been done better and what you still need to do.
  • Personalizing. When something bad happens, you automatically blame yourself. Your friends canceled the plans you had set for the night? Oh it must be because they don’t want to hang out with you. That is most likely not the case, but that is what you tell yourself.
  • Catastrophizing. You automatically assume the worst is going to happen. For example, you may worry that you will fail an exam. That thought snowballs into thinking that failing the exams means that you are a bad student, therefore you will never pass the course, graduate, or find a job. 
  • Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad, there is no middle ground for you. This could mean that you need to see yourself as being perfect in all aspects of your life or you’re a total failure.

Now that you have identified some possible types of negative thinking, let’s move on to positive thinking. Like mentioned before, this may sound simple but it takes time and practice – after all you are creating a brand new habit. Here are some tips on how to think in a more positive way:

  • Identify areas to change. If you want to find yourself engaging in more positive thinking, you first need to identify areas of your life that you typically think negatively about. This could be your daily commute, relationships, or work. There is no need to tackle all of these negative areas at once, which can be overwhelming. Instead, start small and focus on one area that you can begin to see in a more positive light.
  • Check yourself. Throughout the day stop what you’re doing and evaluate what you’re thinking. If you find that your thoughts are going down a negative path, try and find a way to put a positive spin on them. 
  • Be open to humor. Don’t forget to crack and smile or let a chuckle out, especially during these difficult times. It is important to seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is proven to positively affect your mood and reduce stress, while following a healthy diet can help to fuel your mind and body throughout the day. Finding the time to exercise can seem daunting, but we can make it less scary by splitting it up into smaller chunks. A 5 minute stretch here, a 10 minute walk there, and next thing you know you’re halfway through your daily exercise goals. 
  • Practice positive self-talk. Sometimes it can be hard to think of positive things about yourself, but here is a trick to help. Start by following one simple rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. We are often our own harshest critics, remember to be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If negative self-talk enters your mind throw up the yield sign and explore that thought further. Take the time to evaluate the negative thoughts rationally and respond with affirmation of what is good about you.

Just remember, this will not happen overnight. Do not wake up tomorrow and expect your head to be filled with rainbows and butterflies. This takes practice, those negative thoughts can have a strong hold but eventually by putting these tips and tricks into play you will be able to have a more optimistic outlook on your everyday life.

Stress: Being on the Offense

Stress: Being on the Offense

Deadlines, busy schedules, taking care of others, dysfunctional relationships, unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others can all bring about feelings of stress.

Even through intensely stressful times many of us can function, go to work, care for their families, and even participate in social events; all while ignoring the need to care for ourselves.

Oftentimes we hold off on addressing the stress or feelings of anxiousness until it has reached a high level of intensity.

In other words, we are on the defense with our stress.

We wait until the damage has already been done to address it.

We feel the effects of this damage in the form of muscle tension and body aches, gastrointestinal issues, sleeping problems, skin issues, increased racing thoughts, feelings of hopelessness and increased moodiness.

What’s worse is long-term effects of chronic stress include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression or anxiety disorders.

But there is another option to address our stress. We can be on the offense. When we are on the offense we can be anticipate what our minds, bodies and relationships need before the damage comes.

We can honor ourselves by practicing self-care on a daily or weekly basis.

By doing this we are building up reserves for ourselves to better handle stressful situations, be present for others and all while not feeling like we are on empty.

So, what can you do to be on the offense?

Take care your mind. Make time for yourself, offer a quiet space for your thoughts, meditate, journal how you are feeling or talk a mental health professional about your stress. Treat your body.

Make time for exercise, yoga, got for a walk, meditate, visiting your massage therapist, acupuncturist or chiropractor.

Also set boundaries with your time, say “no” when you can, and remember that it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes.

Rather than waiting until the damage has already been done and then attempting to defend our sense of balance, we can be on the offense.

Creating Our New Normal: Shifting From Fear to Strength during the Health  Crisis

Creating Our New Normal: Shifting From Fear to Strength during the Health Crisis

Our New Normal: Originally published in the Traverse City Record Eagle

Nicole Ball, LMSW

Life has changed

Life has changed. For everyone. In so many ways.

Many of us are now working from home. Maybe trying to balance parenting while working; and we are struggling. Many of us have lost our jobs or our businesses; and we are struggling. Many of us are lonely; and we are struggling.

Many of us are scared. Scared because we have children or parents who are at risk, or because we are at risk. Many of us are scared because we are working on the front lines in the medical field and this is not what we sign up for, but we are going to keep showing up. Many of us are essential workers and we are exposed to the public every day.

Most of us are anxious about when this will end.

Some would say that our new normal is uncertainty, struggle, survival and fear.

But I say our new normal is of strength, resilience, love and patience. We are learning, in our new normal, that we have a much deeper capacity for all these things. And guess what? Each of them is stronger than fear!

So, what can we do? How, in all the uncertainty, do we re-frame our perspective from fear to the strength and resiliency that is already there?

Re-frame and Re-focus

First, focus on what we have control over. It feels like we have very little control right now, but we can control our actions.  For example, we can keep in touch with your friends and family by checking in and making efforts to connect. We can ensure that we are taking care of our bodies by getting outside, going for walks or enjoying fresh air. We can control what we can do with our time, to be productive and clean out that closet we have been meaning to get to. Or even the choice to do nothing and just binge watching our favorite TV shows.  We can control what we do for our communities and those in need. We can control what we do for our mind by making space for meditation, prayer, quiet moments or breathwork. We can control how we nurture our creativity by doing activities we enjoy. And we can ignore the pressure that seems to be coming from every angle to be overly productive.

Next, we can limit media exposure. Yes, we should be informed, and it is important to be up to date on the latest information regarding our safety. Although spending too much to time on social media, researching or reading the news can cause increased anxiety and feed the fear.  Allow the space and time for this but do so in a way that limits the duration and frequency and offers time to decompress after.

We can also do things that keep us, those around us and our communities safe. We can practice social distancing, stay home if we are sick, wash our hands and follow other CDC recommendations. We cannot control others that are not following rules related to social distancing or sheltering at home. We cannot control how much toilet paper or bread others are buying. We cannot control others who may not be taking safety measures as seriously as we are. But we can control how we keep ourselves safe, how we react to others and how we treat one another.

There is no roadmap for how to live this new normal. But we can create the roadmap. We can re-frame our focus to what we are already doing. We are being strong, being resilient, showing love and support to those around us and our communities. This is our new normal. So, take time to see the strength in yourself, acknowledge it, show gratitude for it and then pass it on.

Grief During the Holidays

Grief During the Holidays

The holiday season is considered ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. But for those who have lost loved ones, it can be the most difficult time of the year. The approaching holidays can feel discouraging and often come with a complicated mix of sadness, sorrow, anger and pain as we miss the ones we have lost.

Grief during this time of year can also lend itself to feeling as if we must experience the holidays in a ‘normal’ way. Others often have expectations for us that can feel unmanageable and impossible to meet. Anticipating traditions that once brought delight can feel scary or painful.

What can we do if we are experiencing grief during the holidays?

Find a way to honor those that cannot be with you. A special ornament, a favorite dish at the dinner table, set aside time to share memories together, sing or play a special song, donate to a charity in their name, light a candle, volunteer your time in the community in their honor or create new traditions.

Help those who might also be grieving or need extra help during the holidays. Helping others and giving back can bring joy. It can be a new way to honor those lost and help someone who may be feeling the same difficulty during the season. Adopt a family to purchase gifts for, donate to an organization, volunteer your time, visit a nursing home, give to a local shelter or reconnect with those you have lost touch with.

Don’t feel guilty if it all feels like too much. It’s okay to not send out holiday cards if it is too difficult. It’s okay to say no to another holiday event. It is okay to not want to participate in everything. Allow yourself the space to be alone, make time for yourself, practice self-care and honor your own feelings. As well, don’t feel guilty if you are happy during the holidays. Feeling joy does not lessen how much you miss the person you have lost.

Ask for help. Identify the supportive people in your life that can offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to bring a dish, or two, or three when putting together a holiday spread feels like too much. Seek out those that would be willing to help you decorate when it all feels a bit daunting. Ask a friend to go shopping with you, meet for coffee or visit your loved one’s memorial with you. Oftentimes those around you want to help but just don’t know how. If you reach out, they often find great joy in being there for you.

Acknowledge that the holiday season will be different. When we enter the holidays expecting to feel the same amount of happiness we always have, we will experience even deeper sadness when feelings of grief come. Give yourself the permission to experience grief rather than feeling as if you must be happy to make the holiday ‘normal’. It is okay to feel the pain of your loss. The more we try to be strong and protect ourselves from the pain, the more it seems to grow. Allow yourself to feel the pain. Your pain is the result of love, and love should be honored and acknowledged.

How Animals Help Improve Our Mental Health

How Animals Help Improve Our Mental Health

The connection between animals and mental health is hard to ignore. Research studies continue to confirm that having a pet or interacting with animals has multiple mental health benefits that can both relieve and prevent mental health issues.

If you have ever been a pet owner, I’m sure you can confirm that having a furry friend to come home to provides much needed companionship. Companionship that can combat feelings of loneliness and provide a much needed greeting after a long day.

Having a pet is also proven to decrease anxiety and depression. Interactions with pets have shown to lower stress related hormones such as cortisol, while at the same time increasing mood boosters like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. These are hormones that not only make us feel happy, but also help us to relax and lower stress levels.

Providing care for an animal can also establish a routine and schedule which can sometimes be lacking when we are experiencing symptoms of depression. As well, having a pet can increase the likelihood of regular physical activity and the opportunity to go outside, such as playing with or walking a dog. Exercise and fresh air have also proven to decrease symptoms related to anxiety and depression.

As well, hyperactive children or children who experience aggression have shown to lessen troublesome symptoms and behaviors when animals are involved either at home or as part of a treatment plan with their school or mental health provider. Providing care for animals also provides a sense of responsibility and of being needed. Which have both shown to combat problem behaviors in children and reduce anxiety.

If having a pet is not for you, there are other options to incorporate animal interactions into your life.

Volunteering at your local animal shelter is a great way to give back and provide care for animals who are waiting for their forever homes. Getting children involved is also a great introduction to animals and serving their community.

Participating in or volunteering for programs that offer equine assisted therapy also provide a way to give back and interact with animals. Equine assisted therapy includes therapeutic interactions with horses in a controlled environment which may include therapeutic horseback riding, grooming, feeding and ground exercises. Horses have shown to have an understanding and sensitivity to human emotions which can provide as a great option for those who are resistant to traditional talk therapy.

Contact one of the many animal shelters or equine therapy services in your area to learn how you could get involved.

Giving Your Rocks Away

Giving Your Rocks Away

I like to use symbolism and metaphors when I work with both my clients and my students. I’m sure I get an eye roll every now and then with, “Here she goes again”. But it offers an opportunity to visualize our experience of life in a way that may seem less abstract, more solid or relatable and understandable.

One analogy that I use often is the idea of rocks in our backpack. Imagine that you are wearing a backpack. This is obviously an invisible backpack, but imagine it hanging on your back. You can feel the straps coming across your arms and feel the weight at the top of your shoulders across your back lightly pulling down. Now imagine that there are rocks in the backpack. The rocks represent things that are bothering us, things that we are holding onto, things that take up space in our lives. For some of us we have small rocks, like pebbles. Rocks that represent our day to day stresses and responsibilities, the things on our to do list.  Maybe there is just a handful, for some of us maybe a bucketful. Maybe some days those rocks are bigger and heavier because of some stressful event going on in our lives. Or maybe we are just having a rough day and the rocks seem just a little heavier. Can you feel the heaviness of your own backpack?

Now, imagine if those rocks were even bigger like bricks or boulders. So heavy that it makes life hard to walk through because of the shear weight of the backpack on your shoulders. These brick or boulders represent the trauma we have experienced, the pain, the resentment we are holding onto, the depression, deep anxiety or fear, maybe anger or resentment, loss or grief.

Walking through life every day with a backpack full of big rocks is hard. Sure, we could carry a heavy backpack on our shoulders for a mile, maybe a few…but to get up everyday and carry boulders on our back as we try to go to work or school, try to raise children, be present in our relationships, attempt a social life, be there for others or even take care of ourselves?

I often encourage my clients to make some decisions about the rocks. With a backpack full or rocks, holding you down, it may seem impossible to pick just one rock to focus on, but we must start somewhere. Maybe pick an easy rock first. Create a plan, take care of the rock and your backpack will be lighter. Maybe just a little lighter…but with time, one rock at a time, life will be easier to walk though when there isn’t so much weight.

Another option is to give some rocks away. Sometimes we hold so tightly on to a large rock because the thought of ever being able to tackle it feels scary and overwhelming. Or maybe we have had this large rock for so long it feels like it is forever attached. But how much lighter would your backpack be if you gave a rock away? Seek out others to hold space for you… for your rocks. This could be a family member, a friend or a counselor. Anyone who will support you, not hold judgement against you and who will validate your experience and your feelings. Maybe offering your rock to God, to nature, to the universe. Allowing someone else to hold a rock for you means some of the weight is taken away, making life a little easier to walk through.

Practicing Gratitude during a time of Uncertainty

Practicing Gratitude during a time of Uncertainty

By: Nicole Ball, LMSW Mental Health Therapist and Owner of Mental Wellness Counseling: A Traverse City Counseling Practice

Things are tough right now. Many of us are struggling to see the brighter side of things. When we do, it might come in waves; one day we are productive and feeling optimistic about the future, and the next we are crying and fearful about how long the health crisis will last.  But practicing gratitude is a proven method that can help not only manage our immediate emotions, but also have lasting positive effects on the lens we see the world through.

Bring grateful is expressing emotion of appreciation and recognition. This can be done in many ways. It can be saying “thank you” to others, identifying what you are thankful for, or recognizing the efforts of others that you might otherwise take for granted. It could also be identifying those things within ourselves that others might see, but we often don’t view as a valuable part of ourselves.

By intentionally and regularly being grateful you are reinforcing the hormones connected to happiness. You are training your brain to be happier and to automatically recognize those things that you have to be grateful for. This will make us happier because it disconnects us from negative emotions.

There is much research that shows that purposely practicing gratitude increases physical health.  This is seen in lowers negative hormones like Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine, as well as less inflammation, betters sleep and better eating habits.

When the lens we see the world through is tinted with feelings of gratitude and thankfulness it also strengths our relationships, helps us feel more satisfied with our roles or jobs and makes burnout less likely.

So, in the midst so much uncertainty, how can we do this?

Start a daily gratitude list. This is a great way to intentionally identify those things we are thankful for. Start every morning with a quick list of 5-10 things you are grateful for. It starts your day with a lens of happiness and hope. And when the day gets tough you can go back to your lists and review. By practicing this daily you will start to see the lasting effects in how you view the world around you, how you treat others and how you react emotionally to stress.

Send messages of thanks and support. Words have power. Send a message to someone thanking them for their relationship, their service, their skills or their support. Tell someone how much you appreciate them and value their role in your life or in your community. Spreading gratitude to others has immediate positive effects.

In a time when we might feel little control over our surroundings, this is another way that we can turn the focus to what we do have control over. We can control the lens we view an unpredictable world through and be grateful for the many things in our lives that keep us sustained and bring us joy.

Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder: When To Seek Help

Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder: When To Seek Help

For many of us, winter brings what is sometimes called the “winter blues” or “cabin fever”.  Most of us in Northern Michigan are familiar with these feelings. Lack of sunlight and being cooped up in our homes for months can cause low energy, frustration and the longing for warm summer weather. The promise of spring keeps us going but certainly not without some discomfort as we wait oh so patiently for sunshine.

But for many people winter can cause suffering in the form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of Major Depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern, often with onset of depressive episodes that begin in fall or winter and usually subside in the spring.

Symptoms of SAD may include feelings of deep sadness and depression, having low energy or feeling sluggish, becoming easily agitated, loss of interest in activities that you may have once looked forward to, trouble sleeping or concentrating, changes in weight or appetite, having frequent thoughts of hopelessness or thoughts of self-harm.

When symptoms are minimal there are steps that can be taken to combat these feelings.

Refocusing your diet and exercise routine can help reduce symptoms. In the winter months we tend to be more laxed in our approach to exercise and food. Refocusing how you are fueling your body may help to reducing low energy and sluggishness. As well, exercising releases “feel-good” endorphins that can boost your mood and attitude.

Scheduling time to get outside or planning events to look forward can also help. Fresh air can increase energy levels, while increasing concentration and brain functioning. Planning family events or time out with friends can provide distraction from the cold weather, while giving you much needed social interaction that can be lacking when the snow is keeps us stuck at home.

But when these techniques are not working and you find continued feelings of hopeless, have ongoing feelings of depression, are withdrawing yourself socially, experiencing problems at work, if you are abusing substances or are having thoughts of suicide, then it may be time to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor about your options such as medication or light therapy, see a mental health profession to talk through your feelings and address your mental health needs, and if immediate help is needed go to your local emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

It might be depression

It might be depression

Summer is upon us, the air is warming, the flowers are in bloom, and the winter blah is over…or is it? Maybe someone you love is dealing with the “summer blues.” We assume that when the weather improves, so will our feelings of isolation and lethargy. But for over 16 million American adults, depression is a daily struggle.

So what is depression? What causes depression? What can be done about depression?

What is depression?

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Typical symptoms are that a person feels tired, does not want to socialize, and has overall feelings of sadness. Imagine what it feels like to wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed (me most mornings). Now imagine if that was 10x worse, where it felt impossible to get out of bed. With depression, it feels like isolating, laying around, and not moving is the easiest path. It can be a very difficult road for clients that don’t receive help.

What causes depression?

Depression can be caused by a number of things: brain chemistry, traumatic events, or life circumstances. For some people, depression is a life-long struggle, while for others they can learn coping techniques that will help improve and manage symptoms. A Harvard Medical article says, “Onset of depression more complex than a brain chemical imbalance.” Regions that affect mood may be damaged, life circumstances may have changed DNA known as “epigenetic.” Also, stress, loss, and medical issues can increase depressive symptoms.

For someone dealing with depression, it can feel difficult to get the snowball of treatment started. However, once it starts, the positive feelings reinforce themselves. This creates a chain of positive habits that will reduce depression symptoms.

What can be done about depression?

Depression may seem complex, but there are three standard treatments for depression: psychiatric medication, counseling, and exercise. A University of Michigan study found that the mixture of all three was most effective, but that counseling and exercise was the most effective combination of two of the three. Other treatments are to increase meaningful work, improve socialization, change eating habits, and improve the quality of sleep.

For someone that is chronically tired, sad, or lacks socialization, a professional is usually the next best step. As well, working with a doctor to look at other explanations is important. It could be thyroid issues or other imbalances that are causing the symptoms. Talking about past trauma, hurt, and sadness with a therapist can help. Also, exploring mindfulness through meditation and yoga has been shown to improve symptoms.

For most people, summer is a time of excitement and joy. If you or someone you love may be dealing with the “summer blues” talk to someone to determine if there is help to improve the symptoms.

Mental Wellness Counseling assists teens and adults with depression and anxiety. This article is not a replacement for professional services.

How to Handle Anxiety

How to Handle Anxiety

Imagine your boss tells you that you need to go to a networking event. What is your first emotional response? For many people they may not want to go, but they would make it work. Some would be excited. For about 18% of the population, it would probably trigger their anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depressions Association of America, about one out of five adults experience anxiety.

Before we dive into how to make improvements in anxiety, we should discuss what’s normal or expected and what falls outside of the average.

What is anxiety?

When someone suffers from anxiety, it impacts various areas of their life. Yes, we all experience anxiety. Maybe it’s before a speech, when we can’t find out child for a few minutes, or when a certain family member calls you. But clinical anxiety is more pronounced. I won’t go through the whole definition, but clinical anxiety is when someone is experiencing anxiety more often than they are not. This is usually for more than six months. They also might find it difficult to control. Also, they may have symptoms of restlessness, fatigue, irritability, or difficulty sleeping.

Research shows us that here are some things that can help anyone with anxiety reduce their symptoms: sleep hygiene, mindfulness, and exercise.

Sleep Matters with Anxiety

An overwhelming body of research shows that our modern life is hurting our sleep. We look at screens before bed, don’t turn off lights, or think about making our bedroom ideal for sleep. When your anxiety is beyond what you’d like, sleep is often the first place to evaluate. Try reducing your house temperature to trigger natural melatonin and ghelin in your brain. Darken your environment more. Reduce caffeine eight hours before bed, because the half life of caffeine is 8 hours. Also, try to stop reading and looking at your phone in bed.

Mindfulness Helps Anxiety

New research is showing that mindfulness helps reduce anxiety. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the now. The focus is on stopping the replay of the past or worrying about the future. Regular practice of meditation and mindfulness can reduce tension and create calm. This can come in a variety of forms: deep breathing, prayer, sitting quietly, and guided meditation. Also, many types of yoga can help in this area. Also, activities like painting or even cleaning can be mindful activities if you focus on the task at hand.

Exercise Helps Anxiety

When most people think of exercise, they think of a regular workout or taking massive time out of their week. Instead, it can be a micro-step toward that goal. Maybe you take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a touch farther, or walk a little faster. Any increase in activity can help.

Whether you feel pronounced anxiety or just are worried about a big speech, evaluating your sleep, increasing mindfulness, and moving a little more will help.

Joe intensive Marriage counselor intensiveJoe Sanok, MA, LPC, NCC is the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. They have openings for teens, couples, and individuals that are working through anxiety, contact them at

How do I get my spouse to stop using their smartphone?

How do I get my spouse to stop using their smartphone?

Are our smartphones the new mistress? 

In a number of ways, our brains don’t understand where our body ends and our phones begin. We see them as an extension of our personality, experience, and life. Staying up-to-date on Facebook, posting pictures, and having our businesses more streamlined, makes it difficult to know where we end and the phone begins.

As a result, when a significant other challenges the phone, we feel it’s an attack against a part of us. But the phone is not a part of us. It is a tool and entertainment.

Are the feelings of jealousy and other emotions that come up when a partner has been unfaithful similar to what happens when one partner pays more attention to their phone?

Couples that don’t communicate on a regular basis about technology, boundaries, and limits are setting themselves up for overt and passive conflict. Similar to when email came out, beepers, or other devices, negotiating the use of the phone is now something every couple needs to discuss.

How are iPhones and or technology negatively affecting relationships? Ex. Bringing phones to bed?

Smartphones have a high potential for negatively affecting relationships. For example, phone use before bed disconnects you from your partner, during a time that can be emotionally connecting, this also hurts sleep, which leads to mood changes, and is then perpetuated through on-going stress in the relationship.

What can we do about it?

Effective couples plan on “phone free times.” This could be 10 minutes of focused conversation at the end of the day. It may be watching a TV show as a shared experience and snuggling instead of each being on their phone. The bedroom may be a “phone free zone.”
Also, phone use may go in waves. For example a busy time at work may mean that phone use goes up. Communicating that is important, “Right now things at work are crazy. This week, I’m going to be on my phone more, but you can count on me to be mentally present for dinner and after 8:00.”
Joe intensive Marriage counselor intensiveBio: Joe Sanok, MA, LPC, NCC is the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City and is a consultant with Practice of the Practice. He has the #1 podcast for private practice ownersThe Practice of the Practice Podcast.
A World of Hurt: How to handle trauma

A World of Hurt: How to handle trauma

Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, and by the time this article is published, another city will be on our list. We live in a world of hurt. What’s amazing about humans, is that when other people are hurting, attacked, and vulnerable, we feel something too. We cry thinking about others being shot at a country music concert, hurricanes devastating towns, and other tragic news. 

As a counselor, there are two questions I frequently observe:

  1. How do I handle talking or thinking about so many tragic events? 
  2. Why do I feel for some groups more than others? 

The human brain and trauma

Let’s start with the brain. Neuroscience shows us that we feel attacked when others are attacked around us. Let’s work out from you. First, if you were attacked that would physically and emotionally hurt. Then if your family or kids experienced trauma, you would feel secondary trauma or even have your own experiences of pain. Moving out from there, if our community or state experienced an event, we’d feel a little less than our family, but it’d still be pronounced. 

As we move farther from ourselves, the more physically distant the event the less we feel. Then when you add perceived differences of culture, race, or nationality, the brain feels less attacked. So despite many of these same things happening internationally, it does not have the same weight for us. In a sense it’s “easier to ignore” because it is happening to “them” not to our tribe. 

But should trauma that way?

The brain has figured out that if it is overwhelmed, it’s hard to function. As a result, it categorizes trauma. If we took in all the daily crisis with our 24/7 news cycle, our brains might self implode. So the brain says, “I’m going to care more about this than that.” But should it be that way? 

Multiple theories have looked at how human brains evolve. Within a theory called “spiral dynamics” the researchers talk about the move from an ethnocentric view (my tribe and group) to a world-centric view, where humans are seen as genetically connected and all having equal value.

So what do we do with trauma?

Part of working through trauma is looking at how the trauma actually effected you. Then how it harmed your community. Lastly, what on-going dynamics harm the greater world. Often, it’s easiest to see how we as individuals have experienced an event. However, the jump to larger issues feels like it de-personalizes it. 

Through that jump in understanding global dynamics and emotions, we begin to regain emotional control and regulation. Because we don’t see each situation as one of “the other” but instead as a global problem to be solved. Whether it is Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, or the next town, our movement from ethnocentric to world-centric will not only help us take more control of our healing, but we’ll also begin to create solutions to greater problems. 

Joe intensive Marriage counselor intensiveJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LPC, NCC is the owner of Traverse City counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling. To schedule a session with one of the five counselors call 231-714-0282. 

Is parenting your teen causing conflict?

Parenting teens can be very difficult!

Parenting conflicts with teens is something that most of us have joked about amongst our fellow parents. If you are raising a teen, it’s highly probable that  you’ve wanted to scream, pull your own hair out, or hide in your bedroom from the adolescent drama and ridiculousness. However, there are times when conflict with your teen can escalate to extremes that appear “beyond the norm.” This is when conflict begins to overtake your household. There is no joking about it with other parents anymore! Your household begins to feel like a crisis center with no hope of repair or resolution.

Have you considered counseling with your teen?

If you are a parent who falls into the category of “high conflict” with your teen, then it comes to no surprise that you are here reading about possible solutions. It is beneficial for parents and adolescents to utilize a therapist to help navigate through these conflicts. From these sessions, the hope is that there will be better communication and resolution for the core issues that brought you into our office. A therapist can also provide different parenting methods that may be more effective with your teen, and teach everyone new skills.  

We have qualified therapists here that are able to help.

Parenting adolescents is tough, and we know how helpful it can be to have a third party help navigate the conflict. At mental wellness, we have experience working with core teen issues, various parenting conflicts that can arise, and methods to help hurdle through adolescence. If you are interested in more information, please call our office or fill out our contact information page! 

Are you looking for Divorce Counseling?

DIVORCE- Are you looking for a divorce counselor? 

Talking about divorce isn’t easy. It can be messy and heartbreaking, and it can stir up emotions of  anger, resentment, guilt, sadness, amongst many others. Divorce usually eludes to the idea that there is a broken relationship that is unsalvageable. Many couples agree to therapy, hoping to prevent divorce when they start seeing signs of dysfunction, and others decide to utilize therapy during a divorce to help navigate it’s messy waters.  In either circumstance, the individuals have made a conscious choice to improve their mental health in the process and seek alternative answers.

There are many reasons why couples consider divorce.

It’s no joke that marriage can be one of the hardest relationships you will ever have to maintain. There are many things in life that cause thorns in your marriage. Is it poor communication, addiction, infidelity, boredom, life transitions, differences in parenting styles, finances, excessive control? The list can keep going… but I am sure that it is easy for you to identify the biggest thorns in your marriage. This leads us to the big question; Would you rather let the thorns fester, or would you rather pull out those thorns and allow the healing to finally begin?

What does a divorce counseling session look like?

If you haven’t pursued therapy before, you may not know what to expect. In general, the couple will begin by attending an intake session together. Here, both parties will give their own background information, and have a chance to communicate their perceived, core issues. From here, the couple and the therapist will create a plan to work through these issues and navigate, one step at a time. Because each couple is unique, the duration of therapy is going to be individualized, and not necessarily a set length of time.

What can we gain from divorce counseling?

Have you considered how therapy can prevent your potential divorce? The hope is that through therapy, you and your significant other can learn new ways of handling messy emotions. The right therapist will help navigate, and create a safe environment for healthy conflict resolution. Perhaps, a third party will be beneficial for your marriage because an “outside perspective” will help create balance and direction. There is also the benefit of learning new methods of communication and rekindling friendship with each other. Ask yourself, what does your ideal marriage look like? Once you have created that vision within, the next step is getting the courage (and the right therapist) to make it happen!

Changing the stereotype: Casey Kiley

Changing the stereotype: Casey Kiley

How do you really feel about counseling and coaching?

I want to change the stereotype of “Mental Wellness.” I want people to look forward to a good individual therapy session, as opposed to feeling strain and angst because they are coming to therapy to “work on their issues.” To put things in a different perspective, this is similar to the difference between taking a yoga or workout class once a week to maintain a healthy lifestyle  versus going to the hospital because your health spiraled downward to the point of needing immediate attention.

Get it?

In simple terms, Don’t treat your mental health therapy session like a hospital visit. Treat it like your favorite workout class. Do you ever notice that during a really good workout, your muscles are getting pushed to their limits and there is a bit of fatigue. In the moment, it sucks a little bit, but afterward you feel good about yourself, a little more empowered, and energetic. Other days, your workouts are a little less strenuous and you barely notice the exercise; Like a good paddleboard session on the water or hike through the sand dunes.

This is exactly how I want you to view mental health!

Sometimes, you come to your session to enjoy some mental release, and other times, you have to work on things a bit to see progress in the long run. For many of us, it’s easy to view the logic of preventive care when we are talking about physical health, but it takes a bit of coaxing and convincing to apply the same concept to your mental health.

Taking care of your mental health can be a great experience for yourself, and it can be a positive outlet throughout your week. Essentially, it’s uninterrupted time to focus on you! Some weeks, you might have some frustrating issues to work on that cause a little bit of strain, but other times, you have the opportunity to talk about the future and what you want to get out of this life. We all have goals that we wish we would put more time into, and one of the most beneficial and time effective tactics for yourself is to pencil in a set, uninterrupted time to  focus on your growth!

Enjoy the process and embrace the growth! 

Taking this uninterrupted, focused time provides preventative care for future chaos. Mental Wellness should be challenging, but it should also be positive and productive. Your Mental Wellness is worth investing your time into; like your physical health. Changing the stereotype, starts with changing your perspective and viewing Mental Wellness in a different light.

Does my teen have a digital or internet addiction?

Does my teen have a digital or internet addiction?

Our teens live in a world that is full of screens. It can sometimes be difficult to know what is normal for digital addiction, video game addiction, social media addiction, internet addiction and what is not screen addiction?

Signs of Internet Addiction

The Center for Internet Addiction published the following:

Meeting 5 of the criteria of the Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire (IADQ) means you are addicted.

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

Unlike alcohol and drug addiction counseling or custody evaluations, the field of internet addiction is still fairly new.

Teens and Screens What Every Parent Needs to Know

Parents and children fight, this has happened for generations. But these fights have changed over time. CNN reported that the average teen is on a device for 9 hours per day! This can lead to:

  • Failed attempts to control behavior
  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Neglecting sleep to stay online
  • Being dishonest with others
  • Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behavior
  • Weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities

Pew Research also found that 68% of teens witness peers “stirring up drama” online and that 94% of parents underestimated the fighting online.

Trends in Digital Addiction

An October 2016 study by Piper Jaffray Group surveyed 140,000 teens and looked at 37 million data points. What they found is really interesting in looking at a shift in our culture:

  • Youtube outpaced cable
  • 58% of homes had Amazon Prime
  • Food and clothing are the only things that teens spend more on than video games
  • 80% of teens use Snapchat monthly

Thus for our kids, that feeling that “Everyone is there” is true. In fact, 61% of teens said they want to go online to see likes and comments from their friends. 36% wanted to see what their friends were doing without them. 21% wanted to make sure that no one was being mean to them online.

What Parents Should Do About Screen Addiction

There are three effective steps that every parent can do.

  1. Get informed about platforms. Understand where your kids are and what they are doing. Read about Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to be able to accurately discuss them. Don’t like and comment on your teen’s activities, it embarrasses them, it’s like giving them a big kiss in front of the school.
  2. Respect social code for teens. Don’t be overly involved with their online activity, but don’t turn a blind eye.
  3. Practice nonjudgemental conversation where you say, “Tell me more about…” Instead of “You should” or “You shouldn’t”

Many parents and teens need a mediator or counselor to help through this process. Tech can be a way to help your child find independence and growth. It can be where they appropriately begin thinking like an adult, but they need you as a guide!

Meet Traverse City Counselor Joe Sanok

digital addiction private practice consultant joe sanok headshot on stairsJoe Sanok is a licensed counselor and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling, a Traverse City counseling practice. He specializes in helping teens and couples to navigate how to find more peace in their home.

Four Reasons Couples Divorce

Four Reasons Couples Divorce

Have you ever had a ridiculous fight with your partner? I remember one about mayonnaise that was really a fight about budgeting. Or one about dishes that was really about time management and fairness. Or another that was about snow pants, but it was really about parental roles.

What if I told you that 95% of divorces have something in common?

Dr. John Gottman, the world’s leading marriage researcher, has spent 40 years researching couples. He’s researched married, unmarried but committed, same-sex, and about every combination of committed partners. With 95% accuracy, he can predict divorce after only a 15 minute observation.

So what are the four areas? Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling

Criticism in a Relationship

Criticism is when a partner immediately accuses the other of something. The partner says something like, “Why didn’t you do the dishes?” This doesn’t leave room for conversation, rather it is a direct attack. This usually leads to defensiveness.

The antidote for criticism is to use a softer start-up. For example, “I see the dishes aren’t done, was the day busier than you expected?” Using statements that express what you want in the relationship tend to help.

Defensiveness when You’re Attacked

Imagine your partner says, “Why didn’t you do the dishes like you said you would?!” Naturally, most people would react with, “Do you know what I do all day, I did so much more than the dishes!” This ups the level of the conversation and leads to a fight.

Even though my partner may have attacked and criticized you, the best way to diffuse your defensiveness is to take ownership for what is true. For example, “Yup, you’re right, I knew the dishes were a priority for you and I wasn’t able to complete them.”

The Killer of Relationships, Contempt

In Dr. Gottman’s research, he has found that when a dynamic of “contempt” is present, it is one of the strongest predictors of divorce. Contempt is when one person positions themselves above the other, almost like a parent. It might come across as, “You never do anything right, you can’t even do the dishes like I do!” When this happens, the equal respect in the relationship diminishes and couples don’t build long-term intimacy.

The best way to combat contempt is for the person to articulate what they need. For example, “I feel more at ease when our kitchen is clean, can we discuss a plan together on how to achieve this?”

Stonewalling aka Silent Treatment

In couples, each partner stonewalls in different ways. It is usually when one or both people are flooded. Flooding occurs when our pulse is above 100 beats per minute and oxygen can’t get to the brain. As a result, we sometimes stop engaging in the fight, with the purpose of adding less fuel to the fire. When we just get quiet or even seek revenge through silent treatment, it doesn’t create a productive outcome from the conversation.

To combat this, effective couples will learn ways to sooth their emotions. They will take a break that is at least 20 minutes long and seek to relax from the fight. They may go for a walk, do yoga, or read a magazine. Then effective couples calmly work through the issue.

Fighting is normal in relationships, but effective couples that stay together seek to avoid the four areas of criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. They seek to find a productive way to learn from the fight and improve to build a long-term relationship.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a couples counselor in Traverse City and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He has completed the Gottman Level 1 training and is accepting new couples that want to strengthen their relationship. 

One Thing Couples Can Do to Improve Their Relationship in 5 Minutes

One Thing Couples Can Do to Improve Their Relationship in 5 Minutes

My wife and I recently got in a fight about pajamas. There weren’t pajamas for my daughter in her drawer. But it wasn’t about pajamas. It was about roles, household duties, and fairness.

Have you ever had the pajama fight? You know it’s ridiculous, but it really matters to you. It’s tapped into something beyond pajamas, it’s what we cover in couples counseling often.

In marriage and long term relationships, there is one skill that will change everything. If you master this skill, you’re more likely to stay married, have long term health, and be happier. Also, you may avoid needing to come to couple counseling as frequently or get more out of your marriage therapy.

Marriage reseracher, Drs. John and Julie Gottman have been studying couples for 40 years. They are able to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy. This is because they have found the exact formula that people fall into to tear apart their relationships. They teach marriage and family therapists how to do this. 

So what’s the skill? Active listening.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is a skill where your main purpose is to full understand your partner. There’s no judgement, only inquiry. Example questions/statements might be:

“Why is this important to you?”

“Tell me more about that.”

“Is there any more to this that is worrying you or stressing you out?

When you’re listening to your partner, your main goal is for them to know that you fully understand their point of view.

What to Say Next

After your partner gives their point of view, you reflect back what you have heard. For example you might say, “You’ve been really busy with the kids, cleaning the house, and your new job, so you didn’t put pajamas in the drawer, did I capture your perspective?”

After asking if you captured everything, your partner may clarify, change, or adjust what they said. It’s a time for them to work out exactly what their point of view is. Some people are verbal processors so they may need to say it out loud a few times. Others might have to think about it. Maybe they didn’t say it right the first time.

Connect with Their Feelings

Lastly you want to connect with your partner’s feelings. How do you see yourself in their story. An example might be, “I would find it hard to keep up with the household tasks too if I had all that on my plate.”

During this phase, you don’t have to agree with everything your partner said, just find anything that you can relate to. Where do you see yourself in their story? What feelings did they express that you feel also?

There are tons of ways to screw this up. You could interrupt, share your opinion, or put your own agenda into your summary. People don’t usually compromise and take action unless they feel that they have been understood. That is why the single biggest thing you can do in your relationships is to learn to employ active listening, even if it’s about pajamas.

private practice consultant joe sanok headshot on stairsJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner and a licensed counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in downtown Traverse City. Mental Wellness Counseling helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples, to schedule an appointment go to

Community Spotlight: Leelanau County Family Court

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Community Spotlight” series introduces key leaders in Grand Traverse County who work to enhance the community’s health and overall wellbeing. Whether it’s focusing on individual health or family dynamics, they are here to help!

Ryan Douglass: Court counseling


Ryan Douglass used to envision himself as a private practice family therapist—complete with an office and a couch. Now as a substance abuse caseworker and juvenile probation officer for the Leelanau County Family Division of the Circuit Court, Douglass practices “not-your-typical” counseling for minors charged with drug/alcohol abuse, truancy, and other offenses. He says his counseling skills like understanding and empathy have been essential to interacting with youth and their families. “To build rapport, sometimes my counselor hat goes on over my probation officer hat. If a young person is having a bad day in school, I’ve taken time to talk to them,” Douglass said. “However, it’s not always easy to counsel them into changing their behavior. With the firmer hand of a probation officer, I can motivate them more.”


Douglass’ probation work largely focuses on diversion: keeping minors from further involvement in the court. “Family Court is designed to understand that kids make mistakes,” he said. “It’s a balance between understanding that developmentally they’re at a rebellious stage, but they also need to have a level of accountability.” First-time offenders at the Leelanau Family Court are typically given an informal probation. If the child fulfills an individualized contract, the charge is dismissed.


In addition to diversion work, Douglass also has a hand in prevention counseling: preventing youth from ever stepping foot in to the court system. He collaborates with John Boonstra to run “G2” guys group—a voluntary, all-male, experiential education program. All year round, the group takes kayaking, biking, hiking, and fishing trips in Leelanau County. Boonstra says the outdoor activities “help provide protective factors and build up self efficacy, because the guys see they were able to accomplish a task or commit to something.”

John Boonstra: Prevention groundwork 

boonstra-photoAs Youth Services Counselor for the Probate and Family Court, Boonstra not only does diversion work like Douglass, but also organizes prevention programs for youth who are in danger of entering the court system. He is able to tailor counseling interactions to fit the youth and family’s specific risk/protective factors. “There’s something unique about each of the guys I work with,” Boonstra says. “I find those unique characteristics—what they enjoy and what’s going well.” Youth referred to Boonstra for prevention services often come from tough family situations and/or show behavioral issues, mental health problems, truancy, suspected or actual drug use. Boonstra says when working with this population of young adults, it’s critical to build a relationship while maintaining professional boundaries. “It’s very good for them to see me as an adult mentor, an even keel group leader,” he said. “I need to respond appropriately and be prepared for whatever situation comes up.”

During the school year, Boonstra and Douglass conduct regular check-ins with each youth at one of the Leelanau area schools. They also conduct home visits, family meetings, and individual truancy/substance abuse programming. Each meeting aims to prepare children for future success by promoting lifelong skills. “I like doing the ground work,” Boonstra says. “It’s rewarding to see them practice the things we’ve worked on like discipline, integrity, and making good decisions.”

Personal Growth and Freedom

No matter how long it takes a youth to develop such skills, Boonstra believes the ultimate goal is freedom from whatever physical, mental, or emotional struggles each individual began with. “I currently have a few young men who are on the path to high school graduation,” Boonstra said. “They are not engaging in the activity they were referred for—it has become secondary. We found out what helps them and move on.”

For both Boonstra and Douglass, the most rewarding part of their jobs is having a positive impact on youth and their families. “I recently ran into an old parent who I worked with six years ago,” Douglass said. “He said, ‘thank you so much for helping my son. Without you, we probably would have lost him.’”

Click here more information about the Leelanau County Family Court.

Confronting Success

Confronting Success

It seems some people are able to find success like a dog sniffing out bacon, whereas success to others is like looking for your lost keys. In one situation, success and goal achievement is just following the scent and in another it is a haphazard and frustrating experience.

When we hear “success” we often think of it in financial terms, making more money or finding a better job. But success is more than that, it’s creating change as a parent to yell less. It is identifying dysfunctions in your relationships and taking steps to successfully become a better person. It’s about identifying change and actually seeing change occur.

People that consistently achieve success do a number of things regularly.

Make a Goal Clear

What would make an impact on your life? When we dream about an “ideal day” or being an “ideal parent” it helps us to break down the core elements of a goal. For example, “I want to be more patient with my kids.” What does that mean? How would you know you have achieved that? You might yell less, have more quality time together, and sleep better at night. These indicators help to identify what you are trying to achieve.

Use Roman Numerals

Remember when you took notes in school? You were taught to use Roman Numerals to break things down. The steps in achieving success involve not just breaking down a goal into elements, but into micro-goals. If you’re hoping to launch a business, drill into each element to have 5-10 minute steps. Make progress when you have short bursts of energy and time.

You’re Not Alone

Often we feel like we’re the first to have specific goals and ideas about success. Many people have done this before. Learn from them. Read their books, listen to their podcasts, watch documentaries about them. There are so many life hacks that people have discovered. Taking some time to research and study others is a common strategy by the most successful people.

Make Time

Goals are achieved when we make time for them. Gary Keller, a co-owner of Keller-Williams, wrote in The One Thing, “You can go one inch in twelve directions or a foot in one direction.” We need to make time for our financial, parenting, marriage, and life goals. Setting aside 15 minutes per day for a year is 91.25 hours you will have worked on your new goal!

The most successful people define their goals, break them down, learn from others, and make time to achieve success. So what happens if you don’t do this? What will you miss out on in the world? But more importantly, what will the world miss out on from you?

Meet Joe

private practice consultant joe sanok headshot on stairsJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He also works with business leaders on mindset and leveling up. His top ranking podcast is at

Joe Sanok: An Ambitious Journey

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Passion for Psychology

Joe QuoteWhen adults asked young Joe Sanok what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would confidently shoot back: a psychologist. “I’ve always been motivated to help people, and understand the art and science of counseling,” he said. Sanok would eventually grow up to live his dream job, although it wasn’t always what he anticipated. “The first client who tore me apart was a young girl whose mom would prostitute her out to men,” he said. “She had gone through horrific things and was set up for failure. Sitting with this girl whose development was in my hands made the profession real. That’s when I realized the gravity of what I was doing.” Rather than deterring him, hearing clients’ tragedies revealed the value of therapy to Sanok, and inspired him to embrace the counseling field. “The work we do is really important,” he says. “We’re dealing with the world’s toughest issues—the things that nobody else knows how to deal with.”

Mental Wellness Counseling

SAIL Champion 2After working at Child and Family Services, Northwestern Michigan College, and starting two youth experiential education programs—the Muster Project and SAIL Champion Program—Sanok founded his own counseling private practice in 2006. Kick starting his own practice was not easy, as Sanok realized that his graduate training failed to cover basic business/marketing skills. “If you own a private practice, you need business skills to be successful,” he said. “For years I worked a forty-hour job. Then on the weekends, I’d blog and do podcasts while my daughters napped.”

Despite the “years of hustle” it took to develop his two businesses, today Sanok appreciates learning it the hard way. Having started from scratch and emerging successful, he can now instruct other aspiring counselors and entrepreneurs the best way to achieve their business goals. “I didn’t just jump into private practice. I made a profit from day one because of how I structured it,” he said. “One of the biggest takeaways I’ve had from running Practice of the Practice and Mental Wellness Counseling is focusing on the clientele I want to attract, creating products for them, and engaging them in that process, rather than just creating products and hoping people will buy them.”

Practice of the Practice

Joe Working 3
In a typical week, Sanok may be found around Traverse City doing counseling, podcast interviews, writing blog posts, creating webinars, and consulting with private practice owners. He says the key to running a successful private practice is a sense of discovery, “because the things that work right now aren’t going to work in a year. Who knows what the next Facebook will be? If you’re not constantly learning what works in the business world, you won’t stay at the forefront.”

Sanok’s journey into the business/technology world revealed an abundance of professional tools and career knowledge—strategies he shares with other counselors on Practice of Practice. “When I went for my Master’s degree, I thought there was little scope of what I could do in the psychology field,” Sanok said, “but as an entrepreneur, I’ve realized that there’s a whole world of things out there.”

Improving Lives

Regardless of his next business move, Sanok’s ultimate mission since the second grade has not changed: to help people, and enable other counselors to do the same. He is doing just that through Practice of the Practice, where he helps thousands of counselors improve their practices and lifestyles; and at Mental Wellness Counseling, where he sees transformations from “angry kids who are now headed to college, couples on the brink of divorce who are still together, and families who have better relationships with one another.” “Every day people who have never met me walk in and dump their issues on my couch,” Sanok said, “and hopefully every day there’s people who leave and feel that there’s more hope in their life.”

Click here to learn more about Joe or to schedule an appointment.

Traverse City Counselor Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC

Want to schedule an intake? Click here.

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Anndrea Terry: Inspiring Balance

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Survival of the Sickest

As a 21-year-old undergrad, Anndrea Terry’s life was changed forever at a pool hall. When a broken bar stool collapsed under her, Terry crashed face-first into the metal pocket of a pool table. “My top row of teeth were shattered and twisted up into my gums,” she said. “My face was so swollen that you couldn’t see my nose to my cheeks—it was like a wall.” After eight hours of oral surgery, doctors were able to save Terry’s teeth. With the looming threat of infection, however, she received twice-a-week dental examinations, five root canals, and a “laundry list” of antibiotics for one year. During this time, Terry was in “straight-up survival mode.” “All I could think was to eat, take my pills, and clean my stitches,” she said.


Ice creamBasic needs like sleeping and eating became taxing challenges. Since she couldn’t chew solids, Terry swallowed milkshakes, applesauce, jello, or noodles at meal times. “I still felt hungry all the time,” Terry said. “The ability to chew has a psychological aspect. I could dump liquid down my throat all day and still feel starved.” Unfortunately, her heavy diet of milkshakes, ice cream, and junk foods induced digestive issues and a dairy allergy. “My body was in shock all the time. My stomach was constantly upset and I got really sick,” she said. Terry’s dietary battle drew her attention toward proper nutrition.


YogaAdditionally, Terry started practicing yoga, which allowed her to process her emotional and bodily trauma. “When I was in a particular stretch, I would feel a weird sensation in my body, and then all of a sudden I was crying,” she said. “It was all the tension I had bottled up in my body. Yoga was a way to start peeling back those layers of emotion.” Terry’s yoga teacher encouraged students to express their feeling freely, something she desperately needed to do. “That was a really big moment for me,” Terry said. “People would always say ‘don’t worry, you’ll get better,’ but at that point, no one had said “just let it out, whatever needs to come out.’”

and Therapy, oh my!

While continuing yoga and meditation, Terry discovered another emotional outlet in counseling. After undergoing therapy herself, she decided to make a career of it. “My recovery inspired me to pursue counseling because I realized how powerful being able to talk to people was,” Terry said. “In the Western medical world, we generally look at particular areas of the person, but we don’t look at the whole picture. For instance, for weight loss, we prescribe a plan to cut calories and work out, but we don’t necessarily look at our relationship with food.”

Healthful Living 

Anndrea T QuoteJust as her full recovery involved a combination of health factors—nutrition, sleep, exercise, and therapy—Terry wanted to counsel the same way. “I realized I could have approached my healing differently with everything that was encompassed with my accident,” she said. “Being mindful of the things we do in our daily lives all affect how we feel emotionally and mentally.” Terry’s “360-degree” model of wellness is based on the interconnectedness among physical, mental, and emotional health. In sessions, she not only relies on therapeutic techniques like motivational interviewing, but also yoga, meditation, and mindfulness—all while taking into consideration her clients’ diet, sleep, exercise/movement, self care, and lifestyle habits. For clients struggling with anxiety or depression, a few deep breathing exercises can reduce symptoms and “give them back a sense of control over their body.” “Mindfulness is cool that way,” Terry says. “It opens a lot more doors as opposed to necessarily always going into the deep end of the pool. In the long run, I think it gives counseling a better name because people don’t think you’re just laying on a couch for six hours a week.”

“I Live What I Love”

Terry is enthusiastic about expanding her counseling approach through more holistic practices and experiential therapy. She teaches stand up paddle board yoga/meditation in Traverse City and hopes to organize more group counseling sessions in the future, such as women’s self care retreats. With the lessons learned from her accident, Terry aims to equip people with the knowledge and skills of wellness so they can live all-around healthy lives. “The most rewarding thing is seeing people change—being free of something that used to confine them and just watching them blossom into their full potential,” Terry said. “Counseling gave that to me when I was going through my accident, so if I can offer that back in any way, that’s the greatest thing ever.”

Anndrea Traverse City counselor headshot
Anndrea Terry, MA, LPC, NCC, RYT

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Jen Kraus: Compassionate Care

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Q: How did you first get interested/involved in your particular field?

Young studentA: I became interested social work because I wanted to help kids. I often saw kids struggling in school; they needed somebody to be their advocate. As a undergraduate, I started to focus on early childhood education because I realized that early childhood was when significant changes in the family dynamic happened in order for the child to grow to be a happier, healthier adult. I also wanted to do something more clinical, so my social work has grown into my mental health work. I now work at Northern Lakes Community Mental Health as a home-based therapist. At Mental Wellness Counseling, my focus is children eight years and younger.

Q: What types of issues do you address and how?

A: Often times the people who seek my services have children who are pretty disorganized. Not every parent is going to be perfect, but when a parent makes a mistake, it’s important that they are able to make a repair. Infant mental health deals with bonding and attachment—how to increase markers of secure attachment with the primary care giver. For parents like foster parents or adoptive parents, making that connection is based upon critical education about the child’s needs. For children who have had some type of physical/sexual abuse or trauma in their past, I use trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.

Q: What are the biggest challenges of your work?

A: Home-based therapy is very different. It’s a wonderful practice to be in the home—to see where moms and dads come from and to see children acting in their environment— but there’s a lot of unknown variables before I go into a session. For example, at one home visit, a stray dog came up, so we took care of it and found its owner. Home visits present some challenges that I may not see in an office setting.

Q: What is the most valuable advice you can offer a beginning social worker?

A: In social work, you see people who are impoverished more than affluent families. You work with people who are at a disadvantage, so it’s important to understand the culture of poverty. I think we’re often quick to judge how people in poverty spend their time and money.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?

A: I find it really rewarding when parents know that somebody else likes their child. Typically when parents seek out my service, it’s because their child is very outrageous in their behavior. Yet I have never met a child who I did not adore. Also, it’s truly remarkable to see a parent and child fall in love with each other.

Q: Overall, what is the most valuable thing you have learned from your work?

A: It helps you reframe what’s happening to give you a new perspective. For instance, when you see the way an adult is behaving, sometimes it can be really discouraging, but then when you stop to think about their experiences, you realize that they’re doing the best they possibly can. It softens you up to have better parameters of compassion.

Q: Future plans?

A: Right now I’m looking to get my full license and become nationally certified in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. I would also like to expand my play therapy and theraplay techniques. There are a lot of things I’m still interested in learning and doing.

Traverse City counselor Jen
Jen Kraus, LLMSW

Click here to learn more about Jen or to schedule an appointment.

Want to schedule an intake? Click here.

Tarah Elhardan: Enhancing Women’s Wellness

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do. 

Q: What has been your most impactful work experience? 

A: I worked on a crisis line at Third Level Crisis Center. I was able to develop the unique skill of phone counseling. I didn’t know who the person was and I couldn’t see or interact with them. There was a lot of silence in between and at times, it was very intense. I typically counseled those struggling with suicidal ideation, self harm, and those who were in need of immediate help. It was really impactful, and a great learning experience.

Q: How did you first get interested in your particular field? 

Woman smilingA: I’ve found this passion for women and women’s health. Most of my clients are young women who struggle with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Unfortunately, I’ve found that it is really common for women to struggle with depression and anxiety. Society has different expectations of women, and women need someone to talk to. During one’s teenage years when identities start to form, it is crucial to develop positive self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, and body image. It’s really important for women to develop a healthy mindset and healthy life physically, mentally, and emotionally.

 Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your work? 

A: Not taking the work home at times. When you’re with someone and they’re sharing a hardship, in that personal space with them, it can be hard not to take it home. If you don’t engage in self-care and find healthy ways to cope, it can all build up and start to really affect you. I try to keep a healthy work-life balance, but it’s challenging because I care about my clients and their struggles. Self-care is key. It’s something I’m continuously working on.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had realized about this profession before you started? 

A: How helpful it is to take care of yourself. To work in the mental health field, you have to be able to take care of yourself or burnout is just inevitable. As a new counselor, you know you’re going to hear people’s stories and struggles, but I don’t think you really understand how heavy that can weigh on a person. It can be so easy to take on their pain. Some people are more prone to it than others, but the people who are prone to it are probably are in this field. That’s why we’re in this field, because we care about people and want to help and make a difference.

Q: What is the most important characteristic of a counselor? 

A: I think that having integrity and being genuine are very important. Clients are looking for someone they can trust, someone who they can feel comfortable around, and relate to. If you don’t have good rapport with a client, you’re not going to have a good therapeutic relationship.

Q: What innovative, new ideas have you or would you like to employ in your practice? Tarah E Quote

A: I look at the person holistically. Nutrition is also definitely an interest of mine. I’ve found it helpful in my personal life and also in the lives of the clients I serve. There are so many mental health benefits that nutrition and a healthy diet can offer. Certain foods can greatly affect one’s mood, mental stability, anxiety levels, etc. Also, if one isn’t eating, that’s going to affect one’s mood, too. I have plans to incorporate nutrition into my practice more.

Traverse City counselor Tara
Tarah K. Elhardan, MA, LLPC

Click here to learn more about Tarah or to schedule an appointment.

Want to schedule an intake? Click here.

Lucy Seefried: Intimate Human Connections

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Q: What influenced you to become a counselor?

A: As an undergraduate, I studied abroad in a few different places. I worked with non-profits in the educational and environmental sectors, and eventually found my way to human rights advocacy. I loved doing advocacy work, but it takes a long time for things to change. Part of me realized I needed to find a different way to channel my energy so that I could still help people, but help people in a way that I could actually see change occurring, rather than wait years for something to change. I wanted to have more of a direct impact. I decided to go into counseling because I love working with people one-on-one. I’m fascinated by people’s stories. I’m always inspired and incredibly humbled by people and their experiences, particularly how they get through difficult times.

Q: What techniques have you employed in your practice?

A: When I work with individuals, I like pointing out things they are already doing well and strengths they already have. Often times people come in thinking they’re not doing anything right. Since I’m not the one in the situation, I can listen objectively and see things they’re doing that’s working. I identify strengths that can help them move toward feeling better about themselves.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?

Lucy loveA: Being a part of people’s lives and seeing them change and grow. The therapeutic relationship is so intimate. When I was new to counseling, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, people are just opening up to me. It’s crazy.” Now it’s something that I value so much. To be a part of someone’s life in such an intimate way is so gratifying. It’s a privilege to work with people who have faced adversity, to see them realize their potential, begin to make changes, and feel strengthened. I feel very humbled every time I work with someone.

Q: What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from your work?

A: Being able to relate emotionally is something I learned while abroad. I was working with people with totally different cultural backgrounds. Even though they faced struggles that I couldn’t even comprehend or imagine, they still experienced similar situations and had similar emotional responses to those situations as me, my family, or my friends have.

The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that everybody has internal challenges that impact them on an individual level. While we don’t all go through similar things, we all have a very similar emotional makeup. The way we experience joy, fear, shame, guilt, and happiness is all the same. We may respond to it differently, carry it differently, or deal with it differently, but we all experience it and can connect through it. This is our shared human experience. There is not a person who I’ve worked with, no matter what their walk of life, who I could not relate to because at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. We are way more alike than we are different.

Lucy Traverse City counseling counselor therapist
Lucy Seefried, MA, LLPC

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Nicole Ball: Empowering Women

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Nine Joyless Months

Pregnancy 1

Pregnancy according to Nicole Ball is not always the glowing complexion, framed sonogram photo, flowery baby shower experience that it’s often cracked up to be. “As a society, we expect pregnancy to be this beautiful, joyful experience,” Ball said, “but for some women, pregnancy is the worst time of their lives. For the whole nine months, they’re scared and full of anxiety.”

Meeting pregnant clients in Traverse City who struggle with past or present trauma initially sparked Ball’s interest in pregnancy anxiety. She’s been specializing in it ever since. “From a practice perspective, I feel like pregnancies are really untapped because everybody sees a pregnant woman and assumes she’s so happy,” Ball said. “But you don’t know what that sexual assault she went through at thirteen is doing to the pregnancy. Even for women who have repressed traumas, sometimes pregnancy is when those memories will come back.”

A New Lens

Ball counsels (pregnant) women who have had miscarriages, been subject to sexual assault, domestic violence, or other traumas. Reliving the tragic memories is the biggest challenge for both the client and Ball, albeit a necessary step to healing. “My goal is to feel with the client, not feel for the client,” she said. “That makes a huge difference because clients feel like their story has meaning, whether it’s good or bad.”

For survivors, the path to healing can be arduous. However, through the art of active listening and thoughtful discussion, Ball’s therapeutic approach aims to broaden clients’ perspectives, enabling them to reach new insights about their situation. “We all have a separate lens that we see life through based on our experiences, culture, and how we interact with people,” Ball said. “I’ve learned that not everybody’s lens is the same, and that’s okay. I may see a situation differently than my client, but I can facilitate a conversation in a way that helps them discover new things about themselves and their past. Clients seem to find their own answers through a new perspective.”

Baby Steps to Success

In Ball’s experience, women restore their autonomy when they begin making confident, self decisions and doing things they normally would not do. Even the smallest victories gain positive momentum. “Maybe a woman hasn’t gone to Meijer in five years because her abuser might go there, and now she’s going to Meijer to do her grocery shopping. That’s huge,” Ball said. “We might not see it as a risk, but for her, it was something she was able to conquer. It shows she’s gained some of her power back.”

Ball claims that abusers rob victims of their independence, self-worth, and ultimately power. In the end, whether she is assisting sexual assault/domestic violence support groups, doing one-on-one counseling, or working as a doula, the goal is to help her clients reclaim their lives. “When I work with a woman for a long time, I hope to see her regain that sense of self—feeling like she has control over her life again and isn’t afraid,” she said. “Any time a woman, regardless of her trauma, gains her power back, that’s when I feel most successful.

Nicole trauma abuse domestic violence counselor Traverse City
Nicole Ball, LLMSW

Click here to learn more about Nicole or to schedule an appointment.

Want to schedule an intake? Click here.

Jessica Kelley: Nurturing Love and Growth 

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

Q: What experiences have you had that make you feel capable of being a counselor?

A: Before my counseling work, I worked at a homeless shelter with women and children. My main job was to make sure everybody was where they needed to be, had what they needed, and resolve guest conflicts. I had a big spread of opportunity to interact with a lot of people with different religious views, cultural backgrounds, and ethnicities. Also, there’s addiction in my family history. My brother dealt with addiction, so I’m able to relate with people on that aspect.

Q: Why are you passionate about working with children?

A: There’s a special place in my heart for kids. They have this wonder about them. They give you a taste of the simpler things in life and remind you of things that don’t matter as much, or things that do.

Q: What is play therapy?

A: Play is a great way for children to express what they’re going through. There’s toys in a room; it’s a free space to let the child create and express what they’re feeling and thinking without words. During the session, the counselor tracks what the child is doing, picking out their actions and emotions.

Q: What is the most important characteristic for a counselor?

A: You have to be a good teacher. An ideal teacher listens, gives information and direction, but also gives the chance to seek solutions. At the homeless shelter and as a teacher’s assistant in a daycare, I tried to help people resolve their problems. Sometimes people really beat themselves up, so I try to convey an atmosphere of “I believe in you, you can do this. You’re not a failure in life; you’re an amazing person.”

Q: What are the challenges or most difficult aspects of your work?

A: Everyone has experienced some trauma in their life to varying degrees. When I’m dealing with trauma, it’s very difficult to keep that separate from my own life, to not take the burden home with me. As a counselor, it’s important to find your own internal validation—feeling good about yourself—not based on your clients’ success or failure.

Q: What is the most satisfying, rewarding thing about what you do?

A: When a client has a lightbulb moment. When you bring up things that you notice in sessions and they’re like, “you’re right, I didn’t notice that.” That’s so powerful, because we don’t always see in ourselves the progress we’re making. When someone else can point it out and when they start to recognize it on their own, it’s so great. They’re noticing, thinking inwardly, and seeing the good in themselves.

Q: Future plans?

A:  I’m starting to build up my practice in Traverse City since I’m new to Mental Wellness and Traverse City. I hope to become a registered play therapist and still do private practice counseling. I would also like to train in EMDR to utilize it in trauma counseling.

Jessicad Kelley Traverse City counselor counseling therapist
Jessica Kelley MA, LLPC

Click here to learn more about Jessica or to schedule an appointment.

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Steve Greenman: Fostering Individual Strength

The Mental Wellness Counseling “Meet the Counselors” series offers a deeper look into each counselor’s background, experiences, motivations, values, and philosophies. In this series, I put counselors on the couch to learn why and how they do what they do.

A New Start

The 2008 economic recession catalyzed a life-changing series of events for Steve Greenman. Within eight months, he was forced to close the doors on a business he owned for thirty years; he also lost his home, his marriage, and his father. Along with his two sons, he moved from a roomy house in Traverse City to an apartment with only a handful of rooms. “I remember my oldest son looking around the apartment saying, ‘you know, dad, we had a lot of wasted space at the old place,’” Greenman said. With the support of his sons and a newfound respect for self care, Greenman was able to adapt and grow from all of the sudden changes. “How I’ve been able to get through those circumstances was invaluable. As a counselor, those life experiences have been just as important as my education.”

Years later, memories of his former self became relatable anecdotes to utilize in his counseling practice. “By the time you get to my age, you’ve experienced a lot of different things,” Greenman said. “I probably share with clients more than other therapists. I can give them scenarios that I lived through so they don’t feel isolated, that they’re the only one feeling this way.”

Individual Therapy

With the diversity of clientele that enter his office, the focus of Greenman’s practice is tailoring to each individual. “We’re all wired differently, so my client is the theory,” he said. “Therapists have to be like chameleons. We adapt to each and every person.” To foster a comfortable environment with younger clients, Greenman may donn a T-shirt and shorts. For other clients—like PTSD victims or substance users—adapting may mean trying different therapies such as psychotherapy, cognitive conditioning, or motivational interviewing.

Persistence is Key

However, Greenman says “there are no easy answers” to any type of therapy. His most difficult cases tend to involve working with clients suffering from PTSD. With PTSD and couples counseling, “it can be really difficult because you don’t know if you’re getting anywhere or making it worse.” Making progress requires both Greenman and his clients to persist through the thick of any situation. In other words, “you have to root out the weeds and let the dust settle to be able to patch the new lawn,” Greenman said. In particular, helping clients understand the “underlying currents” to their own behaviors is what encourages change. “Change doesn’t happen from me, it all happens from the client,” he says. Seeing substance users gain sobriety or PTSD victims adopt coping strategies are some of Greenman’s most memorable experiences as a counselor.

“Steve, You’re Fired”

Through attending to each person’s needs, respecting individuality, and helping clients discover strategies for self sustainability, Greenman looks forward to the day that his clients walk out his door and never need to come back. “I tell clients when I first meet them that their goal is to fire me,” he said. “Some clients like a periodic check-in, others fire me after a month. That’s what I want, no matter how long it takes.”

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

Click here to learn more about Steve or to schedule an appointment.

Want to schedule an intake? Click here.

What to Do After Winning the Lottery

What to Do After Winning the Lottery

Before we talk about what to do after winning the lottery, and what we can learn from it, let’s just talk about money.

Money has the potential to really improve people’s lives. If you’re living in poverty and you can now buy food and not worry about getting by, that’s a big jump!

Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School actually gave a number of $75,000 per year as the magic number for happiness. Below that people’s happiness drops. However, above it, many people experience more unhappiness too.

So it’s no wonder that lottery winners often deal with staggering statistics. Such as:

  • According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 70% percent of people who win a lottery or get a big windfall actually end up broke in a few years. The Review of Economics and Statistics found that only 1% of Florida lottery winners went bankrupt when they won small amounts less than $150,000.
  • A University of California study found that after 6 months, lottery winners were no more happy than the average person. Whereas the World Database of Happiness reported that studies found that 75% of people were happier.
  • Paris School of Economics found that winning the lottery increase’s the risk of death.
  • The World Database of Happiness reports that divorce only increases by 3%

Whether you have won the lottery, have a higher paying job, or just dream of more money, it’s important to think about money in relation to our relationships and happiness.

Money tends to increase whatever is already present in our lives. If you are a mean and shady person, money will make you more mean and shady. If you are a nice person that wants to help the world, money will help you do that too. Of course, some things do change when we have more money.

As your income increases through winning the lottery or career, it’s important to have clear steps to manage these new assets.

After Winning the Lottery Get a Financial Fiduciary

Financial Fiduciaries must put their client needs before their own. This is really important regarding investments, asset allocation, and their recommendations. This is not my area of expertise, but seeking legal counsel in this area is really important!

So here are some tips in my area of expertise: counseling and relationships!

Take Time After Winning the Lottery

One of the best things you can do is pause. A whirlwind is about to happen and your life is changed forever. The firsts days, weeks, and months can be overwhelming. Remember, you are always in control of what you choose to do.

Take time alone, with family, or with trusted friends. Don’t make huge decisions during this time. Instead of taking action, write down a “Dream List” that you can evaluate later when you create your Think Tank.

Value People After You Win the Lottery

Whether it’s Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, we’ve seen that giving and relationships are the things that lead people to the most happiness over time. That is why it’s important to evaluate what people have been in your life before winning.

  • Who helped you in difficult situations?
  • Who made you into the wo/man you are today?
  • If you lost it all, who would you still enjoy being with?

These are the people to focus your energy on. Over the coming months, you may need to set new boundaries, such as:

  • Change your personal email
  • Have an assistant manage your scheduling
  • Learn to set new boundaries with family members
  • Create legal protections
  • Have trusted professionals and friends on your Think Tank
  • Set life goals to enjoy the lottery money, while also planning for future generations
  • Create rhythms with your spouse or significant other to stay connected

It’s a lot to take in after winning the lottery!

Assemble a Think Tank Post-Lottery Win

Assembling a Think Tank that meets monthly after you win the lottery and then quarterly then eventually annually is one of the best ways to create happiness, sustained wealth, and a balanced point of view.

A typical Think Tank will include:

  1. Attorney
  2. Financial Fiduciary
  3. 1-2 Trusted friends
  4. Spouse or significant other
  5. Life Leader (pastor, spiritual guide, counselor)

The goal is that they are your guides, not voting members of your life. You are inviting them into this group and you get to choose who is there to guide you.

Emotional Impact of Winning

What to do after winning the lottery is really a tough decision. Don’t be a statistic! Plan with professionals and trusted friends/family through a Think Tank model. Unexpected emotions will come out and a counselor or therapist can help you work on these (and they have to follow strict confidentiality by law).

If you take time to pause, plan, and create your Think Tank you’ll invest in others, create more good in the world, and plan for the future.

Traverse City counselor Joe headshotJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor that helps people with the emotions and planning for financial transitions such as winning the lottery, receiving an inheritance, and having a successful business. 

Want to schedule with Joe? 231-714-0282 ext. 700

5 Ways to Promote Mental Health Every Week

5 Ways to Promote Mental Health Every Week

By Tarah K. Elhardan, MA, LPC, NCC

Last week, as I was laying on my yoga mat in the beginning of a Friday evening yoga class, my instructor gracefully stated that “one is the union of the mind, body and consciousness.” As a mental health professional, this truly resonated with me and I thought about it as I practiced that night. Overall health requires so more than drinking green smoothies, practicing yoga or running a 5k.

Now don’t get me wrong, while those are all healthy things that I also engage in, being in good health is so much more. Mental health is an essential and vital piece to one’s overall health. May is national Mental Health month and here are five ways that you can promote your own individual mental health each week.

Mental Health Tip #1 | Creativity and Play

Coloring books are not just for kids anymore – they’re for everyone and actually can be quite helpful in reducing stress. Coloring also can provide a space for creativity. Recent studies have shown that coloring can offer the same mental health benefits as meditation. Coloring in between the lines requires concentration and focus, which relaxes the mind and can be therapeutic. Grab a cup of your favorite herbal tea, coloring book and Crayola crayons for a low-stress activity that will give bring you relaxation and allow your subconscious to drift away.

Mental Health Tip #2 | Grow Mindfulness

Let’s all hop on the Social Media-less Monday train y’all. We live in a culture of busyness, where filling up your schedule is looked at as being successful. Slowing down, disengaging from technology and social media can allow your mind to de-stress. Mindfulness has shown to be effective in reducing anxiety, feelings of depression, chronic pain and increase the ability to cope with negative feelings. Try eating your lunch mindfully, away from your work desk without any distractions, and focus on each individual bite. Take ten minutes at the end of each day and journal any thoughts that come to you without judgment or criticism.  Go for a hike with your dog or go for a walk in the woods without your iPhone – be fully present in that moment – think only about who you are with and what you are doing in that moment.

Mental Health Tip #3 | Self-compassion and Gratitude

By focusing on what you have or what you did well, instead of what you do not have or what how you feel like you failed, you can start to live a  life rich with purpose and meaning. Start each day by writing or sharing three things in your life that you are grateful for. Let go of any judgmental or critical thoughts, and allow kind and compassionate thoughts to drift in and replace them. Eat a nutritious and delicious meal that feeds your body, mind and soul. Work each day to maintain a sense of humanity by being kind to yourself.

Mental Health Tip #4 | Community and Connection

People need people. Surround yourself with people that love you, support your goals, dreams and nourish your soul. Give back to the community and volunteer as a mentor or local food pantry. Each lunch with a co-worker that you don’t know that well, or call an old friend that you haven’t talked to in a while. If someone is toxic in your life, let them go. The toxicity can spread in other areas of your life beyond your relationships. When you engage in relationships that are meaningful, it gives you a sense of purpose, community and connection to the larger picture.

Mental Health Tip #5 | Mindset

Mindset is everything. Working towards a growth mindset, the term coined by Carol Dweck, can increase motivation, self-esteem and productivity. It can also enhance the quality of relationships that you have in your life. A positive mindset can affect the thoughts that you have about yourself, capabilities and abilities for the better. As Theodore Roosevelt would say, “believe in yourself and you’re halfway there!”

Being in good health isn’t just about eating well and working out, mental health is just as important, if not more! Focus on ways you can promote your mental health, not about intervention when things build up or go wrong. Promote your mental health by engaging in the activities, thoughts and experiences above that benefit your overall health.

Meet Tarah

Traverse City counselor Tara
Tarah K. Elhardan, MA, LPC

Tarah K. Elhardan is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) and joined Traverse City counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling in 2013. Tarah wants to reassure individuals and families struggling with difficult life events that they do not have to face their issues alone. Tarah is a native of Traverse City who has a passion for helping others find happiness and peace within themselves. She works from a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach where she helps clients find how their thoughts and behaviors connect.

She focuses on food intolerance such as gluten-free living, lactose intolerance, and other eating issues. Through her own personal experiences and research with she has found a passion for nutrition and its connection with mental health. Tarah takes a holistic approach to counseling, considering the mind and body as a whole. She feels that one needs to have a healthy mind to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Teaching Kids about Money

Teaching Kids about Money

When I was seven, I wanted a skateboard. My parents told me they would pay half of what I could raise. I needed $25. Magically, the neighbors were going out of town for a week and needed meet to fill their bird bath daily. So after school for a week, I walked next door and put more water in the birdbath. They gave me $15.

My dad and I went to K-mart and I picked out a skateboard with neon green writing. It was $30. I was elated!

But a few days later, my new Nash skateboard lost some of its appeal. A friend said to me, “Nash is trash.” I quickly learned that brands have certain meanings and my skateboard was associated with K-mart and not skate shops.

As a parent, I see it as my responsibility to teach my daughters how to earn, save, manage money. So what works?

Teaching Kids about Money | Start Early

Before kids can understand the meaning of money, they have to be able to ascribe meaning to things that don’t inherently have meaning. This ability usually starts to emerge when a child is three and is easiest to understand when a child is four or older. Implementing star charts or some sort of token for positive behavior can help to build this skill set. For example, we have a “Daddy Doubloon” system for bedtime. If our oldest goes to sleep like she is supposed to, she earns a Daddy Doubloon. She can then spend those for things like extra books, reading time, or larger activities.

Give money a value

Parents often buy kids what they want when they want it. I often hear parents of teenagers say, “They just don’t want to go get a job.” Often those same parents are buying their kids the latest clothes, video games, or iPhone. When parents delay or say “no” to each thing their child wants, they allow their child to feel the painful reality that we have to work for what we want. When children want something and can’t have it, it spurs on a motivation to work and earn.

How to get a Middle Schooler a Job 

In middle school, encourage kids to find ways to earn money with babysitting, yard work, or creating an online Etsy store. We’ve never had a time like this, where kids can start a genuine business. The tools of the internet can help kids appropriate learn to plan, create, market, and sell a craft or product. Earn on, children will need more help, but once they get rolling they’ll just need occasional guidance. Once they earn money, you can have deeper conversations about what percent to save, give, and keep. This builds foundations for adulthood

Summer Jobs

When your son or daughter is old enough for a summer job:

  1. Start with your own network. They don’t need to have the full interview experience (but it wouldn’t hurt). The biggest goal is to get them their fist job.
  2. Set Goals: Next, set some goals together. How much do they need to save for college or a family vacation? How much should they give to people less fortunate or your church? How much can they spend?
  3. Encourage positive money habits: Lastly, encourage positive habits. Maybe match their savings up to a certain amount. Allow them to use your car more. Or have a fun dinner if they save $1,000. The more fun it is, the better.

It’s all preparation

Our jobs are to enjoy our kids and prepare them for adulthood. When we start early, encourage early jobs, and help with getting summer jobs, it teaches them about what life will be like after high school. This early lessons of feeling the pain of not having money, will help them to grow into productive adults.

Traverse City counselor Joe headshotJoe Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, business consultant, and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. As Traverse City’s premier counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling helps kids, families, and couples to identify age-appropriate goals, plan for success, and thrive. Reach them at 231-714-0282 ext. 0.

Anxiety and Meditation: How to Reduce Anxiety by Establishing a Meditation Practice

Anxiety and Meditation: How to Reduce Anxiety by Establishing a Meditation Practice

By: Anndrea Terry, MA, LPC, NCC, RYT, CYLC

Once will change your day and more will change your life.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American states that “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States and older, or 18% of the population.”

It is also not uncommon for individuals with anxiety to also suffer from depression, the reverse is also true.  Since, anxiety and depression are so intimately linked, this actually can be a good thing. When one of the presenting issues is addressed, and symptom intensity can be reduced, managed and positively managed, the symptoms of co-occurring diagnosis more likely than not will lessen as well.

What does anxiety look like?

Anxiety can appear at the surface to be something that will never go away, and it won’t, but what if anxiety could be a positive in life. Anxiety is a reaction in our body for a reason, it communicates to us that something is not right. That attention is needed, much like when our stomach growls, our body communicating “Hey, it is time for dinner!” 

If an individual is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, most likely, anxiety has gotten the best of that person, causing a disruption in life that is no longer acceptable, and therefore has sought out treatment with a professional counselor. Even, if someone has anxiety and is not in treatment, they can also effectively manage anxiety and stress.

How to cope with anxiety

One of the most effective ways to reduce, manage and mindfully cope with stress and anxiety is through mindful breathing and meditation. Meditation has been around, well for a really long time. Spanning the test of time for its effectiveness, it may be one of the most beneficial practices a person can introduce into their daily or weekly life.

The basic Principles of Meditation are the following:

  1. Breath
  2. Focus
  3. Release
  4. Observation
  5. Repeat

Meditation uses the breath in such a way that it allows for the mind, and therefore the body to ground, to relax and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (aka the relaxation response), reducing the production of cortisol and other stress encouraging hormones. Focusing on a mantra, a word, a sound, your breath, your body, the list is endless, begins to draw your mental focus away from those anxious feelings and into our practice.

Once, you’ve dropped those or reduced those stressful feelings, letting go into that space still silence. If a thought or two or three pops up, simply observe it, and let it float by. And repeat for whatever duration of time you deem best for you. The mind and body are connected, arguably they are the one in the same. If the body is stressed, the mind follows. If the mind is stressed, the body follows. Meditation allows for anyone to relax the mind, relax the body, relax the body, relax the mind, therefore reducing symptoms of anxiety.

Quick Note: We also use technology to teach this at Mental Wellness Counseling. We have Muse, the brain-sensing headbands that we use in counseling.

The benefits of a meditation practice are many and backed by science.

  • Reduced hypertension (blood pressure)
  • Lowers risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Decreases stress, anxiety and depression
  • Decreases panic attacks
  • Reduces sensitivity to pain
  • Increases awareness and focus
  • Increases creativity
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Improved productivity
  • Increased brain growth
  • Improved mood
  • Increases circulation of oxygen in the blood stream
  • Increases lung capacity

The practice of meditation does not have to be scary, nor for the elite or the so-called enlightened. Meditation is for everyone; for the young ones, teens, students, moms & dads, grandmas & grandpas, the CEO’s and Yogis. It is especially for anyone desiring an improved quality of life or at the least to take the edge off.

After starting a meditation practice one might even start to notice bizarre and fascinating things occurring such as:

  • You get more done
  • You feel more rested, alert and maybe consuming less coffee
  • The little things don’t get under your skin as much as they used to
  • You start noticing magic in your daily life
  • You feel more fulfilled by conversations and connections rather than material things
  • You’re more connected with your mind and body

To schedule a session with Anndrea click here.

Anndrea Traverse City counselor headshotAnndrea Terry, MA, LPC, NCC, RYT, CYLC is a counselor at the Traverse City counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling. She is also a Yoga & Meditation Teacher and Life Coach. Anndrea uses a liberating blend of holistic practices and methods when working with individuals to promote personal healing, growth and transformation from the inside out.

You are enough

You are enough

This article appeared in Joe’s monthly column in the Traverse City Record Eagle.

Imagine Bonnie. She’s 47 and she’s a middle manager for a local company. The company numbers are down. Bonnie also had a father who was a hard working Detroit factory man. He didn’t have time for excuses. He had grit. From a very early age, Bonnie learned that she was not enough, but working hard could make up for her short comings.

We live in a world where hard work, achievement, and moving up the ladder are concepts embedded into our culture. Many of our religious, political, and family systems have this are part of their message.

This focus on achievement is one of the values that has helped The United States become a world leader. We value research, education, and entrepreneurship. Let’s start by talking about some of the dysfunctional ways that people view themselves.

A Dysfunctional View

That word “dysfunctional” is often thrown around. All it means is that something is not functioning how it should function. Think back to Bonnie. If her boss comes in and tells her, “The numbers are down, bring them up.” What is healthy in this situation?

Working hard to bring the numbers up is obviously part of doing your job. However, if Bonnie internalized this, personalized it, beat herself up, drank more, or spent all weekend pondering and worrying, that’s not action that is functional.

Most of the time, when we have a version of “we are not enough” going around in our heads, is is rooted in fear.

What Fear Does

Bonnie may be thinking, “If I don’t do this, then I will lose my job.” That may be true. But, most people will then fall into a mental spiral of worst-case scenario thinking. It might go something like this:

“If I lose my job, then I’ll lose my wages, then my house, my kids can’t continue college, and forget about having mom move into the house, mom’s going to be homeless too!”

Psychologists call this “magnification.” The general public might call it “blowing things out of proportion.”

Yes, the initial trigger of increasing numbers at work is a reasonable request to Bonnie, but her emotional reaction is not serving the function it needs to serve. Therefore, she needs an alternative.

Be Honest You

Let’s zoom in on a marriage. Each person has their own opinions. I want Thai Cafe tonight, well I want Amical. Yet the conversation usually goes something like this, “What do you want for dinner?”

“ I could go for Thai, but what do you want?”

“I’m not sure, Thai doesn’t sound that great to me tonight.”


When a couple begins to bring their honest needs or wants to the conversation, it changes the dynamic. When one or both people are not saying what they really prefer, there are a multitude of choices and reactions. However, when both say what they actually want, the conversation becomes much easier. As couples are more honest, they can see the other person for who they really are.

The same is true in other areas. As you start to identify what function behavior is serving, you’ll begin to understand that a large percent of your thinking and behavior is actually dysfunctional. It’s not achieving what you want.

The path for Bonnie, you, and for me is to identify the function of our thinking, address fear and avoid magnification, and to bring our true self to conversations, because you are enough!

Traverse City counselor Joe headshotJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City. He is also a business coach, he writes about small business basics at Practice of the Practice. 

Consequences vs. Punishment for Kids

Consequences vs. Punishment for Kids

By Jessica Kelley

As a parent it’s easy to get discouraged from energy exhausted into trying to get an obstinate child to “mind” you. After multiple failed attempts for obedience, you can start to give up, and hence give in to your child’s demands, tantrums, and behavior issues.

How does this affect the parent and the home environment? It can lead to marital strain, increased irritability, sibling rivalry, a sense of loss of control, and self-depreciating thoughts.

How can a parent gain ground back on the parenting battlefield?

Consequences vs. Punishment

Start by giving the child consequences instead of punishment. You may wonder why, what is the difference between the two?

What is punishment?

  1. Punishment is action taken to reduce or eliminate an unwanted behavior.
  2. Punishment does not give the child a chance to correct their mistakes nor does it put them in charge of their actions.
  3. Additionally punishment does not offer an alternate desired behavior.

For example, a 6 year old child is grounded from watching My Little Pony for screaming at Mom in the restaurant. This may lead to the child being less likely to scream at Mom in the restaurant however they have not learned how mom would rather have the child speak to her.

What are consequences?

  1. Consequences are a either positive or negative result from the child’s choices, actions, and behavior.
  2. Consequences gives the child a chance to correct their behavior to avoid a negative outcome/consequence.
  3. Consequences give the child responsibility over their behavior, and give them a sense of power.
    1. Power? YES, power. This is a positive way to empower the child with the choice to influence their consequences positively or negatively.

How to implement Consequences

  1. Give them a choice when they are acting out negatively. Example: If you choose to continue to scream (negative behavior), then you choose to sit in time out (negative consequence). If you choose to speak to me calmly and kindly (positive behavior), then you choose to continue sitting with your friends (positive consequence).
  2. Be consistent and follow through. When you set a limit, and give a consequence, following through on your word is key. This shows your child you say what you mean and they can trust what you say.
  3. Give age appropriate and reasonable consequences. A 3 year old child will not comprehend losing TV for the entire day. Nor would it be reasonable to lose the TV for an entire week. However they will comprehend losing one specific TV show for the day.
  4. Let go of what’s not in your control. You cannot make your child change or behave in a certain way. Your consistency in following through with consequences will influence them positively. You are in control of your emotions, so allow your consequences to be about the facts and not get overwhelmed by emotions.
  5. Use “I” Statements. This type of communication is informative vs. explosive. For instance “I will not hold you when you push me in the chest.” vs. “Stop pushing me!”

Remember, the child will often get worse before they get better. This is the child’s way of testing the limits and seeing if they can push you. It is a challenge, but stay strong, be consistent, and support each other as you establish these new boundaries and limits with your child.


Jessicad Kelley Traverse City counselor counseling therapistJessica works in counseling from the desire to help individuals break unhappy and unhealthy cycles. Jessica is a native of Michigan. She started work in counseling from the desire to help individuals break unhappy and unhealthy cycles. Through her occupational experience, she has been able to serve individuals from various cultural and environmental backgrounds, religious beliefs, and various needs for community resources. She has worked with children and families, at risk youth, college students, and adults dealing with issues such as TBI, Homelessness, Depression Counseling, Anxiety, Alcohol/Drug addiction, life transitions, child/parent relationships, relationship conflict, and low self-esteem.

To call Jessica 231-714-0282 ext. 707

How to stop a racing mind before bed

How to stop a racing mind before bed

Before bed, our brains are preparing to work differently. The brain transitions from active awareness to filing. During sleep, our brain works to discard information that it determines is useless and stores information that is helpful.

The evolving brain

Over thousands of years of evolution, our brains have figured out that when we are in danger, we need to be hyper-aware. For example, if you’re camping and you hear a growl, you’re probably not going to fall asleep right away. Instead, you’ll be amped up for a while, wondering if it was a bear. Even if you find out it was a chipmunk, you’re still not going to fall asleep right away.

This is because your brain wants to make sure it is safe before it starts filing.

Fear in the brain before sleep

However, numerous things in our modern life trigger this same fear response:
1. Screens and apps stimulate the brain.
2. Reading in bed confuses the brain, since it does not know if it should be conscious or unconscious.
3. Keeping track of a “to do” list makes the brain stay in an unrestful state.

Tips for better sleep

Here are some tips to shut off your brain before bed:

  • Stop all technology 30-60 minutes before bed
  • Don’t read email for an hour before bed
  • Exercise earlier in the day rather than later
  • Keep a notepad next to your bed so you can write down ideas or thoughts
  • Ask yourself what you can do/not do while in bed, get up and complete the item you are pondering or let it go
  • Categorize your worries, anxiety, and thoughts before going to bed so you have sorted through what is making your mind race

Want help with sleep, anxiety, or worry? Call us 231-714-0282 Ext. 0 to get started

Give Up on New Year’s Resolutions

Give Up on New Year’s Resolutions

MWC brain smoothies

Download the Green Smoothie Infographic

You want to lose weight, stop smoking, or save more for retirement. Every year we do this and every year, 92% of us fail at New Year’s Resolutions.

A University of Scranton study found that only 8% of people will succeed in their resolutions.

So maybe you should resolve to not make a resolution this year? How would that feel?

Life can continue down the path you’ve been going, or maybe there is a more effective way of switching out the negative for the positive in your life. The problem with resolutions is we make them into a pass-fail exam.

  • I’m going to lose 15 pounds.
  • I’m going to save $1,000.
  • I’m going to stop drinking so much.

What is it about the 8% that succeed and what can we discover about actual life changes beyond resolutions? There are actually only three things that are important to impact your life change.

Focus on Progress in Resolutions

In my experience as a counselor who helps people change every single day, the first step in making a life change is to move away from the “pass-fail” mentality and move into a “progress” mentality. If you eat healthier and gain weight, that’s a success. If you do one push up more than last year, that’s a success. Stop worrying about whether you achieved the goal, and focus on the process towards the goal.

Create Micro-goals in Resolutions

In Dr. Fuhrman’s book “The End of Dieting” he talks about taste bud changes. The concept is that as we give our bodies more nutrients, we naturally want to eat things that are good for us. This process only takes 10-14 days. So something as simple as drinking one green smoothie per day may actually fuel other positive habits with little effort.

Don’t Talk About New Year’s Resolutions

When we announce goals that we are working on, our brains actually receive a rush of endorphins by announcing the goal we want to change. By doing this, it’s the equivalent of giving a child a cookie before they clean their room, rather than after. Is the child more likely to clean the room if they already have the cookie? Of course not! Instead, brag about your successes as they happen, rather than announcing what you plan to do.

Whether you want to be in the 8% that achieves their New Year’s Resolutions or you just want to create a small change, focus on progress, create micro-goals, and don’t talk about so that 2016 will be the most positive year of your life!

Traverse City counselor Joe
Joe Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC | Ambitious Results

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in downtown Traverse City.

Teen Addictions: From Warning Signs to Treatment

Teen Addictions: From Warning Signs to Treatment


By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

Sam came into my office with fear in his eyes. His father had called me and stated he needed to find some help for his boy – all had not been right for a while. Sam was a freshman in college and had been doing outstanding in his studies. During the Christmas break, Sam had gone to a party and though he has smoked pot occasionally, he was about to experience drugs in a whole new light.

The mixture was LSD and Ecstasy – candy flipping. Being inexperienced with the drugs, he took five times the normal dosage and three months later, he was still dealing with side effects.

After the pleasurable effects of candy flipping, Sam dealt with unwanted after-effects, which typically occur two to three days after the drug use and are known as blues or suicide Tuesday:

  • Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Poor concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Craving for the drug

But what made it even worse for Sam was not just the normal side effects but he had incurred possible brain damage with side effects still affecting him months afterwards: difficulty sleeping, erratic behavior, temper issues, balance and difficulty with light tracing.

Sam had to drop out of the following term and was struggling with holding a job and at times, dealing with simple reality. What began as an experimental night out with friends became a struggle to understand for the family: Would this be his new reality for the rest of his life?

Teen Dilemma

  • In 1998, nearly 10 percent of adolescents (age 12 to 17) reported using an illicit drug at least once during the past month. About one in 12 youth (8.3 percent) in this age group are current (past month) users of marijuana, the most frequently used illicit drug, and 19.1 percent are current users of alcohol.
  • More than half (55 percent) of our nation’s 12th graders have tried an illicit drug and more than one-quarter (29 percent) have tried a drug other than marijuana, such as cocaine, inhalants and heroin.
  • Youth age 16 to 17 have the second highest rate (16.4 percent) of current illicit drug use in the country. The highest rate (19.9 percent) is found among young people age 18 to 20.
  • It’s estimated that 400,000 adolescents are in need of substance abuse treatment
  • Reports from eighth graders first use of substances by the fourth grade: alcohol 6.8%, cigarettes 7.3%, inhalants 3.6%, and marijuana 1.1%
  •  Although consumption of alcoholic beverages is illegal for people under 21 years of age, 10.4 million current drinkers are age 12 to 20. Of this group, nearly half (5.1 million) engage in binge drinking, including 2.3 million who would also be classified as heavy drinkers.

Being Attentive

People who interact with adolescents in the home or community need to be alert to changes in an adolescent’s behavior and appearance that may signal substance abuse.

By recognizing the potential warning signs and symptoms of substance use, you may be able to get help for a teenager in need of treatment. The following behavior changes, when extreme or lasting for more than a few days, may indicate alcohol-related or drug-related problems and the need for further screening by a professional.

Sudden changes in personality without another known cause:

  • Loss of interest in once favorite hobbies, sports, or other activities
  • Sudden decline in performance or attendance at school or work
  • Changes in friends and reluctance to talk about new friends
  • Deterioration of personal grooming habits
  • Difficulty in paying attention, forgetfulness
  • Sudden aggressive behavior, irritability, nervousness, or giddiness
  • Increased secretiveness, heightened sensitivity to inquiry


Adolescents face unique risks associated with substance abuse. The use of substances may compromise an adolescent’s mental and emotional development by interfering with how young people approach and experience interactions. In addition, adolescents are at serious risk for a number of direct and indirect consequences, including the following:

  • Delinquent Behavior—Adolescents who use marijuana weekly are six times more likely than non-users to report they run away from home, five times more likely to say they steal from places other than home and four times more likely to report they physically attack people.
  •  School-Related Problems—Adolescent substance abuse is associated with declining grades, absenteeism from school and dropping out of school. Cognitive and behavioral problems experienced by teens abusing substances may interfere with their academic performance.
  • Traffic Accidents—Nearly half (45 percent) of all deaths from traffic accidents are related to the consumption of alcohol and an estimated 18 percent of drivers age 16 to 20 (or 2.5 million adolescents) drive under the influence of alcohol.
  • Risky Sexual Practices—Adolescents who use drugs and alcohol are more likely than non-using teens to have sex, initiate sex at a younger age and have multiple sex partners, placing them at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Juvenile Crime—Adolescents age 12 to 16 who have ever used marijuana are more likely at some point to have sold marijuana (24 percent vs. less than one percent), carried a handgun (21 percent vs. seven percent) or been in a gang (14 percent vs. two percent) than youth who have never used marijuana.
  • Developmental Problems—Substance abuse can compromise an adolescent’s psychological and social development in areas such as the formation of a strong self-identity, emotional and intellectual growth, establishment of a career and the development of rewarding personal relationships.
  • Physical and Mental Consequences—Smoking marijuana can have negative effects on the user’s mind and body. It can impair short-term memory and comprehension, alter one’s sense of time and reduce the ability to perform tasks that require concentration and coordination, such as driving a car. Evidence also suggests that the long-term effects of using marijuana may include increased risk of lung cancer and other chronic lung disorders, head and neck cancer, sterility in men and infertility in women.
  • Future Use Disorders—The earlier the age at which a person first drinks alcohol, the more likely that person is to develop an alcohol use disorder. A person who starts drinking alcohol at age 13 is four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence at some time in his or her life than someone who starts drinking at age 20.


Treating adolescents for substance abuse requires special consideration of the adolescent’s individual experience and how it affects the nature and severity of his or her alcohol or drug use. Understanding the adolescent’s situation will help explain why alcohol or drugs are used and how they became an integral part of his or her identity. Factors that need to be considered when tailoring treatment for adolescents include the following:

  • Developmental Stages—Treatment for adolescents must address their unique developmental needs, which vary with the age of the client. Developmental features of younger adolescents are different from those of older adolescents. For example, older adolescents are more capable of abstract thinking and are more likely to openly rebel than younger adolescents.
  • Ethnicity and Culture—Norms, values and health beliefs differ across cultures and can affect substance abuse treatment. For example, some cultural groups may consider treatment invasive; others may wish to involve the extended family. Treatment services need to be culturally competent and use the preferred language of adolescent clients and their families.
  • Gender and Sexual Orientation—Factors that influence adolescent substance abuse and involvement in treatment differ by gender. For example, whereas adolescent girls more often have internalizing co-existing disorders such as depression, boys are more likely to have externalizing disorders such as conduct disorders. Effective treatment for gay, bisexual and transgendered youth includes helping them to acknowledge and accept their sexual identity.
  • Co-existing Mental Disorders—Adolescents with substance abuse disorders are more likely than their abstinent peers to have co-existing mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and depression. In these teens, substance abuse may disguise, exacerbate or be used to “self-medicate” psychiatric symptoms. Without tailored treatment, co-existing mental disorders could interfere with the adolescent’s ability and motivation to participate in addiction treatment and could increase the potential for relapse.
  • Family Factors— An adolescent’s family has a potential role both in the origin of his or her substance abuse problem and as an agent of change in the adolescent’s environment. Treatment should take into account family factors that increase risk for substance abuse problems in youth, such as any history of parental or sibling substance abuse problems or addiction; domestic violence; physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and neglect. Whenever possible, parents should be involved in all phases of their adolescent’s treatment.

Parental Influence

Alcoholism and other drug addiction tend to run in families. Children of addicted parents are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are other children:

  • Family interaction is defined by substance abuse or addiction in a family.
  • Families affected by alcoholism report higher levels of conflict than do families with no alcoholism.
  • *A relationship between parental addiction and child abuse has been documented in a large proportion of child abuse and neglect cases.
  • Children of addicted parents have a high rate of behavior problems.
  • Children of addicted parents experience greater physical and mental health problems and higher health and welfare costs than do children from non-addicted families.


Adolescents who are in treatment or recovery need all the support they can get from their families and communities. Consider taking one or more of the following actions to support youth undergoing treatment for and recovery from substance abuse. Encourage schools to offer student assistance programs, counseling on substance abus, and confidential referral to treatment and recovery resources in the community.

  • Encourage purchasers of health insurance to obtain comprehensive coverage for substance abuse and mental health services.
  • Encourage treatment centers, schools, and community-based youth organizations to conduct support groups for children of parents who are addicted to alcohol and drugs.
  • Encourage adolescents who have recovered successfully from addictive disorders to participate in community events that target their peers.
  • Because alcohol and drug use among youth often occurs in groups, be aware that encouraging one young person to seek help may lead others in his or her social group to seek treatment.
  • Encourage environmental changes in your community that promote recovery such as reducing the number of billboards advertising alcoholic beverages and holding alcohol-free recreational events.
  • Encourage the participation of family members in all aspects of the treatment and recovery process for adolescents and foster the availability of family-centered support groups and other services that address the needs of the entire family.
  • Be a positive role model for young people in treatment and recovery by not engaging in any illegal or unhealthy substance use.
  • Get involved in organizations that to support substance abuse treatment and recovery programs for adolescents.
  • Stay informed about available local resources for treatment and recovery and use this knowledge to help others.


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience
Help Your Clients Stop Self-Defeating Behaviors

Help Your Clients Stop Self-Defeating Behaviors

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“All forms of self-defeating behavior are unseen and unconscious, which is why their existence is denied.” Vernon Howard

What are Self-Defeating Behaviors?

 In their book, Going Home: A Positive Emotional Guide for Promoting Life-Generating Behaviors (Honu Publications 2005), Drs. Gregory and Lori Boothroyd state that “self–defeating behaviors are any behavior or attitude that a person uses to such an extent that it diminishes the best life possible for that person” (p 5).

Self-defeating behaviors (SDBs) are behaviors used to protect oneself against perceived dangerous stimulus from the outside world. These behaviors are often not regarded as self-defeating initially, but rather survival mechanisms. An example could include a young child who is outgoing, but is continually regarded as irrelevant. This contrast could bring SDBs such as negativism or alienation to protect him/her against classmates’ attack.

SDBs tend to live far beyond the initial encounters and become staples of current and future personality traits. The Boothroyds further state that defeating behaviors interfere with the true internal self. Through continual use they can damage physical health, social and interpersonal connections, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth, vocational and educational connections, and financial stability (p 5).

The Boothroyds list of common self-defeating behaviors include:

  • substance abuse – used as a form of escapism
  • inferiority – constantly comparing oneself with others
  • excessive worry – can cause possible health issue due to created stress
  • alienation of others – can lead to loss of possible life-giving and changing contact
  • defensiveness – not willing to listen to others makes one shallow in understanding different points of view
  • negativism – it is hard for others to enjoy a relationship if it is never positive in nature
  • procrastination, disorganization, and indecision – these could all be unhealthy traits for the implementation of a career choice

The Continuing Pattern of Self-Defeating Behavior

 In Going Home, the Boothroyds describe continuing SDB as a circular pattern of behavior. Each step the individual partakes in further strengthens the SDB response imbedded in the unconscious.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Situation (Flashpoint): Something strikes a chord and the SDB is initiated; cues bring out the SDB response.
  2. Conclusion (what the behavior is supposed to prevent): Experience now shows that the SDB is the safest and the smartest thing to do for that particular situation and it is repeated.
  3. Fears (If I don’t use the behavior then….): Individuals wants to avoid being in a frightening situation without the SDBs that have protected them for so long.
  4. Choice (to throw the self-defeat switch again): This stage happens so fast one does not realize they have made a decision to use old SDB; it is an unconscious reaction.
  5. Techniques (tools to implement the choice): Techniques are any kind of thought and action that help promote and deliver the SDB.
  6. Results (consequences of the choice): Using SBDs over time greatly affects one’s emotional and physical well-being. The result stage can be an important avenue of change when one realizes what was lost and is finally willing to do something.
  7. Minimizing (denial of results): A person using SBDs denies that the behavior is bad.
  8. Disowning (dump the responsibility): This stage allows the individual to release the responsibility to anyone or anything other than themselves for their behavior. The individual paints him- or herself as the victim of circumstances.

 How to Eliminate Self-Defeating Behavior

 The Broothroyds share that “it’s time to rediscover and thereby recover home that place within us that’s not in form, not in time and not in space. It’s just here – waiting and beckoning” (p 41).

How to go about rediscovering oneself is laid out in the following 12-step program:

  •  Step 1 – Identify your self-defeating behavior: One should pick a strong, often-used SDB and focus attention on one at a time. The SDB chosen may affect other SDBs and you may kill two birds with one stone.
  • Step 2 – Isolate the flashpoint situation: What creates the stimulus to use the SDB? What particular events or situation arouse your need to use the SDB? It is important to connect arousal points so as to be know when to be aware of your responses to situations.
  • Step 3- Identify your favorite techniques: Techniques are used to carry out the SDB. This is the stage that gives you the ability to catch yourself before implementing an old SDB. The Boothroyds use examples of internal techniques, such an individual dwelling on past hurts or anticipating negative results, and external techniques, such as failing to meet obligations and manipulating others.
  • Step 4 – Do a thorough damage assessment: This is a critical stage in which an individual assesses and connects the dots, so to speak, with SDBs and the effects they have on many aspects of one’s life.
  • Step 5 – Identify your minimizing strategies: In this step, it is time to confront your past minimizing behavior after using SDBs. It takes courage for the individual to realize what is truthful about their behavior and its effect on the quality of one’s life.
  • Step 6 – Identify your disowning targets: Now it is time for the individual to face their personal responsibility for past behaviors.
  • Step 7 – Identify a replacement behavior: People need this step to fill the void in a positive manner that will replace the old SDB.
  • Step 8 – Identify replacement techniques: This step encourages the individual to realize that to be able to sustain behavioral changes will not be easy, and that it will be a continual work in progress.
  • Step 9 – Seize the moment of choice: In this step, it is critical that the individual empower the moment of choices. Take advantage of the changes of behavior one has been working on and don’t be afraid to implement them into a process of action.
  • Step 10 – Identify life-generating results: This step revisits step 4 but instead of listing a self-defeating behavior and its effects, the prescription of this step is to list all positive consequences of the life-generating behavior. Listing positive outcomes will hopefully be a positive reinforcement toward the implemented behavioral changes that are underway.
  • Step 11 – Maximize and enjoy the results: One should be able to take credit for his or her behavior. This does not mean becoming cocky about what one has accomplished, but rather giving oneself credit for the new pathway one is traveling in generating a new lifestyle.
  • Step 12 – Own your new behavior: Finally, one should be able to enjoy the fruits of his or her labor. Realizing the importance of this accomplishment will hopefully give one confidence to tackle other aspects of life that may also be leading to SDBs.

 SDBs are powerful avenues that people take to live their lives. Many times, one does not realize how strong the emotions are in wanting to not be hurt. The goal is to become what Abraham Maslow describes as a “fully functioning individual” versus an individual striving to survive and cope in the scary world that we envision is around us.

“Self-acceptance comes from meeting life’s challenges vigorously. Don’t numb yourself to your trials and difficulties, nor build mental walls to exclude pain from your life. You will find peace not by trying to escape your problems, but by confronting them courageously. You will find peace not in denial, but in victory.” Donald Walters


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience
Why Do People Become Addicted?

Why Do People Become Addicted?

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC


“Every habit he’s ever had is still there in his body, lying dormant like flowers in the desert. Given the right conditions, all his old addictions would burst into full and luxuriant bloom.” Margaret Atwood

When discussing an addiction or dependency, most standard beliefs center around the continued repeatability of use of a substance and/or behavior, in which the user loses site of the ramifications of his/her actions. The user can become so attached to substances or an action (pornography, gambling) that the instant gratification of the moment far overrides the consequences.

It is like having a little voice on your shoulder telling you everything will be fine–go ahead–just one more. Someone who is fighting an addiction or dependency is fighting both urges from the outside world and a battle with voices inside of themselves.

Negative Reinforcement: I am Worthless Because You Say I Am

Many of my clients have suggested their addictive behaviors began with the need to escape or numb from the world around them. They understood the consequences of their addictive behaviors, but the pain—through either anxiety or depression—was so intense they could not seek any other alternative.

To someone overwhelmed in the moment, long-term recovery seems as difficult and tedious as climbing a mountain. On the other hand, their addictive behaviors can be instantly satisfying.

All of the judgment and opinions from friends and loved ones in fact become reinforcement to continue. To a certain extent, it is socially acceptable to use alcohol, gamble, or shop when emotionally stressed, as long as you don’t cross certain social norms. When a user does violate those norms, the reaction of others reinforces the feelings of weakness, worthlessness, and being out of control. So, he thinks, I might as well keep using.

As Robin Williams once stated in Weapons of Self-Destruction: “As an alcoholic, you will violate your standards quicker than you can lower them.”

When talking about any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure, and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character. Experts debate whether addiction is a “disease” or a true mental illness, whether drug dependence and addiction mean the same thing, and many other aspects of addiction.

Pleasure Principle: This is Your Brain on Drugs

The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal. In the brain, pleasure has a distinct signature: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex. Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center.

All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release.

Even taking the same drug through different methods of administration can influence how likely it is to lead to addiction. Smoking a drug or injecting it intravenously, as opposed to swallowing it as a pill, for example, generally produces a faster, stronger dopamine signal and is more likely to lead to drug misuse.

Is it a wonder that a depressed individual would seek out this pleasure—any form of relief from the darkness that surrounds their soul?

Diagnostic Criteria for Addiction

Based on the criteria by the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) and World Health Organization (ICD-10) an addiction must meet at least three of the following criteria:

  • Do you use more alcohol or drugs over time?
  • Have you experienced physical or emotional withdrawal when you have stopped using?Have you experienced anxiety, irritability, shakes, sweats, nausea, or vomiting? Emotional withdrawal is just as significant as physical withdrawal.
  • Limited control. Do you sometimes drink or use drugs more than you would like? Do you sometimes drink to get drunk? Does one drink lead to more drinks sometimes? Do you ever regret how much you used the day before?
  • Negative consequences. Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job, or family?
  • Neglected or postponed activities. Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational, work, or household activities because of your use?
  • Significant time or energy spent. Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning, or recovering from your use? Have you spent a lot of time thinking about using? Have you ever concealed or minimized your use? Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught?
  • Desire to cut down. Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use? Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?

Many people with addiction issues who I have spoken to shared how they had a high tolerance, and could drink more than peers when in their early stages of drinking. At the time, one who could chug the beer and down the shots and still be able to stand was regarded in high esteem. Many clients have told me, though, as life went on, having a high tolerance for booze became a curse as it became a thirst that could not be quenched.

Relapse and Recovery

Symptoms of addiction include tolerance (development of resistance to the effects of alcohol or other drugs over time) and withdrawal, a painful or unpleasant physical response when the substance is withheld.

Many people who are addicted deny it. They often emphasize that they enjoy drinking or taking other drugs.

People recovering from addiction can experience a lack of control and return to their substance use at some point in their recovery process. This faltering, common among people with most chronic disorders, is called relapse. To ordinary people, relapse is one of the most perplexing aspects of addiction. Millions of Americans who want to stop using addictive substances suffer tremendously, and relapses can be quite discouraging.

To appreciate the grips of addiction, imagine a person that “wants to stop doing something and they cannot, despite catastrophic consequences,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “We’re not speaking of little consequences. These are catastrophic. And yet they cannot control their behavior.”

Many in the addiction recovery field suggest that it takes more than just “not using” to fully recover. Recovery needs to come from the heart and the way one perceives him- or herself.

The following are important points your clients in recovery should know:

  • Check into your values; what’s important to you. What are the things that mean more to you than remaining addicted.
  • Develop and practice the skills you need to manage your life without relying on your addiction
  • Learn how to control addictive urges through mind management techniques
  • Find and appreciate the rewards that come from a “sober” (non-addicted) lifestyle
  • Build and appreciate personal relationships and turn to positive communities for support and companionship
  • Find your purpose and plan a future that leads to accomplishing your life goals
  • Mature into a new, non-addicted you — a person who simply and naturally rejects addiction in all forms

“I am spinning the silk threads of my story, weaving the fabric of my world…I spun out of control. Eating was hard. Breathing was hard. Living was hardest. I wanted to swallow the bitter seeds of forgetfulness…Somehow, I dragged myself out of the dark and asked for help. I spin and weave and knit my words and visions until a life starts to take shape. There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore. I am thawing.” Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls 


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience
Self-Esteem: Set-Up for Success or Failure

Self-Esteem: Set-Up for Success or Failure

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC


Many people go through life expecting the worst. Alfred Alder, the 19th century Austrian psychotherapist, stated: “Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.” But you can help your clients change their perceptions of themselves and the world and, as a result, work toward positive and high self-esteem.

In the words of self-help pioneer, Maxwell Maltz: “Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on.

When people have deep spiritual, physical, and emotional wounds, they can carry these burdens with them through life. In so doing, they cloud their perception of their own value or importance. And our perception of ourselves is what dictates our self-esteem.

In carrying the burdens of low self-esteem, people often substitute these feelings with dependency self-gratification methods, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, and pornography. In some ways, these people want control of changing their low self-image, and for too many the answer is to indulge or self-medicate. Dependencies allow them to deal with the status quo and numb away the negative feelings.

What is Low Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the overall opinion we have of ourselves and the value we place on ourselves as people. Low self-esteem means that the tone of this opinion is negative: for example, “I’m unlovable” or “I’m useless.”

Of course most people have mixed opinions of themselves, but if the overall opinion is that you are an inadequate or inferior person, or if you feel that you have no true worth and are not entitled to the good things in life, this is low self-esteem. And low self-esteem can have a painful and damaging effect on one’s life.

The Ways People Support Their Low Self-Esteem

 Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning in their book Self-Esteem (New Harbinger Publications, 2000) list ways in which one maintains a low view of oneself. Talk to your clients to see if they practice any of these bad habits:

  • Overgeneralization: From an isolated event, you make a general, universal rule. If you failed once, you’ll always fail.
  • Global Labeling: You automatically use negative preconceived labels to describe yourself, rather than accurately describing your qualities.
  •  Filtering: You selectively pay attention to the negative and disregard the positive.
  •  Polarized Thinking: You lump things into absolutes, black and white categories, with no middle ground. You have to be perfect or you’re worthless.
  •  Self-Blame: You consistently blame yourself for things that may not really be your fault.
  •  Personalization: You assume that everything has something to do with you, and you negatively compare yourself to everyone else.
  •  Mind Reading: You assume that others don’t like you, are angry with you, don’t care about you and so on, without any real evidence that your assumptions are correct.
  •  Control Fallacies: You either feel that you have total responsibility for everybody and everything or feel that you have no control; that you are a helpless victim.
  •  Emotional Reasoning: You assume that things are the way you feel about them.

Ways of Increasing Self-Esteem

 We are what we think. What people take in influences their perceptions of themselves, and the filters they use to gather information about themselves is key in how they feel.

The problem with changing anything in life is that people fight it: no matter how bad they feel, humans are creatures of habit.

The following is a list of potential ways of increasing self-esteem that you can recommend to clients in your practice:

  •  Use positive self-talk: Tell yourself you can handle it and support yourself in going after your goals.
  • Engage in regular physical activity: Regular exercise fends off depression, low energy, and disease, while increasing stress management abilities and enhancing your mood.
  • Take care of your needs: Be good to yourself by getting adequate sleep, taking care of your personal hygiene, creating time to be alone, saying no when you need to, eating in nutritious ways, stimulating your mind, and connecting with others.
  • Let the little things go: It is damaging to your health to beat yourself up over every little thing.
  • Own who you are: Give yourself permission to like what you like and not like what you don’t like.
  • Practice self-acceptance: Get to know yourself. Let go of any need to be perfect.
  • Be creative: Creativity helps you achieve a greater sense of well-being and gain better control of your thoughts. Step out of the box.
  • Have a grateful and optimistic attitude about life: Practice daily gratitudes.
  • Have personal integrity and live by your values: Listen to your inner voice.
  • Participate in meaningful activities: Follow your passions.

The bottom line when it comes to self-esteem is we play the most important role in our own self-esteem. One’s personal happiness can greatly increase by taking positive action in changing one’s attitude.

Advise your clients to take time in their days to meditate and take stock in how they are processing the world around them. Teach them to be attuned to setting healthy boundaries with themselves and others, and not be afraid of asking a trusted love one to give a valid and honest assessment of how they are doing. Lastly, tell them to take the brake off, and allow themselves the freedom to enjoy the ride of their lives.

“Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.” Karen Ravn


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience


What Happens in Rehab and Recovery

What Happens in Rehab and Recovery

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town.” Anne Lamott.

In the modern recovery world “rehab” can mean many things. To treat addictions a person can choose long-term (usually 90 days) and shorter-term (30 days to 2 weeks) in-house programs. Each type of program has its own specific strengths and weaknesses.

Inpatient Rehab

The benefit of an inpatient program is that an individual is isolated away from their substance of choice and is thus given an opportunity to begin to think clearly. Isolation away from behavioral triggers allows them to focus solely on their recovery without distractions from the outside world.

Over time, family members and close friends may be invited to participate in visiting days or family therapy sessions. This helps to build the support system that is so crucial to those in recovery once they leave the rehab facility.

Outpatient Rehab

In outpatient, the individual has freedom of movement and is able to handle day-to-day activities of life outside of a facility. Depending on possible involvement of court system, there could be required drug testing in place.

An outpatient program gives an individual the opportunity to gather facts and converse with fellow members of the group to learn coping skills to avoid the decisions of the past. Outpatient care is best for those with short-lived dependence and is not recommended for those with serious or long-term addictions or those with dual diagnosis conditions.

What Happens in Rehab

Once an individual passes through the initial detox from drugs or alcohol, they will move on to the rehabilitation portion of the recovery process. The rehab portion of recovery is where the patients get to evaluate the underlying reasons behind their addictions, addressing those issues so they can effectively move on with their lives without going back to drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behavior.

In individual behavioral therapy, the patient will identify when they began using the substance and why they started abusing it. The patient will receive strategies on how they can direct their time to focus on getting involved in new hobbies or interests. Time management skills will allow them to better use their time so they have less opportunity to think about relapse.

Patients learn to identify triggers, and how to deal with these triggering situations when they come up. If patients have a plan for various tempting situations, they are more likely to put their plan into action and avoid relapse. This type of cognitive behavioral therapy also addresses thoughts that patients have in relation to substance abuse, or life in general. It helps to reform their thinking patterns and make behavioral changes toward a healthy, sober life.

The addiction rehabilitation process usually includes group therapy. These group sessions allow the recovering addict to interact with others who are in the same situation. It is often helpful for recovering addicts to know that they are not alone in their struggles. Likewise, it can be beneficial for addicts to share their own stories of addiction and recovery, as others find solace in them. This sense of community support is integral to the recovery process.

Most addiction rehabilitation facilities offer family therapy as part of their program. Addiction is far-reaching, affecting many more people than just the individual with the addiction. Family members are often those who are most deeply affected by their loved one’s addiction, and they are an important component of the recovery process for that person.

Initially, patients may be restricted from contacting loved ones, but later in the recovery process, family members are often welcomed to participate in family therapy sessions. During these sessions, family members can discuss pain caused by their loved one’s addiction and their desire to see that person live a healthy life. Family therapy can help to resolve issues so the family can serve as a pillar of support once their loved one leaves the rehabilitation facility.

Choosing a Drug Treatment Program

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are several things to consider when choosing a drug treatment program. These include:

  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution to treatment.
  • Different treatments work for different people.
  • Patients must commit enough time to treatment in order to effectively overcome their addictions.
  • Everyone should have easy access to treatment when they need it.
  • Addiction affects the way the brain works.
  • Effective treatment should address all areas of the addict’s life, not just the abuse or addiction.
  • Medicinal treatment is often necessary and should be used in conjunction with therapy.
  • Treatment plans should continually be tailored to meet the individual’s needs and circumstances.
  • Mental disorders are often linked to drug addiction and should be addressed in treatment.

A setting that provides recovery in a holistic manner and provides services that treat the underlying reasoning behind the need to escape or numb is critical to helping those we serve to find long-term recovery.

The best services include the following components:

  • Individual and Family Therapy
  • Dependence Education
  • Self-Realization
  • Individual Treatment Plan Creation

The service must be helpful in creating long- and short-term goals in the recovery process:

  • Establishing an individual relapse prevention plan
  • Daily reflections and meditations
  • Learning how to encourage longer-term dependent free living
  • Creation of a spiritual-based premise of a higher power

To meet the goals prescribed above a service covers areas such as:

  • Past and current medical history
  • Employment and educational background
  • Basic needs being met currently
  • Substance abuse history
  • Legal issues (current and past)
  • Family/social genogram of dependent history
  • Psychiatric diagnoses (current and past)
  • Personal insights and supports each client has

What Exactly is “Recovery”?

After a patient has completed a rehabilitation program, they are not finished with recovery. In fact, recovery is a process that an addict must work at for the rest of their life.

Sometimes, the path to lifelong recovery will be easy. Other times, it will be difficult for individuals to withstand the temptation to relapse. Like anything in life, it’s a journey that may feature varying terrain, so constant support is essential.

Prior to leaving an addiction treatment program, a patient will meet with counselors to discuss a plan for aftercare. Many addiction rehab facilities offer follow-up programs to assist the patient as they return to normal life.

These may include weekend stays back at the rehab center when the individual feels a touch-up stay is needed. Or a patient may live in a sober living facility for a while with other recovering addicts before returning home. This offers a supportive transitional time for recovering addicts before being thrown back into “normal” life.

Many patients maintain regular therapy sessions post-rehab, and some submit to scheduled drug testing as a way to keep them accountable to their sobriety. Group therapy is a method for building a support system in your local area. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are well-known 12-step groups that many recovering addicts attend on a very regular basis. Both AA and NA have meetings all across the country at easily accessible times.

There are various offsprings of the AA model for a wide range of other addictions, such as Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Emotions Anonymous (EA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). There are also subsets of NA for specific drugs, like Cocaine Anonymous (CA) and Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA). Some addicts find the type of support they can get in very specific 12-step groups is more beneficial, whereas other addicts gain the help they need from more general groups.

In the end the most important aspect of any rehab and recovery is that it is not just the mind thinking about recovery but also the heart. One must be willing to sacrifice immediate gratification with at times a long arduous plan that leads to fulfillment in never-ending recovery process.


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience


On Setting Boundaries

On Setting Boundaries

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“No” is a complete sentence.”
Anne Lamott

When I was working at an in-patient recovery center as a therapist, we would discuss boundaries in group. Many of the men in my group were between the ages of 18-30 and had issues relative to their addictive behaviors such as dual diagnoses like depression and/or anxiety.

Many in the groups I chaired shared how they felt like failures and that they were behind in what society deemed appropriate behaviors such as: doing a good job; supporting a family; and having a house with a white picket fence.

They deemed themselves failures which precipitated relapses once they went back to old environment.

The men shared they had kept going to AA meetings and kept vigilant about triggers, cues for potential relapse but put themselves again and again in compromising positions not understanding the concept of proper boundaries for their sobriety.

Why are Boundaries Important?

Each of us experiences reality in terms of:

  • The body – what we look like
  • Thinking – how we give meaning to incoming data
  • Feelings – our emotional response
  • Behavior – what we do or don’t do

Setting boundaries enhances a person’s ability to have a sense of self and to control the impact of reality on the self and others.

Our boundaries allow us to take in what is deemed necessary emotionally, but if the created boundaries  are negative, our perception of ourselves will be enhanced in a negative light.

Individuals experience self-esteem by directing to the self their perception of appearance, their thoughts and responses and what they should or should not do with their lives. Boundaries act as filters to the soul, what we perceive that we are, we become.

How do Boundaries Work?

We learn to set boundaries on two levels:

  • The external system that protects the body and controls distance and touch.
  •  The internal system that acts as a filter or block to protect one’s thinking, feeling and behavior.

External boundaries are violated by actions such as:

  • Touching or standing too close without permission
  • Intruding on a person’s privacy; for instance, walking into a bathroom or bedroom without knocking or getting into another person’s possessions without permission.

Examples of internal boundaries being violated include yelling, screaming, name calling, ridiculing, lying, patronizing, sarcasm, negative control, unrealistic expectations and demanding one’s own way or point of view as the only choice.

In the end, the ability to set boundaries may take several forms: The person who, because of low self-esteem, childhood training or painful experiences of the past, is unable to unwilling set limits and thus has no protection.

Example of Creating Boundaries – Enabling

It may be easier to find a list of don’ts in dealing with chemical dependency boundaries creation, for it is easier to understand why you fail than to know how to succeed. The following list is not inclusive but it makes a good beginning:

  • Don’t allow the dependent person to lie to you and accept it for truth, for in so doing, you encourage this process (enabling). The truth is often painful, but get it.
  • Don’t let the chemically person exploit you or take advantage of you, for in so doing, you become an accomplice (enabler) in the evasion of responsibility.
  • Don’t let the chemically dependent person outsmart you, for this teaches him/her to avoid responsibility and lose respect for you at the same time–enabling.
  • Don’t lose your temper and thereby destroy yourself and any possibility of help.
  • Don’t lecture, moralize, scold, praise, blame, threaten or argue. You may feel better, but the situation will be worse.
  • Don’t accept promises, for this is just a method of postponing pain. In the same way, don’t keep switching agreements. If an agreement is made, stick to it.
  • Don’t allow your anxiety to compel you to do what the chemically dependent person must do for him/herself.
  • Don’t cover up or abort the consequences of the chemical use. This reduces the crisis but perpetuates the illness.
  • If at all possible, seek professional help.
  • Don’t put off facing the reality that chemical dependency is a progressive illness that gets increasingly worse as use of mood altering chemicals continue.

Why Are Good Boundaries Important?

When you have weak boundaries, you compromise who you are. You lose yourself, your freedom, your control and your “territory.”

Because you are the only thing in which you have complete control, healthy boundaries are an essential part of proper self-maintenance.

You may ask, especially if the addict or alcoholic in your life is your child, how can I be a good partner, friend or relative to this person if I have such limits? IYou may feel like it’s putting a wall up and feel guilty or as if you are betraying this person in his/her hour of need.

Yes, it is excruciating to see someone you love struggle with addiction, but, like they say on the airplane, you need to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Good boundaries are critical. You’ll find that you are actually of little or no help to others without them.


As we learned in group, a basic coping skill in interpersonal relationships is the ability to set and maintain boundaries for our interaction with others and with the world as we experience it.

Many allow themselves to be imposed upon and even mistreated because of poor self-image, fear of conflict and uncertainty about their right to exercise control over their lives. Boundaries can be walls of protection or they can become barriers to fulfillment.

“There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate, it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall. Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

Hearts and fence photo available from Shutterstock


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience


Coping with–and Reducing Stress, Anxiety and Worry

Coping with–and Reducing Stress, Anxiety and Worry

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

More often than not, when clients enter my office that are struggling with anxiety, they have immediate need for relief and long term plans to gain coping strategies.

Numerous life situations have, in many cases, added up and created the environment for potential relapse back into old patterns for the use of substances and other addictive behaviors to numb and avoid.

At times, it is too easy to fall back into short term behaviors that work in short run but can lead into long term disasters.

When I was working in an inpatient recovery house, the difference between the safe environment of the house versus the outside world was enormous.

Clients would be afraid to walk outside the walls of the house for fear that the worries, stressors and fears would be waiting for them the moment they stepped outside.

They did not want to relapse, but the pull at times of the outside world was too much and a safety plan versus the immediate gratification of the old addiction was too much to handle. Anxiety and worry sit in and take over their lives once again.

“It was one of those days when I was thinking too much, too fast. Only it was more like the thoughts had a mind of their own and going all by themselves at a hundred miles a second, and I was just sitting back, feeling the growing paranoia inside of me.”
Sasha Mizaree

Coping Mechanisms Short-Term

When an individual begins to feel the anxiety of stressful situations, there are ways of temporarily relieving the physical reactions–Band-Aids if you will:

  • Deep breathing – take three deep, full, conscious breaths whenever you need to.
  • Breaks – a quick nap, snack, reading, walk or drive; a bath/shower/sauna; an exercise break (yoga/stretching); movie/DVD/TV; connect with a friend (email/call/text).
  • Healthy Venting – no obsessing, righteous justification or a pity-party!
  • Visualizations – e.g. visualize a peaceful scene (combine this with deep breathing).
  • Gratefulness – recite to yourself a few things you are grateful for despite what might be lacking in your life at this time.
  • Get honest – be honest – with yourself first and foremost. Admitting a difficult truth should bring immediate relief (especially if you’ve been avoiding/resisting it).
  • Separate what you can change from what you can’t – (and focus on the former, not the latter!)
  • “Keep your eye on the prize” – pick your battles (wisely)…pace yourself.

Reducing Stress – Prevention

 The following items take longer to learn, but are fruitful to create longer-term programs combating stressful, worry filled situations. It is best to understand ways of preventing the feeling of anxiety to formulate in   the first place:
  • Make a list of the “warning” signs – of your stress before it gets out of hand.
  • Prepare for a particularly stressful situation – ahead of time if possible.
  • Take responsibility -”own up to” your own limitations, unhealthy biases.
  • Treat: substance abuse (including caffeine), poor eating/sleeping habits, thyroid
  • Expand your roles – i.e. don’t get stuck in one role e.g. achiever/perfectionist/caretaker/rescuer/, comedian, rebel, wallflower; controller.
  • Learn to set boundaries – learn to say “no;” learn to be assertive
  • Resolve old issues – (old baggage) i.e. resentments, trust issues; intimacy issues; chronic low self-esteem; fears of abandonment; strong inner critic.
  • Learn to recognize your limits
  • Learn to live your own life; let others live their own lives
  •  Learn to risk saying what it is you want/need from life – others and yourself (keep it “reasonable”, focus on 60% on your needs and 40% of your wants.
  •  Consistently “let go” of things you cannot control.
  • Don’t get stuck in either/or thinking – for example – not either I do a good job or forget it…either you’re for me or against me but I both do my best and it’s not perfection…you are both supportive of me (in certain areas) and critical of me (in other areas).
  • Challenge unreasonable expectations – desires, demands, standards, etc.
  • Challenge limiting beliefs – challenge dysfunctional loyalties
  • Clarify your goals – one-year plan, three-year plan,five-year plan; take “baby steps”
  • Learn meditation/mindfulness practices
  • Learn good time management skills and good financial management skills.


The more in tune with ourselves, the better off we are to combat the fears and anxieties of life that can, if allowed, paralyze the soul or worse yet, involve ourselves in unhealthy ways of coping (substance abuse etc.)

We so many times in life take for granted how we feel rather than taking the time to examine the underlining causes of our feelings.

Many who I have worked with in substance abuse recovery struggle with the easier coping mechanisms such as submitting to a relapse rather than the daunting task of struggling with what they suggest are demons within their soul.

Anxiety, worry and stress can be regarded as the norm rather than something to be met head on and over the course of time, to understand and mediate to manageable levels.

“I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then, whenever doubt, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal — and soon they’ll forget my number.”
Edith Armstrong


Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701


Wisdom from “On Being a Therapist”

Wisdom from “On Being a Therapist”

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“Yet it is hard to tread water with someone on our back without drowning.”  -Jeffrey Kottler

Jeffrey Kottler throughout his book “On Being a Therapist” sprinkles seeds of wisdom that will not only benefit the inexperienced therapist but the experienced therapist as well.

Kottler states that many in today’s therapeutic community regard therapy as little more than simple accountability and measured outcomes that are all held together in some limited time frame described as brief therapy.

Kottler believes that therapy is more than brief interchanges between a client and a therapist but an opportunity no matter how slight for the therapist to role model a positive influence on the client’s life.


Along with the relationship between client and therapist, Kottler shares in his book other challenges that confront today’s therapists such as:

  • increased diversification of client base
  • advances and changes in theory and technique
  • increased bureaucracy in health care
  • living in a stressed filled world.

These variables, along with the personal inner struggles professionally and personally that therapists are dealing with, makes the task of being productive in therapy in today’s world a daunting task.

Kottler believes that theories, prescribed rules, regulations and other therapeutic practices have their time and place and are in many ways helpful for the therapist, but he emphasizes that importance must  still be placed on the client/therapist relationship.

Learned Along the Way

Another key point Kottler emphasizes is how the client and therapist change each other during therapy.

Kottler warns counselors to be wary of the destructive energy emanating from a patient that it can pollute the spirit of the healer (Kottler, 2003).

Kottler wonders whether Freud’s habit in counseling sessions to remain detached had more to do with preserving his own emotional safety than transference issues.

It is important not to fall into the same emotional trap that the client is experiencing but rather encourage the client to risk take and act more than reflect on their issues.

Key for the therapist is timing when the client is ready for the next step in the process of dealing with painful issues. Kottler felt that an error in judgment by the counselor could result in tragic consequences or at the least regressive backlash.

To Kottler, clients become our greatest teachers, who let us know what is working and what is not, that is, if we are paying close attention (Kottler, 2003).

Another interesting aspect of counseling shared by Kottler is learning to love someone unconditionally, non-possessively, non-sexually, with warmth, empathy and genuineness. He states that this experience can be exhausting.

Patients can test the patience of any therapist and that can affect how the therapist relates to the client.. In doing so, we tend to feel more comfortable working with people who are most like us.

But, Kottler states feeling too comfortable with a client can be dangerous. We tend at this point to limit our therapy to:

  • what worked well in previous cases
  • deal with issues that are not personally threatening
  • limit the challenges that the particular case can teach us.

Real learning and growth comes from learning to be flexible, when we are forced to use new therapy styles and realize, that in some cases, it is not the client’s antisocial or annoying behavior that is the problem but our own listless, lack of caring attitude being expressed to the client that is the center of the problem.

Helpful Hints

Kottler shares other important suggestions for a therapist in the midst of analyzing a client/therapist relationship:

  •  determine whether the problem is with the client or with you
  •  respect the purpose and function of resistance and client defenses
  •  when feeling trapped, follow the principles of the “reflective practitioner”
  •  do not try to cure the incurable
  •  acknowledge that the client is operating under different rules from what you would prefer
  •  remain as flexible as possible
  •  educate yourself about clients who come from backgrounds that are beyond your experiences or comfort level; and
  • when all else fails, allow the clients to keep their dysfunctional behavior. Do what you can do no more and no less (Kottler, 2003).

When a therapist experiences a loss of motivation, energy, control and direction, Kottler said, these are conditions that could be as simple as boredom but left untreated, can turn into chronic, incurable and causation for a larger problem named burnout.

Kottler felt the single most common personal consequence of practicing therapy is not who will experience burnout but how long the next episode will last.

Kottler cautions that when a therapist can no longer deal with stress and/or symptoms of burnout he/she is more likely to engage in unethical conduct or to make decisions that will harm the client rather than help (Kottler, 2003).

He reminds the reader (therapists) that it is important to take care of yourself (burnout protector). He suggests the therapist needs to:

  •  adjust expectations to realistic levels
  •  break away as needed
  •  not be afraid to use the concept of talking to oneself as you do to your clients
  •  demonstrate that you take your own growth as seriously as you do that of your clients


The last chapters of “On Being a Therapist” consist of lies we, as therapists tell, alternative therapies we can use and ideas for furthering growth and creativity within. Kottler states that many of the negative personal consequences of being a therapist derive less from the pressures of clients, supervisors and work schedules but from not being true to oneself.

At times, Kottler believes that therapists have to put on a façade of confidence to instill confidence and motivation in the client.

Kottler shares what Milton Erickson was fond of saying that if you can pretend very convincingly, then clients will pretend to make changes in their lives. And when things go well, after a period of time, they will forget they are pretending (Kottler, 2003).

Not only does Kottler share the importance of being honest in one’s therapy, he also relates the idea of  the importance of not becoming married to a particular theory. A therapist must be flexible not idealistic toward his/her client. If the therapist does not genuinely believe that the therapeutic tools for our profession can work for the client, then we have no business practicing them on anyone else (Kottler, 2003).

Lastly, Kottler shares that in the process of doing therapy we must regard ourselves as explorers. We teach others to discover uncharted territory, to learn survival skills and apply them in conditions of maximum stress.

We teach people about their limits and their capabilities. We help people take controlled risks, where much danger can be anticipated. But, we must never forget that we change as much as we change each client we see.


Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience


Conquering Codependency

Conquering Codependency

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

I remember the ice hitting the glass.

After working all day and sitting down in the living room, I would hear the noise of the ice from ice maker entering the glass. The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. My mind raced to what may or may not happen. Would I have to cancel the evening plans? How were the boys? I wonder if anyone noticed we have been missing at meetings? When was the last time my then-wife did not get into an argument, prompting the boys to ask if everything was all right?

I had known for some time that I needed help dealing with my wife’s drinking. I had been trying to control it and always labeled it under the heading “what was best for the kids.” What I was forgetting in all this was the toll the drinking was having on me personally. I was depressed, feeling alone, and just plain tired of it all.

Life changed dramatically when my wife took a second-shift job. Night brought a quietness and peace I had not felt for some time. I had previously tried to control the use of alcohol by screaming, pleading and trying to ignore the triggers. None of it worked. Once my wife went to evening shift, the drinking took place in the early morning hours, when the rest of us were sleeping. I realized the difference was not allowing the drinking to dominate my waking hours. I needed to take this one step further. After many years of threatening, I finally attended an Al-anon meeting.

Powerless against it

Strength, not weakness. Allowing the controlling aspect of alcohol to dissipate was beginning to slowly enter my mind as I listened at my first Al-anon meeting. Powerless? You mean I did not have the duty to control, enable and cover up any more? I did not have to carry the burden of the disease? I could think about myself?

I could begin to see what alcohol was doing to me. I was dealing with the same urges as the drinker, but didn’t have the release of alcohol to numb my pain. I was in many ways the dry drunk in the family. My reaction to the situation was affecting my 8- and 14-year-old sons more than the actual drinking. I thought I was protecting my boys, but actually I was adding fuel to the fire by creating the environment to drink.

Those at the meeting shared their stories of their first time in attendance. They spoke of being scared; of being too good for this silly program; and that they were not the one with the problem. Each person expressed that control was not an option. The act of controlling was destroying more than the drinking. I was not leading a healthy lifestyle. For once it was all right to think about myself and review my own feelings.

Codependent Relationship

In a codependent relationship, feelings are often painful. You may have cut off the following feelings:

  • Anger. Are you having one crisis after another? Do you feel you’re doing all the work in the relationship? Are you angry you’re covering up for your partner?
  • Isolation. Do you stay home because you’re not sure whom you can trust? Do you feel you have to hide your feelings because things will never change?
  • Guilt. Do you feel no matter how hard you try it’s never good enough? Do you think that if you were a better partner things would be better?
  • Fear. Do you fear confronting your partner because they may abandon you? Do you fear physical or sexual abuse? Do you fear the loss of your home and security?
  • Embarrassment. Do you avoid bringing people into your home because your partner’s drinking is unpredictable? Do you avoid social gatherings where drinking may occur?
  • Despair. Do you feel helpless and trapped at times? Do you feel it will never change so why bother to confront? Do you spend most of your energy worrying about his or her drinking?

The more that was shared, the more it felt I was beginning to break up that wall in my heart. It was all right to take care of myself; it was all right to focus on me for a change.

How to take care of yourself

It is natural to want to protect the people you care about. But in a codependent relationship, how do you begin to take care of yourself?

  • Recognize you have a problem.
  • Start to focus on your needs.
  • Begin to educate yourself on codependency.
  • Start setting limits.
  • Start trusting and get supports.
  • Understand recovery and the process for everyone.

I felt a bit lighter when I left the meeting. I had shared my thoughts with others and I was able to speak freely about control. I was beginning to make a crack in the wall. I was actually telling someone else that we had a pink elephant in the room that in itself was a huge step forward. I was beginning to understand to cover up pain and shame in the family dysfunction. I needed to learn to respond to an outer reality instead of my own inner reality.

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701


The Family’s Role in Addiction and Recovery

The Family’s Role in Addiction and Recovery

By: Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life that no man can sincerely try to help another, without helping himself.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stephanie Brown, in her book The Alcoholic Family in Recovery, discusses four distinct stages that the alcoholic and the family surrounding him or her must go through to achieve recovery:

The 1st stage is the Drinking Stage and is highlighted by the family denying that any family member has a drinking problem, while at the same time giving reasons to anyone who will listen why the drinker has the right to drink.

The 2nd stage is labeled Transition, and the focus is the beginning of abstinence for the drinker. This is a time for the family of the alcoholic to finally come to the realization that the alcoholic cannot control his/her drinking and the co-alcoholic cannot control the drinker. (A co-alcoholic is defined as the person(s) who enables an alcoholic by assuming responsibilities on the alcoholic’s behalf, minimizing or denying the problem drinking, or making amends for the alcoholic’s behavior [, accessed 4/28/2015].)

The 3rd stage, called Early Recovery, is when this couple works on individual healing, versus the healing of the whole of the family unit.

The 4th stage is Ongoing Recovery, where “individual recoveries are solid and attention can be turned back to the couple and family” (Brown, 1999, p114).

 Stage 1: The Drinking Stage

Therapists working with the family in the drinking stage must focus not only on the drinking behavior of the alcoholic, but also the distorted belief system of the rest of the family that emotionally and physically supports the drinking. The family must quit denial and support of the drinking, and begin to find avenues to reach out for help.

For the therapist dealing with a drinker in the drinking stage, the imperative is for the drinker to begin abstinence. Attempts are made to help the drinker gain insight into why life has become for so many in the family unit unstable. However, in the final analysis, it is up to the drinker to begin the process of recovery. The therapist helps to break down the walls of defiance in the drinker’s belief system that they are in total control.

Stephanie Brown describes the insanity of the drinking stage in being like a dance: “The drinker leads and the co-alcoholic follows in a way that keeps them dancing. The leader may stumble, drift away, step all over the follower, or even break up the dance by changing partners. The co-alcoholic’s only response is to try and keep the dance going” (Brown, 1999, p 171).

The therapist must encourage the family to help the alcoholic end the dance by realizing they cannot control and enable the drinking and that only when they reach out for help outside the family system may they be led into the stage of transition.

Stage 2: Transition Stage

The transition stage is a complex ebb and flow during which the alcoholic works through no longer drinking, and the family struggles with the transition of living through the end of the drinking to the beginning of abstinence.

The environment within the family at the end of drinking is made up three distinct variables:

  • Increasingly out-of-control environment
  • Tightening defenses to prevent or forestall systems collapse
  • A last ditch attempt to maintain denial and all core beliefs

The therapist has a multitude of functions in the beginning stage of transition. The therapist must help guide the alcoholic to realize the loss of self-control with their drinking and, with this understanding, help the alcoholic realize that they must reach out to outside help (ie, AA) to have any realistic chance to stay sober.

In the meantime, the therapist has to help the family—who has been dealing with supporting the drinker’s world that is now beginning to crack and crumble—realize their need for help (ie, Al-Anon) in handling how the denial, core beliefs, and out of control behavior made them, as much as the alcoholic, a prisoner of the drinking.

The therapist is a guide to help find sobriety, and a place to go for information when life is a bundle of confusion. “Are you going to meetings?” “How are you feeling?” “Take it one day at a time, first things first, and set priorities” are statements repeated by the therapist until the client can recite them for themselves.

As the family begins to move from drinking to abstinence and to the later half of the transition stage, Brown describes four focal points the family must be aware of:

  • To focus intensely on staying dry
  • To stabilize the out-of-control environment
  • To allow the family support system to collapse and remain collapsed
  • To focus on the individual within the family

The therapist, after seeing that the family is stable enough and has lifeboats in place (AA & Al-Anon), can begin to investigate underlying feelings that may be triggers or causes of past and current drinking relapses. The therapist must also be attentive to how children in the family are being cared for and if they are handling the changes to the family structure.

Forward movement is the key and the best way to help clients reach for and know when is the right time for the family to move to the next stage: Early Recovery. In reality, this may take years based to severity of the past drinking.

Stage 3: Early Recovery

The main difference between the transition stage and the early recovery stage is a general lessening of the physical cravings and psychological impulses for alcohol. The therapist must always look for potential relapse signs, but this factor lessens as time moves forward.

An item the therapist must address in the early recovery stage is continual support within the alcoholic’s family to stay focused on their own recovery. By this stage co-alcoholics, if they are not getting support of their own, may become weary of the lack of attention from the alcoholic who is busy trying to gain support (AA) to stay sober. The co-alcoholic may have been the controller of the drinker and now has to live with decisions of the family being completed by committee. It is imperative that the therapist is able to construct support for both the alcoholic and the co-alcoholic; each has issues that must be addressed so that recovery can continue.

As recovery moves forward, hidden and latent issues that fostered drinking or was created by the trauma of the drinking environment may need individual attention. Not only does the therapist become the guide for the family, but also the provider of information in this stage.

The therapist must:

  • Continue to teach abstinent behaviors and thinking;
  • Keep families in close contact with 12-step programs and help them work on the steps;
  • Keep focus on individual recovery, seeking outside supports for the family;
  • Maintain attention for the children in the recovering family; and
  • Keep a continual eye on potential issues, such as the onset of depression, emotional problems, sleep problems, fear, and/or helplessness.

Stage 4: Ongoing Recovery

This final stage is relatively stable in comparison to the earlier three stages. This is because recovery is now solid, and attention can be turned back to the couple and the family.

The family focus lies in the area of staying on task (sobriety) and committed to recovery, and building up the structure of the family after it had been torn down in the earlier stages. The family had reached for outside help (AA, Al-Non, therapy) and now, after finding themselves and actually liking what they see in the mirror, it is time to do the following:

  • Heal the emotional separation issues
  • Look in-depth at what damage had been done to the family due to drinking
  • Study the underlying causes of the drinking behavior

The ongoing recovery stage is a time for the creation of healthy relational dependence within the family and the understanding that recovery is a process, not an outcome (Brown, 1999).

The therapist’s main functions in this stage are:

  • Make sure family is continuing abstinent behavior
  • Expand the family’s alcoholic and co-alcoholic identities
  • Ensure that everyone maintains programs of recovery (work the 12-steps and internalize 12-step principles)
  • Focus on the couple and family issues
  • Explore spirituality issues and past childhood and adult traumas

 Final Thoughts

As I constructed this article, I was struck in many ways how involved and complex the role of the therapists is during an alcohol recovery process. It is more than being a listening ear in the background; it is a juggling act of many aspects of recovery.

The therapist is one step ahead of the family—guiding the family and the drinker to realize the importance of changing behavior; all the while wondering if what they are trying to accomplish will actually work.

The family and the drinker must come to a point in their lives that only when heartfelt change is ingrained will real change occur in the family. In truth, the magic of recovery is with the drinker and the family, not the therapist.

Steve Greenman Traverse City Counselor
Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC | Thoughtful Experience

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment. Contact Steve at 231-714-0282 Ext. 701

Wedding Planning Stress Minimization

Wedding Planning Stress Minimization

Photo Provided by Tela Chhe on flickr

A wedding is an important life experience that takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for.

With all of the preparation comes stress that can lead to various consequences. Some partners lose their connection and question their proposal or acceptance of a proposal. Others become overwhelmed with constant decision making. Family, friends, wedding planners, and even partners can become additional sources of stress. Understanding that both partners have different perspectives on the celebration is essential to making sure preparations go smoothly.

Here are some ways to make sure stress does not affect the connection you have with your partner:

Remind each other why you wanted to get married in the first place.

Take the time to tell your partner what you love about them. Couples often overlook this, leading to one partner feeling under-appreciated.

 Make mutual decisions.

In the beginning stages of a relationship there are decisions that can be made independently. There are also certain things that do not necessarily need to be shared with the other partner. This will change when the decision is made to enter into a marriage. Making decisions together from the early stages of wedding planning can prepare a couple for challenges that may lie ahead.

Mutually choose the caterer, colors, theme, motif, sponsors, officiating person, entourage, gowns, tuxes, guests, reception hall, and everything else. Men often prefer to have the ladies make decisions while they foot the bill. This strategy can often lead to disagreements where men are disappointed, especially because they paid for the thing they did not like. This source of stress and arguments can be minimized by making decisions together. It will also give partners a better idea of how they cope with decision making and show each individual’s point of view on an issue. Always include partners in decision making, never rush them into making a decision, and encourage participation.

 Have a fire/water strategy.

When couples inevitably lose patience and argue, it is easy for them to start attacking each other. In cases such as these, avoid attacks as much as possible. If one partner is steaming, angry, and playing the role of fire, the other partner should not attack them. Instead, they should take time to cool off, avoid flaring up, and calm the angry partner. Simply getting them to a level where they can sensibly talk about the issue will do wonders. Do not avoid the argument, but slightly delay the discussion so both partners can rationally take part in it.

 Take time to unwind.

Staying connected during the planning process is not just about making decisions, handling difficult situations, or reminding each other of the your love connection. Both of you should have fun while preparing for the wedding. Take time to withdraw from preparations and chill out. Plan a short vacation, play games, or participate in activities you both love. What matters is that you both enjoy the planning and the down time.


Ultimately, a marriage is a mutual decision between two people to spend the rest of their lives together. A wedding should be planned with a similar approach in mind. A couple should not feel forced to show their relationship off to the world. It is not just a special occasion that you should prepare for, but the first step both of you are taking in order to solidify your bond and take your relationship to the next level.




Emotional Connectivity Checklist: 10 Things Couples Should Do Before their Wedding

Emotional Connectivity Checklist: 10 Things Couples Should Do Before their Wedding

Photo Provided by slightly-less-random on flickr

Let’s face it, some couples go through a phase where they lose interest in each other. For some, this leads to one partner giving up hope and walking away from the relationship. For others, the wedding just seems like the next step in the relationship. It is essential for couples to connect with each other and rekindle the relationship.

Here are some things you should do to connect emotionally before your wedding:

1. Converse

There may come a time when you no longer wish to have long conversations with your partner. It could be because you feel you have nothing to talk about or because you are tired of discussing certain things. Find the energy to start a conversation with them. Ask your partner about their day or work so you do not just talk about wedding preparation.

2. Plan a Date Night

Dating shouldn’t stop because you are engaged. In fact, it is an integral part of maintaining excitement in a relationship. Choose a day of the week to go out. In order to keep this from becoming routine, take turns choosing ideas for the date.

3. Sweet Nothings

The sweetest acts from loved ones are usually the most simple. “Sweet Nothings,” or simple and random acts of sweetness are a fun way to remind your partner of how much you love them. Surprise your partner at work with a nice lunch or prepare coffee in the morning and stick a Post-It with a cute message on the mug.

4. Reminisce

This is a great way to reconnect emotionally with your partner. Try to visit the place where the two of you met and remember the details of what happened. Open up about the experience. This will help you remember exactly how far the two of you have come and why you love your partner.

5. Romance

Some people want romance while others find it corny or awkward. While it is important to remember that not all people are comfortable with their romantic side, there is one thing that can freely show you and your partner how much you love each other. When making love, be careful that it doesn’t get boring and feel free to explore new things together.

6. Activities

There are plenty of activities that couples can do together. Games, paint ball, and bowling are just a few of many options available to you. If your partner’s friends take part in certain activities, join in once in a while. You can see how they interact with their friends in addition to getting to know them more before the wedding.

7. Argue the Right Way

During wedding preparations, ideas will clash and you will argue. This is perfectly find, but be sure you are open-minded about it and avoid getting carried away from the stress. Be rational, go for a walk, and come back when you are ready to talk.

8. Be Considerate

Be considerate of your partner’s feelings. Listen to what they say and take it into consideration.

9. Laugh Together

Have a good laugh together. Whether this comes from a movie, comedy show, or just discussion, laughter helps bring people closer together.

10. Vacation

Preparing for a wedding can be stressful. Take the time to relax and unwind. Both of you should choose a place where you can chill out and take a day or two off. Your budget may be tight around this time, but this vacation does not need to be grand. What matters is that both of you get some quality time off.

What Every Future Mother-In-Law Should Read

What Every Future Mother-In-Law Should Read

Photo Provided by April Killingsworth on flickr

You are a very important part of your son or daughter’s wedding. Your opinion on certain parts of the wedding will be taken into consideration, but you have to remember that this is not your wedding. There is a reason that the stereotypical relationship between the bride or groom and their mother-in-law exists and it is because mother-in-law’s tend to meddle in their child’s affairs. Although it is natural to want to take matters into your own hands, you have to learn to mellow down.

Here are some reasons that mother-in-laws get a little too involved and ways to correct them:


When your son or daughter has finally decided to tie the knot, you cannot help getting excited. Even before plans are in place for their wedding, you may want to tell all of your friends about it. You may also be coming up with a list of people that you want to invite to the ceremony.

Of course you are excited, but here’s the problem:

Issues: You do not know the couple’s wedding plans. They may prefer a simple ceremony for close family and friends. They may have a tight budget. Telling others about the wedding before the couple does may cause some hardships. The couple may feel the need to invite more people than they can afford or, if the person is not invited at all, they may be offended.

Solution: Try to calm down a bit and think before telling anyone the news. Ask the couple about what they are planning on doing and, if people ask about invitations, tell them that those matters are being handled by the couple. If possible, ask the couple for a guest list and avoid inviting friends or family members that do not appear on the list.


It is natural for mother-in-laws to want the wedding to be perfect. You may have plans on how the wedding and preparations will go. You may want to suggest a hairdresser, location, place of worship, caterer, and florist.


Issues: By controlling all the wedding details, the couple may feel belittled. They will feel that you are monopolizing the event and that they do not have a part in their own wedding. They may also blindly accept your decisions out of respect, but that is not the ideal situation to be in.


Solution: It is very important to understand your role in the wedding. Do not act as a sole decision maker. Try to become a mentor or guide and provide assistance when the couple needs it. You should not feel bad about having a small part in preparing the wedding. In fact, you should be proud because it will only show that your son or daughter can accomplish it on their own. The couple’s capability to make decisions will be put to a test in theses early stages. Additionally, this may also mean that they do not want to put additional stress on you. The truth is, there will be a time when they will ask you for support. You will probably be a person they will feel they can talk to when the preparation process is overwhelming them. If this happens, be there for the couple and support them.


Wedding preparations can be stressful and may cause anxiety. As a mother-in-law, your sole concern should be the overall welfare of the couple. Try not to interfere with the whole affair and let them enjoy going through the process of planning their upcoming wedding.

Standing Up: 7 Things a Best Man Should Do

Standing Up: 7 Things a Best Man Should Do

Photo Provided by Sean O’Shaughnessy on flickr

Your friend or family member asked you to be the best man at their wedding.

Now what?

Whether you felt unsure or accepted immediately, your reaction is entirely normal. After all, it is a great honor that the groom has chosen you to take part in a very important stage of his life.

Here are some ways to ensure that you will be the best best man you can be at the wedding.

1. Assist in the Planning Process

Many couples choose to hire a wedding planner to take care of the planning process. Be sure you do not take away from the planner’s job, but try to be helpful. There may be some errands that need to be taken care of. Make yourself available to help the groom whenever necessary. This is especially important for fittings. Be sure you and the rest of the groomsmen have fittings done in a timely manner.

2. Plan the Bachelor Party

It is very common for the best man to plan the groom’s bachelor party. Ask the groom whether or not he would like to have one and when he is available. Include the other groomsmen in preparing, paying for, as well as hosting the party and be sure to invite guests that will make the party more enjoyable. Most importantly, try to keep the plans a secret and have a great time!

3. Attend the Wedding Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinner

Most weddings have rehearsals ahead of time. Make sure you are able to attend because they cannot take place without you! The rehearsal dinner usually includes people who are very close to the family. You may be asked to give a toast, but try to save the actual speech for the day of the wedding.

4. Make Sure the Groom is Ready

It is important for the groom to be physically and emotionally ready for his wedding day. Be there for the groom as he dresses up for the event. He may be nervous about the ceremony for many different reasons. Your role is to keep him relaxed. Do not be discouraging or make offbeat jokes. Encourage him to talk about his stressors and keep him from being anxious. In addition, make sure he has everything he needs for the big day. For example, if the chauffeur does not show up, drive the groom to the ceremony.

5. Be Prepared for the Ceremony

Stay focused and remember what you did during the rehearsal. Depending on the country and place of worship, your place in the procession will vary, however, during the ceremony, you will probably be required to stand beside the groom. Be flexible and coordinate with the maid of honor so things run smoothly. The two of you can help each other sign the marriage certificate and complete other tasks, like ushering, that are needed for the ceremony.

6. Rock the Reception

There will be a program for the reception that includes your toast. This is your chance to shine. If you need help writing it, there are many websites available that can provide formats and examples.

7. Take Care of the Aftermath

Your role does not end after the reception. Help return rented clothing and any other items that require transportation.


A Weekend of Change

A Weekend of Change

By: Lucy Seefried, MA, LLPC

There’s something about the spring season that not only calls upon new life to emerge, but if you’re anything like me, it can also stir the pot of discontent, anxiety, and maybe even a little depression. Here we’ve spent most of the winter inside, perhaps even welcoming the solitude the winter season invites us to enjoy. Then spring rolls around. The snow begins to melt, daylight savings time provides extra light into the evenings and increasing temperatures call us to venture out once again. “Who could be depressed about that?” you may be asking yourself.

That In Between Season

Well, I gotta tell you, there’s this period of spring that I’m not a fan of at all. It’s the period in between the snow melting, uncovering a not-yet-green grass, but one that is brown and quite frankly, gross looking, and where the sun may be shining, yet it’s still cold and blustery. I’ve discovered that I absolutely loathe this type of weather.

Not only do I loathe the weather, but also I notice myself becoming just a little more anxious (and no, not because of the weather!), irritable, and just plain depressed.

 A Weekend of Change

This past weekend however, was different. The weather was actually warm for a change and I just knew I had to take advantage of it. I was thinking maybe the fresh air and warm weather could help me shake some of the anxiousness I had been feeling for weeks. I threw on my walking shoes, grabbed the leash, and off I was, along with my faithful four-legged companion by my side.

My anxiety did decrease  some and about midway into my walk, I called a good friend of mine whom I hadn’t spoken with in a while. After catching up some, I shared with Juliette* some of the issues that were the cause of my discontent and anxiety. I am fortunate because Juliette happens to be very empathetic and I always feel “heard” when she and I speak.

As I described to her what had been causing me anxiety, Juliette asks me, “But Lucy, don’t you think you’re where you’re supposed to be in life?” and I replied, “well yes…but how do you find comfort/acceptance when things are difficult or not the way you would want them, even though you believe you are where you’re supposed to be?”

Reduce Anxiety with a Challenge

In other words, how can you find comfort within the challenge?

  • How do you accept or make peace with the difficulties in your life? If you’re anything like me, you may be riding the struggle bus with all of the challenges, problems, difficulties in your life, and along the way, you pick up a few passengers like anxiety, discontent and depression (i.e. one crowded bus!).
  • What I was reminded of this weekend however, was that if I continue to ruminate anxiously on the particular challenges, waiting for the next “thing” to happen in my life, I would also then miss the opportunity to see the multitude of possibilities that lie behind the struggles, like – what can I gain from leaning into, rather than resisting, what is difficult? Who I am supposed to become in light of this struggle?
  • What tools have I retained from past difficulties that I can apply to the current ones?

Will There Always Be Challenges?

The truth of the matter is, we are probably always going to face one challenge or another, and the struggle bus will always there if we need a ride. And yet, challenges and difficulties don’t always have to be the roadblocks we sometimes see them as.

In truth, they can serve as very powerful catalysts, catapulting us into the next best version of ourselves in:

  • Our careers
  • Physical capabilities
  • Spiritual lives
  • Social relationships
  • Perhaps most of all, our relationship to ourselves.

And this process, if we allow it, can occur over, and over, and over again.

What Happened Next?

Later into the weekend I found myself doing a little yard work, spring-cleaning if you will, while reflecting on my experiences over the last 24 hours. As I raked the dead leaves that covered the entire yard, I uncovered fresh green moss and tiny patches of new growth grass, new life that was emerging from the dead of winter and decaying foliage.  Then it occurred to me – underneath some of the struggles and difficulties that cause us such anxiety or depression, lies the gift of something new – something waiting to be born, something waiting to emerge and grow.

What will you uncover this spring?

rsz_traverse_city_counselor_lucy_seefriedLucy Seefried is a limited licensed professional counselor (LLPC) that focuses on young adults in transition, couples in need of connection, individuals coping with addiction issues, and everyone in between.

Lucy is a life-long native of Michigan who has a passion for traveling, exploring and connecting with others. Her universities studies in West Africa and Russia and work in places like Detroit, India and Alaska, have equipped her to work with a diverse range of individuals, as well as strengthened and informed her understanding and value for multiculturalism across the life span.

Using a client-centered approach and active listening, Lucy strives to balance self-exploration with practical solutions, while creating a safe and trusting environment for change to occur and allowing the creative process of therapy to unfold. Her theoretical lens has been informed by humanistic theories, strength-based and trauma-informed approaches, attachment models, mindfulness practices and experiential education.

Learn more about counselor Lucy Seefriend.

3 Reasons Not to Hook Up With Anyone at a Wedding

3 Reasons Not to Hook Up With Anyone at a Wedding

There are lots of events that allow you to find someone to hook up with, but you should NOT choose to do so at a wedding reception. A wedding is an event with lots of people from two different families and groups of friends. Yes, this is an event where singles meet up to have fun and possibly find their soul mates, but while this is a fun and easy way to meet new people, hooking up with someone at the event can be a bad idea.

Here are three reasons to avoid hooking up at the reception:

1. It isn’t safe

Although you know the couple, you cannot say that you know all of their family and friends. Hooking up with any of them is not a safe practice, no matter how many precautions you may take. It’s also not safe for the relationships with your friends or family. The long-term consequences can be tremendous.

2. It isn’t respectable behavior

There is a question of decency here since this is not your event. You, as a guest and visitor, shouldn’t be looking to benefit yourself. If there is a possibility you’ll get caught, both you and your partner will find it embarrassing. Avoid ruining the party and your reputation by hooking up. Be decent and do not rush into anything you’ll regret. Instead, take the time to get to know that person and invite him or her for coffee some other time.

3. It can affect you psychologically

The wedding reception is a time to celebrate the couple. This is their party and you were invited for that reason. Being picked up at a reception and hooking up can make women appear as if they have low self-esteem or confidence, and that they feel unattractive. Some men target these ladies because they are easy prey. They can easily be manipulated into thinking they are wanted when, in fact, they were chosen because they require little effort and can easily be disposed of. Women should think about how they will feel the morning after before drinking a lot or agreeing to hook up.

Hooking up can also have implications for men. Men can either feel great or very poorly about their ability to lure women in. Some of these actions, however, are the actions of insecure individuals who are trying to prove themselves to others.

Unfortunately, hook ups have seemed to replace the concept of dating. The wedding reception can be a great way to meet people, but it shouldn’t be used to hook up. If you ultimately have a bad experience hooking up, you will associate it with the wedding and risk meeting the person again because of mutual acquaintances.




What is rehab?

What is rehab?

What is rehab?

By Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

First, let’s start with a great quote about recovery and addictions:

“You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town.” -Anne Lamott

Like any journey, the road to sobriety and addictions recovery begins with simple steps forward. The specific steps of one’s addiction rehabilitation process will vary according to the addiction, the treatment plan used, and the individual; however, all recovery processes share certain similarities.

What is in-patient rehab?

In the modern recovery world rehab can mean many things. To treat addictions a person can choose long term (usually 90 days) and shorter term (30 days to 2 weeks) in house programs. The benefit of inpatient programs is that an individual is isolated away from their substance of choice and gives the person an opportunity to begin to think clearly. Isolation away from behavioral triggers allows them to focus solely on their recovery without distractions from the outside world. Over time, family members and close friends may be invited to participate in visiting days or family therapy sessions. This helps to build the support system that is so crucial to recovering addicts once they leave the rehab facility.

What is out-patient rehab?

In outpatient the individual has freedom of movement and able to handle day to day activities of their life outside of a facility but depending on possible involvement of court system there could be testing put in place. An outpatient program gives the individual the opportunity to gather facts and converse with fellow members of the group to learn ways to gain coping skills to avoid the decisions of the past. Outpatient care is best for those with short-lived addictions. It is not recommended for those with serious or long-term addictions or those with dual diagnosis conditions. states: “When it comes to addiction rehabilitation programs, there is no shortage of options out there but it’s important to find a program that is a good match for you. If you feel comfortable with the facility you’ve chosen, you’re more likely to stick with the program and see it through to its end, increasing your chances of long-term health and sobriety”.

How to choose a drug treatment program

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are several things to consider when choosing a drug treatment program. These include:

  • There is no one-size-fits-all solution to treatment.
  • Different treatments work for different people.
  • Patients must commit enough time to treatment in order to effectively overcome their addictions.
  • Everyone should have easy access to treatment when they need it.
  • Addiction affects the way the brain works.
  • Effective treatment should address all areas of the addict’s life, not just the abuse or addiction.
  • Medicinal treatment is often necessary and should be used in conjunction with therapy.
  • Treatment plans should continually be tailored to meet the individual’s needs and circumstances.
  • Mental disorders are often linked to drug addiction and should be addressed in treatment.

Does rehab work?

Once an individual gets through the initial detox from drugs or alcohol, they will move on to the rehabilitation portion of the recovery process. This is where the patients get to the core reasons behind their addictions, addressing those issues so they can effectively move on with their lives without going back to drugs, alcohol or their addictive behavior.

In individual behavioral therapy, the patient will do this work by identifying when they began using the substance and why they started abusing it. The patient will receive strategies on how they can direct their time to focus on getting involved in new hobbies or interests. Time management skills will allow them to better use their time so they have less opportunity to think about relapse. Patients learn to identify triggers, and how to deal with these triggering situations when they come up. If patients have a plan for various tempting situations, they are more likely to put their plan into action and avoid relapse. This type of cognitive behavioral therapy also addresses thoughts that patients have in relation to substance abuse or life in general. It helps to reform their thinking patterns and make behavioral changes toward a healthy, sober life.

The addiction rehabilitation process usually includes group therapy. These group sessions allow the recovering addict to interact with others who are in the same situation. It is often helpful for recovering addicts to know that they are not alone in their struggles. Likewise, it can be beneficial for addicts to share their own stories of addiction and recovery, as others find solace in them. This sense of community support is integral to the recovery process.

Most addiction rehabilitation facilities offer family therapy as part of their program. Addiction is far-reaching, affecting many people rather than just the individual with the addiction. Family members are often those who are most deeply affected by their loved one’s addiction, and they are an important component of the recovery process for that person. Initially, patients may be restricted from contacting loved ones but later in the recovery process, family members are often welcomed to participate in family therapy sessions. During these sessions, family members can discuss pain caused by their loved one’s addiction and their desire to see that person live a healthy life. Family therapy can help to resolve issues so the family can serve as a pillar of support once their loved one leaves the rehabilitation facility. 

How does recovery work?

After a patient has completed their rehabilitation program, they are not finished with recovery. In fact, recovery is a lifelong process that an addict must work at for the rest of their life. Sometimes, the path to lifelong recovery will be easy; other times, it will be difficult for individuals to withstand the temptation to relapse. Like anything in life, it’s a journey that may feature varying terrain so lifelong support is essential.

Prior to leaving an addiction treatment program, the patient will meet with counselors to discuss a plan for aftercare. Many addiction rehab facilities offer follow-up programs to assist the patient as they return to normal life. These may include weekend stays back at the rehab center when the individual feels a touch-up stay is needed. Or a patient may live in a sober living facility for a while with other recovering addicts before returning home. This offers a supportive transitional time for recovering addicts before being thrown back into “normal” life.

Many patients maintain regular therapy sessions post rehab, and some submit to schedule drug testing as a way to keep them accountable to their sobriety. Group therapy is a method for building a support system in your local area. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are well-known 12-step groups that many recovering addicts attend on a very regular basis. Both AA and NA have meetings all across the country at easily accessible times.

There are various offspring’s of the AA model for a wide range of other addictions, such as Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Emotions Anonymous (EA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). There are also subsets of NA for specific drugs, like Cocaine Anonymous (CA) and Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA). Some addicts find the type of support they can get in very specific 12-step groups is more beneficial whereas other addicts gain the help they need from more general groups.

What is rehab? Conclusions

Whatever level of need for services you are there are important factors to consider in supporting the most important item: you’re sobriety. A setting that provides recovery in a holistic manner and provides services that treat the underlying reasoning behind the need to escape or numb through the use of a dependence and help those we serve to find long-term recovery by creating a sound environment in which they can and will recover are critical.

To help the one suffering with a substance dependency it is helpful to find serves that provide the following:

The service must be helpful in creating goals in the recovery:

  • Establishing an Individual Relapse Prevention Plan
  • Daily Reflections and Meditations
  • Learning How to Encourage Longer-Term Dependent Free Living.
  • Creation of a Spiritual Based Premise of a Higher Power

To meet the goals prescribed above a service covers areas such as:

  • Past and current medical history
  • Employment and educational background
  • Basic needs being met currently
  • Substance abuse history
  • Legal issues current and past
  • Family/social genogram of dependent history
  • Psychiatric diagnoses current and past
  • Personal insights and supports each client has.

In the end the most important aspect of any rehab and recovery is that it is not just the mind towards one recovery but also the heart. One must be willing to sacrifice immediate gratification with at times a long arduous plan that leads to fulfillment in never-ending recovery. Let’s end with another quote that can be applied to recovery and rehab:


Take gazillion and one.

This time with a little less weepy-weepy, please. A little less improvisation. A little less lip. A little more faith. A little higher power. A little more prayer, a little less wine. Cut the crap. Cut the line. Tuck the chin. Look left, right, faster, slower. Pick seven dandelions on the first day of spring. Hate less or more. Work harder. Chew slower. Be better. Look to god, God, GOD. Watch your language. Watch your back. Collect rocks. Lick ’em clean. Count the pigeons in the backyard and multiply times forever. Give it up, let it go, take it back, take control. Say yes, say no. Say no, no, no. Stick to the script. Steps One through Twelve. One through Twelve. Keep coming back. It works if you work it.”

― Jessica Hendry Nelson

And so it goes.


HEAD SHOT WITH DESCRIPTION GREENMANSteve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment.

Image by Rennett Stowe

Dependency: Are We Enabling?

Dependency: Are We Enabling?

By Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“At the bottom of every person’s dependency, there is always pain, discovering the pain and healing it is an essential step in ending dependency.”  Chris Prentiss, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure

Do you have a love one struggling with emotional/physical pain using an unhealthy dependency (alcohol, pornography, gambling, drugs legal or illegal) to cope, escape or numb?

How helpless do you feel?

During my stay as a clinical therapist at a 28 day substance treatment center I had more than one client suggest the drugs/alcohol filled a void which nothing in the past ever had. One client shared to me his use of Heroin was best described as: “A hug from God”.

How do you combat a hug from God?

One has to remember you cannot save a person using a dependency, change can only come from the person themselves willing to make the effort.  We can very easily if  we are not careful become a part of the problem rather than the solution. It may be how we act out (anger, frustration, helplessness) which creates more division in the family than the person actually involved in the numbing/avoidance behavior.

Sherry Collier from her website – “Creative Path to Growth” in an article entitled   “Compassion versus Co-dependency: Caring without Enabling”  lists questions to ask yourself to determine if one is acting out of compassion or in a place of co-dependency:

  • Ask yourself what is your motive?  Am I trying to rescue someone else?
  • Are we able to walk along side someone or do we need to have to fix the problem?
  • Am I trying to “fix” someone else so as to not look at my own issues?
  • Am I exhausted – physically and emotionally drained?  Do I feel taken advantage of?
  • Are you creating safe solid boundaries for yourself and the rest of the family?

This can be very difficult questions to ask when were dealing with a loved one but the soul inside the one combating dependency is not only struggling with the outside world but also within side of themselves. We need to be able to understand the best way of supporting our loved one. There comes a time when we may need to reach out to others such as professional counselors, close friends who may have been in your shoes before for not just for our loved one but for ourselves as well.


by Portia Nelson


I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.


I walk down another street.

It may be time for not only our loved one but ourselves to find our way back home.

And so it goes

HEAD SHOT WITH DESCRIPTION GREENMANSteve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment.

Surviving Holiday Stress

Surviving Holiday Stress

By Tarah Elhardan, MA, LLPC

  1. Act in the Moment– Do one thing at a time. During the holidays there is so much to get done and it can feel very overwhelming. By putting all of your energy into one task it is more likely that you will complete it. Tackling the tasks one by one is most efficient and least stressful.
  2. Anticipate Challenges and Prepare- Is there one relative that you don’t get along with? Is there one activity that you always avoid? You are not alone. Everyone has something or someone that they do not look forward to. By identifying and becoming aware of your challenges, you can learn how to best prepare for them. Having an action plan will allow you to feel ready so that you can enjoy the holidays with those you care about the most.
  3. Say YES to Yourself- You may be feeling pulled in every direction. With so much to do and so little time, it is important to remember to schedule some “me” time. Make you your first priority so that you can help others and get ready for the holidays.
  4. Reconnect with Old and Establish New Traditions- Organize an event that you used to engage in during your childhood or make a new tradition to start with your family. Research has shown that experiences increase happiness more than material items.
  5. Engage Purposefully- Find a purpose in everything that you are doing. Having a purpose makes everything feel meaningful and worthwhile. Do and say things with a purpose. It will bring more satisfaction during the what can be, stressful holiday season.
  6. Sleep- Without sleep, there is a life filled with stress, irritability and a lack of energy. Rest up so that you can fully enjoy this holiday season.
  7. Breathe- From the beginning of November to the day after the New Year, it is go-go-go. Focus on your breath and remember to breathe. Basic breathing exercises and yoga can be very helpful to lessen the stress of the holiday season.
  8. Find Meaning- What is the holiday season all about? Is it about reconnecting with old friends and loved ones? Is it about donating your time and giving to those in need? Where you find meaning, you will find life this holiday season.
  9. Act Your Way to a New Feeling- It is so easy to say that you will start eating healthier or, take up running when you feel better, but who knows when that time will come? It is actually more likely that you will start feeling the way you want to when you engage in those activities.
  10. Remember that it is Only Temporary- The holidays come once a year and if it is something that your truly dread, remember that it will soon be over. You will get through it.

Remember that it is Only Temporary- The holidays come once a year and if it is something that your truly dread, remember that it will soon be over. You will get through it.Survivng Holiday Stress

Traverse City counselorTarah Elhardan, MA, LLPC is a counselor at the Traverse City counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling. She is especially interested in holistic approaches to counseling, anxiety, and helping women to overcome self esteem issues.


Video Game Addiction

Video Game Addiction

We were visiting our recently married friends, I asked the wife, “What didn’t you expect in marriage?”

She said, “I thought the wow would end.”

“That’s great that it has continued,” thinking it was a weird way of saying that there was still a spark or flame in the marriage.

“No, I thought the World of Warcraft would end, he stays up all night playing that stupid game.”

Video game addiction is not just for adolescent boys. The Washington Post recently reported that there are more adult woman gamers than teen boy players in the world. “Internet Gaming Disorder” even made its way into the DSM-5, the diagnosis guidebook for psychiatrists and other helping professionals. Video game addiction has the potential to grow into one of the most challenging addictions to treat.

Video Games are Made to Addict

Video games are created in a way to engage and suck someone in. They have tapped top neuroscientists and psychological experts to create games that give quick incentives. By having a rapid reward system, players feel a sense of accomplishment and self worth.

When is it too much?

Each person’s tolerance for video games is different. The big question I ask, when treating video game addiction, is “How is it hurting your life?” As a newlywed are you staying up all night…playing video games? Is homework being turned in late? Are you still getting 7-8 hours of sleep? Is your job failing?

When it starts to hurt a major life domain (relationships, school, or work), it’s usually time to get help.

Long Term Consequences

Severe video game addiction can lead to needing rapid reward systems. The world isn’t like that, we don’t get high score points every time we drop our kids off at school on time. Also, brain development happens most in the 0-3 years and then again in the teen years. Once that time is gone, the brain develops at a much slower rate.

Video games are made to be addicting and too much can effect brain development and life domains. Maybe it is time to put some actual “WOW!” back into life and leave the World of Warcraft behind.

Video Game Addiction Assessment

This self-assessment is meant to be an awareness tool. For a full assessment, please contact a counselor with Mental Wellness Counseling. This assessment is adapted from the Game Addiction Self Assessment.

Answer “Yes” or “No” to the following:

  • Have you tried but failed to control your personal gaming time?
  • Have you ever sensed an exaggerated sense of well-being when playing video games?
  • Do you find yourself constantly needing to play more video games?
  • Do you ever neglect family or friends because of how much time you spend gaming?
  • Do you find yourself feeling restless, irritable and discontented when you’re not gaming?
  • Do you ever find yourself lying to family members or friends about how much time you spend playing video games?
  • Do you experience school or job performance issues due to how much time you play video games (e.g. your grades go down at school, or you don’t get a good work review from your boss)?
  • Do you ever feel bad, guilty or depressed about how much time you spend gaming?
  • Have you changed your sleep patterns due to gaming?
  • Do you get headaches, red eyes, sore fingers, or wrist pains from playing video games?
  • Have you withdrawn from real-life hobbies and social interactions due to gaming?
  • Do you spend more than 2 hours in a day playing video games?
  • Do you frequently stay up late to play video games and as a result you are tired the next morning?
  • Do you neglect your hygiene because of excessive video gaming?
  • When your computer or video game machine is not working do you feel irritable or anxious if you can’t play a particular game?
  • Do you become angry or defensive when someone asks you about your gaming habits?
  • Within the last year have you played video games for more than 6 hours nonstop?
  • Do you use gaming to escape from real life problems, anxiety or depression?

Answer Key

How many “yes” answers did you have?

Average Gamer 0-3

Your gaming has an impact on your life, seems enjoyable, but also has the potential to get out of hand if not kept in check.

At-Risk Gamer 4-6

The level of gaming that you currently experience is likely having a negative impact on several areas of your life. You may not understand how your work or job performance has the potential to suffer. Your relationships may be in rough shape. Your body may begin to experience longer term affects of gaming including frequent headaches, back issues, loss of sleep, increase in anxiety, and increase in depression. A few sessions with a professional may help you get back on track.

Extremely High Risk Gamer 7+

Based on these scores, you are fairly addicted to gaming. Working with a professional will most likely help you to create boundaries, increase positive social interaction, and stop long-term effects. It is important to get help as soon as possible from a counselor, life coach, or other professional that focuses on changing addictive habits.

Do you need help? Does someone you love need help? Contact us about getting help for video game addiction.


video game addiction women teens
Families need help, please share to raise awareness!

video game self assessment
Please share so that others can get help!

featured image by Cory Schmitz




Am I depressed?

Am I depressed?


Common Types & Signs (From National Institute of Mental Health)

  • Major Depression: severe symptoms that interfere with your ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes.
  • Persistent depressive disorder—depressed mood that lasts for at least 2 years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for 2 years.
  • Postpartum depression, which is much more serious than the “baby blues” that many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy.
  • Bipolar is cycling of mania and depression (highs lows, used to be “manic depressive disorder”

How depression is covered up

  • Seclusion: Common in new moms
  • Video Games: The Washington Postrecently reported that there are more adult woman gamers than teen boy players in the world. “Internet Gaming Disorder” even made its way into the DSM-5, the diagnosis guidebook for psychiatrists and other helping professionals. Video game addiction has the potential to grow into one of the most challenging addictions to treat.
  • TV, alcohol, and sleep issues

 “Normal” teen behavior vs. Depression

  • Teens are moving toward independence
  • Hormones are going crazy, the pleasure center of the brain is magnified while the frontal lobe (decision-making) is muted. It’s any wonder we survived the teen years
  • Normal teens are: moody, challenging, affectionate one day and a jerk the next.

Red Flags and when to get help


“not at all = 0”

“Several Days = 1”

“More than half the days = 2”

“Nearly Daily = 3”

  1. Past two weeks have you had little interest or pleasure in doing things?
  2. Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless

Did you score above 3? Take the PHQ-9 assessment below

Depression Patient Health Questionnaire 9


Down load the PHQ-9 Depression Assessment


Have questions? Want to start counseling?




How to handle life transitions

How to handle life transitions

I was recently talking with a friend that said, “You know, I realized recently that there was a last time that I carried my child to bed.” His kids are older now. He went on, “There was a last time.”

Then he paused.

Whether it is a last time hugging your kids in your home, a last meal with a parent or grandparent, we usually don’t realize that it is the last time, until we realize it later.

When my grandpa died, it was shortly after I visited him. My last visit, he gave me book to learn Spanish. He was an avid learner. I always have felt some guilt that i never mastered Spanish, but I’ve also realized that I have figured out what learning is to me. In loss, we often find both clarity and confusion.

I made this series of online cards to help us all remember and reflect on how impermanent each moment really is and that we each should appreciate who we are with in that moment. Thanks for sharing as you feel inspired.

you won't realize it's-2 you won't realize it's-3 you won't realize it's-6 you won't realize it's-7 you won't realize it's-8 you won't realize it's-9 you won't realize it's.


Traverse City counselor

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling, a Traverse City counseling practice that helps people across all ages to meet their goals.

How to be happier

How to be happier

“The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make the story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.” Donald Miller

Let me get this out in the open from the get go: I never intended to write anything more than a check for a bill I needed to pay. This is my first attempt at connection with others with this social medium so please bare with the mistakes and my ignorance.

My intent in writing this blog and ones in the future are to express my thoughts, concerns and prayers for all of us and in particular keeping a wary eye on how our perception of ourselves dictates how we perceive our worthiness.

What is he talking about you say?

 Counseling? Self-esteem?

Do you let complements you receive go in one ear and out the other and one little criticism is the end of the world?

Admit it.

You do don’t you?

What would Adler say?

Alfred Alder a forgotten psychotherapist states:

“Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.”

When we have deep wounds spiritually, physically and emotionally we can carry these burdens and in so doing cloud our perception that we are really of value or importance.

 So what do we do?

  1.  You could do what Bradford Keeney suggests and picture yourself standing on a rug and imagine that my mind let go of all its worries and let the gravity pull all your worries into the rug (make sure you wiggle your toes). He suggests to stomp your feet to shake the worries loose and spill out into the rug. Then what?
  2. Bradford suggests to take the rug outside and shake it real hard to get rid of all the worries. When you’re sure all worries are gone roll up your neat and clean rug for the next time. Would that work for you?

In truth many are having a hard time just putting one foot in front of the other and feel somewhere deep down they believe they deserve their fate.

 Another approach to counseling

Alfred Alder discusses three broad areas of the human experience that all of us must confront:

  1. Pursue a useful profession
  2. Fruitful human relationships
  3. Finding a role in love, marriage and family life.

Need a little help here Alfred – easy to list but how in the world do we implement?

Is this all there is to be happy?

Many of us are not trying to feel ecstatic but simply trying to figure out whatever “normal” is: trying for some to quit feeling miserable.

Is that you?

My hope in future blogs is an attempt to investigate what tools we need or coping strategies we could use  to begin to create change.

Key I believe is to look at issues in our lives in a holistic manner.  Holistic is to not rule out – out of the box at times changes in our thinking and what it takes to implement these changes.

For many of us the old ways of thinking have not worked.

Now, I don’t expect us to be dancing down the path of life anytime soon but I do believe there are maps we can learn to read and discover a new destination for our lives.

Stay tuned.

My hope as we gain a better understanding of ourselves we add to our perspective of others.

And so it goes.

HEAD SHOT WITH DESCRIPTION GREENMANSteve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Steve is also helping clients through the Intensive Recover Program, which helps with recovery treatment, alcohol treatment, and other addictions treatment.

Better Family Habits: The 10x10x10 Challenge

Better Family Habits: The 10x10x10 Challenge

What is the 10x10x10 Challenge? Quick Version

The 10x10x10 Challenge is a way to help everyone focus. It is a way for us to collectively do something together, that will instill entrepreneurial habits that make us succeed.

  1. There are 10 tasks
  2. Do all 10 tasks every day by 10:00 am
  3. Do this for 10 days

Sounds simple? Maybe it is. Then push yourself harder. For me, doing all 10 for 10 days by 10:00 am will be challenging.

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Separation Anxiety in Young Children

Separation Anxiety in Young Children

With school back in session, emotions are flying high. Excitement mixed with a bit of nervousness is expected. Whether it is your child’s first school experience or just another year, it’s the start of a new chapter in his/her life and yours.

As we know all children are different and come to school with their own set of tools and temperaments. Some are so excited they are able to jump right in and hardly look back at you, while others are slower to warm up. It is common for this honeymoon stage of excitement to last a couple of weeks to a good month. But don’t be alarmed if suddenly separation anxiety sets in.  It is quite normal, come October, for it to show its face. It’s as if they suddenly realize the routine is solidifying and the newness is slipping away to normalcy.

Anxiety Hits

It has been my experience, for the last 20 years working in the early childhood field, that this anxiety bug hits many kiddos. Parents often wonder what has changed, why their child suddenly doesn’t want to go to school anymore, or they find themselves with code four clingers and much crying at drop off. It’s still important to check in with the teacher and stay connected as to what is going on but often it is just a part of the school routine that will become easier with time and reassurance.

Preschool Degrees of Anxiety

Some degree of separation anxiety is a sign that your preschooler has developed a healthy attachment to you. This doesn’t make it easier when they are crying out the window or the teacher has to hold them as you walk a way. There is nothing that pulls harder on your heartstrings than that feeling you get with those awful good-byes.

The beauty of these moments…yes I said beauty… is that they lend you and your child opportunities to grow closer, begin communication about healthy emotions, and gives them more tools for their life belt.


Quick Tips for Anxiety at School

The following tips often help with anxiety…


  • Talk with their teacher find out how things are going at school
  • Make sure they see you connecting and to reassure your trust in the teacher


(But be careful what you say: little ears are big and they are wiser than we think at times)


  • Use CALM- Gain your own sense of calm and use these steps to respond …

C- Connect– look into your child’s eyes, leaning towards  him/her, letting your child know you are trying to understand him/her.

A-Affect- match their affect using body language and facial expressions

L-Listen- listen to their words and paraphrase them back

M-Mirror- put it all together and mirror them

One of the most important gifts to give a child is the sense that you understand the feelings they are having.


  • Help them become familiar with their emotions by helping them name them


“I can tell you are feeling worried because your face looks like this and you are clinging tightly to me. You will be okay. This is a great place. I love you and will miss you.”


  • Create a special hand shake together to use when you say good-bye
  • Make things short and sweet…don’t linger.
  • Let children know what comes next by creating visual charts of the daily routine or storybooks of the day with your child.
  • Teach them deep breathing by counting to five on an inhale and five on an exhale



These are simple tips for separation anxiety during transitions. If you find anxiety is showing up in more ways than this with your child… look to my next blog to see how to identify anxiety and what coping strategies work.


All in all your child will make it through and so will you!

Pure Michigan Litter: The Psychology of Trash

Pure Michigan Litter: The Psychology of Trash

A number of photos have recently been circling the Facebook-Twittersphere about the trash at the Traverse City National Cherry Festival. As a counselor and psychologist, I’m interested in the human behavior behind the problem.

I’ve traveled throughout Haiti, Nepal, Thailand, and much of South America. In those travels, I’ve observed how different cultures view trash.

What happened in Traverse City at the National Cherry Festival was that after fireworks, air shows, and the 4th of July, people left piles of trash on the northern Michigan beaches. Here are a few observations and best-practices that we can all learn from.

Here is an awesome video about one way to make throwing trash away more fun.

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Traverse City Marriage Counseling

Traverse City Marriage Counseling

5 Tips for Distant Couples

Traverse City Marriage Counseling | Tip #1

Focus on the big goal of marriage: Why did you get married? Probably to spend your life with someone, have a level of intimacy, and grow with them. If you keep focused on the big goal of marriage, feeling that intimacy, then you’ll have an easier time letting go of the small things. When we do marriage counseling with couples in our Traverse City office, we often find that they aren’t focusing on the big goal of marriage. The book ScreamFree Marriage: Calming Down, Growing Up, and Getting Closer is a great resource to help focus on the big goals of marriage.

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Traverse City Family Counseling

Traverse City Family Counseling

5 Ways to help angry kids

Are your kids angry? Did your son recently get a MIP? Does your daughter sneak out? Do your kids throw tantrums? As experts in counseling children, working with angry kids, and family counseling, we want to help. Whether that is through reading our blog posts about family counselor or scheduling an appointment, we’d love to be a resource to you and your family. Counseling is a tough journey, but it can help families grow closer.

Traverse City Family Counseling | Tip #1

Be consistent: Kids want to know what to expect. A parent should be the most reliable person in a child’s life. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Follow through will help your child feel safe.

Traverse City Family Counseling | Tip #2

Have Goals: Having goals for yourself and for your child will help you to know what you want done. The more clear these goals are, the better. It helps to break those goals down into smaller points.

Traverse City Family Counseling | Tip #3

Keep your emotions under control: Every child knows how to push their parent’s buttons. When a parent keeps their emotions under control, it teaches children how to react in difficult situations. Here’s an inforgraphic that we use in family counseling.

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How to Improve Kids’ Sleep | 10 resources to help kids sleep

How to Improve Kids’ Sleep | 10 resources to help kids sleep

How to Improve Kid’s Sleep

As parents, we want to stay educated and up-to-date on what best helps our kids learn, grow, and thrive. This page is centered around the topic of sleep. Why sleep? Here are a few reasons:

1. Sleep is core to improvement and maintenance in a number of areas including attention, depression, anxiety, and learning.

2. For kids to prepare their brains for learn absorption, they need 8-10 hours of sleep.

3. Behavior changes can be addressed quickly through improving sleep.

Tools to help learn about kid’s sleep

Below you’ll find several tools, resources, and articles that can help you as a parent to educate yourself about the topic of sleep.

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Microbes, Your Gut, and Your Brain | How new research is changing the face of anxiety

Microbes, Your Gut, and Your Brain | How new research is changing the face of anxiety

That phrase, “I just felt it in my gut,” might be true after all.

Researchers are now finding that what we eat actually has a profound biological effect on our mood. It’s because we’re feeding a bunch of microbe in our body. They react to what we eat. In fact, they out number our cells 10:1. In fact, they may be more in control of us that we ever thought possible!

Read More

Kids should play more video games…or should they?

Kids should play more video games…or should they?

Watch Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk above to know how this fits into video games.

Hospice Workers Report Top 5 Regrets on Deathbeds

Here’s the link to the article

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

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Why you should sleep more | Better sleep = Better grades

Why you should sleep more | Better sleep = Better grades

9 ways to get better sleep

Sleep is when our brains organize what has happened. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep. People/kids in school need 8-10 hours to appropriately categorize what they have learned.

Less sleep = More anxiety/depression/academic failure

Don’t have a TV in your bedroom, it stimulates your brain to think it is morning and makes your brain want to be awake in bed

Turn off screens 30 minutes before bed, it’s like looking at the sun and wondering why you are awake

Keep a notepad next to your bed to write down ideas/to-do list, it frees up your brain

Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day

Reduce caffeine after 3:00 pm

No alcohol 2 hours prior to bed

Take a melatonin (talk to your doctor first)

Breathe deeply

Focus on something like tightening and releasing your muscles, to stop yourself from thinking about the day or tomorrow


counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI, where he helps families, kids, parents, couples, and individuals to reach their goals. He knows that sleep issues are prevalent with kids and parents, when families can have stronger bedtime routines, issues of behavior, anxiety, depression, and academic concerns all typically improve. He is also the author of Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier


Nine ways to get better sleep

Nine ways to get better sleep

9 ways to get better sleep

Sleep is when our brains organize what has happened. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep. People/kids in school need 8-10 hours to appropriately categorize what they have learned.

Less sleep = More anxiety/depression/academic failure

Don’t have a TV in your bedroom, it stimulates your brain to think it is morning and makes your brain want to be awake in bed

Turn off screens 30 minutes before bed, it’s like looking at the sun and wondering why you are awake

Keep a notepad next to your bed to write down ideas/to-do list, it frees up your brain

Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day

Read More

Joe’s new parenting book

Joe’s new parenting book

Joe’s New Book

Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier


From Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier:

Control vs. Voice

So how do we use this new information about guiding our kids to help them change their behavior? Ultimately, you have no control over your child. They make decisions every day. They are their own persons.

Webster’s defines “control” as: “To exercise restraining or directing influence over. To have power over. Reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels <control an insect population> <control a disease>”

The part of this definition that I like is the “directing influence over”. I would argue that this comes less from control and more from having a voice in your child’s life.

One of Webster’s definitions of “voice” is, “wish, choice, or opinion openly or formally expressed.” So to have a “voice” in your child’s life is for your wishes, choices, and opinions to somehow take root in them.

Think about who has a voice in your life. Who can say to you, “Here is my opinion” and you consider it?

Is it your mom?


Best friend?

Wife or husband or significant other?

How did they gain that voice in your life? Did they do something? Did they act a certain way? Is it because you have seen how they live their life and you respect that? Do you aspire to be like them or certain parts of them? What is it that allows them to have that voice, not control, in your life?

I believe that it is trust. They somehow built trust in you. Building a voice comes from trust. For kids, that trust comes from three specific things. To build trust as parents we must demonstrate:

  1. Consistency and love
  2. Set an example
  3. Spur something in our children that brings life

Consistency and Love

In future chapters I will discuss more in-depth what this looks like and ways that you can increase consistency and demonstrate your love. One definition of “consistency” is “agreement or harmony of parts or features to one another or a whole.”

To be a consistent parent, you have to have harmony in what you do. What does this mean? It means that it is better to say nothing at all, rather than a false promise. By false promise I mean not following through on things you say. If you give a warning to a child regarding their behavior, then follow through.

When you start thinking this way, two things will happen inside of you. First, you will slow down the frequency of threats that you make because you know that you need to follow through. Also, you will evaluate the intensity of threats.

One thing about threats: they don’t work.


Threats don’t work

Why don’t threats work? Think about it this way. Your boss keeps coming in your office for two weeks reminding you of a date that a report is due. She says, “If it’s not on my desk on November 12th, then I’m writing you up.” November 12 comes and goes, you had some crazy things happen in your family and you just couldn’t get it done.

Then in January she does the same thing for the report due January 29th. Again you miss the mark and it comes and goes, yet no write up. Imagine this happened over 18 years in the company. Sometimes she does write you up sometimes she doesn’t.

Now imagine a different scenario. At a staff meeting she announces that reports need to be timely. To try and help the staff keep it in their mind, if the November 12th report is in on time you will get an overnight at the hotel of your choice and if not, then you will be written up.

No more reminders.

Then she does what she says.

Often parents believe that they have a voice in their child’s life and that is enough, but really a voice is earned through consistency. Your action of giving positive or negative consequences will speak more than anything you could say ahead of time or threaten.

Even when threats do seem to work, it is usually not based on building a long-term voice in your child’s life.

The second part of this is building love. I trust that you love your child deeply; otherwise you would not be reading this book. So it is not how to build your love for your child that is the issue, it is how do children receive love?
Consistency in parenting helps kids feel safe. If you are about to manage a child in a grocery store and help her choose good choices there, then you can definitely take on any monster, bad dream, bully, and tornado. Kids fear all sorts of things.

A psychologist named Maslow created what he called the “Hierarchy of Needs”. His belief was that if basic needs are not met is it is harder or impossible to work toward higher needs. Thus, if safety needs of security aren’t met, it is harder to build feelings of love and belonging.

I had a client recently who had her apartment broken into. She was staying up all night because she was scared someone would break in, then she was sleeping during the day, but her classes were slipping. Her feelings of lack of safety made it harder for her to do more complex thinking like that which is required in school.

The same is true for kids, as they see that you can handle a variety of situations, they will trust that you can protect them…

counselor Traverse City counseling family






Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He is also the author of the books Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier
and Practice of the Practice | A Start-up Guide to Launching a Counseling Private Practice

14 Ways to Show Your Kids Love on Valentine’s Day

14 Ways to Show Your Kids Love on Valentine’s Day

Traverse City counseling counselor kids
Even parents need reminders. Sometimes it’s easy to just get in the routine of parenting. Although Valentine’s Day is often for lovers, we love our kids! It is a special day to share with them just how much they mean to you. Here are a few tips and ideas.
  1. Take them out for breakfast.
  2. Give them 14 extra hugs.
  3. Make a list of everything that they are doing right, read it to them at breakfast.
  4. Treat their mother or father well, even if they are a jerk.
  5. Have one-on-one time with them.
  6. Play a family game.
  7. Make their favorite meal for dinner.
  8. Plan a family outing, go for a hike, or explore something new.
  9. Do a craft together and then give it to someone special in their life, let them pick the person.
  10. Read an extra book at bedtime, even if you are really tired.
  11. Be home when they are home.
  12. Make a list of what they have taught you and read it to them.
  13. Do something playful that uses energy like playing in the snow.
  14. Redirect your own frustrations and anger and respond as graceful as possible to situations.

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Parenting Soup

Parenting Soup

Being a good parent is like making soup. For those of you who have never made soup, except out of a can I’m sorry. You are truly missing out.

When making a good soup you can of course follow a recipe. But, some of the greatest surprises are when you create a soup from what you have and then it is amazing. As you sip that steamy amazing broth and dip bread to absorb the flavor, you understand that you may never taste this exact soup again. You savor it. When it is gone, you attempt to replicate it, but only if you are lucky will you create the exact same flavor again.

When I make soup, I look in the fridge and review what we have and need to get rid of. If we’re lacking, I move toward the freezer. I may start with sautéing meat or onions, then I’ll add additional vegetables to create a depth of flavor. I may add some flour to the oil or butter to make a roux.

When I was volunteering in New Orleans at a shelter for people in the final stages of AIDS, I asked a number of the nurses, “Can I have your gumbo recipe?” They almost always replied, “Son, you just use whatcha got in da fridge, or you use Zataran’s.”

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A Guide for Times Like These | How to help your kids, friends, and self in a time of tragedy

A Guide for Times Like These | How to help your kids, friends, and self in a time of tragedy

a guide for tragedy shooting Sandy Hook Newtown



























A Guide for times like these

What to do

What not to do

How to help your kids, friends, and self in a time of tragedy



Allow them to speak and ask lots of questions.

Allow them to draw and act out their thoughts.

Allow them to be sad and cry.

Give lots of hugs and tell them how loved they are.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Try not to say, “It is going to be ok,” or, “Don’t worry.” For many families it will not be ok and kids may not feel listened to if we tell them their emotions are wrong.

Help them to be a part of something so they feel they are contributing. It could be making a card for your own city’s first responders, teachers, or principals.


Talk about your hurt and sense of loss.

Be sad and cry together.

Give lots of hugs and tell them how loved they are.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Try not to say, “It is going to be ok,” or, “Don’t worry.” For many families it will not be ok and friends may not feel listened to if we tell them their emotions are wrong.

Be quiet and don’t feel you have to answer big questions right now. That time will come later.


Talk to others about your sense of loss, hurt, fear, and sadness.

Recognize that you may feel guilt for your own safe children.

Limit your exposure to reoccurring images and news about crisis.

Give yourself permission to not keep up with the house and other expectations that will still be there next week.

Hug people you love.

Ask for help if you need it (friends, spouse, counselors) .

Allow yourself to be silent and not feel like you have to fix other people or yourself. You don’t have to answer big questions right now. That time will come later.


counselor Traverse City counseling family

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC grieves as a parent, citizen, and fellow human with those at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT. It is hard to know what to say and Joe was apprehensive about writing anything. But parents asked for help. Joe is a licensed counselor in Traverse City, MI.

How to get through the holidays

How to get through the holidays

Traverse City Counseling Private practice

Step 001: know what you want and what makes you happy


Step 002: tell yourself that no matter what happens, you are going to do your best


Step 003: prepare your family as best as you can.



Step 004: do your best to be happier, more helpful, and a better person. Try to let things go.











































































counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph Sanok , MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor in Traverse City, MI, where he helps angry kids, frustrated  parents, and distant couples…and just about everyone else. He loves the holidays and can’t wait to eat pierogies!

Preparing for Gift Letdowns

Preparing for Gift Letdowns

Traverse City counselor







The wonderful and scary thing about kids is that they say what they think. That
is why a hug from them is so wonderful and a critical comment can cut through a
parent’s heart. They are not censoring much of what they say and do.

With the holiday season upon us Santa, friends, and family brings gifts to celebrate
our holidays. How do we prepare our kids to reduce the likelihood of a meltdown or
inconsiderate word?

Lead By Example

Why is this season so special? Do you tell your kids the stories of your childhood
and why you find meaning? Does your behavior match what you articulate and think
about this season?

When parents are stressed and running here and there, kids pick up on that. They
know that shopping, cooking, and other expectations are freaking you out. That
sends them the message that those things are the focus of this season, not the more
important stories, traditions, and spiritual aspects.

Prepare Them

Running through scenarios with your kids, especially before holiday gatherings
helps them to know expectations and also know how to respond. Maybe ask
them, “How would you respond if you got a gift you didn’t like?” This is a great
chance to act, play, and also learn how to be grateful without lying, before they are
in the situation. Teach them to say something like, “Thank you so much, I will be
able to use this when I…”

Slow Down with Them

This last tip goes along with the first. Take time throughout the month of December
to have quality family time. Playing games, going for walks, and getting out of the
house (not to go shopping) allows for discussions, conversations, and finding depth
that is not found in the stress of the season.

Since kids are so honest, they are often a reflection of how we are approaching
the season. When stress, worry, and expectations drive this season rather than
the wonderful family, personal, and spiritual traditions, we not only short change
ourselves, but also our kids.

counselor Traverse City counseling family
Joseph R. Sanok is a counselor with Mental Wellness Counseling
( in Traverse City, MI where he helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples…and just about everyone else. He can’t wait for his family’s Polish tradition
on Christmas Eve of celebrating Wigilia Dinner where the pierogis are the best!




Traverse City therapist Picture used from Creative Commons, thanks asenat29!

A rap is worth a thousand words

A rap is worth a thousand words

Parents rap about maintaining their household by videosonlytube

I just saw this video. I don’t have much insight regarding counseling or therapeutic issues to write about. More that I just love how this couple seems to work together. It is so easy to get caught up in life’s tasks, but when a couple fires on all cylinders it feels so good to watch and for the couple it is great.

John Gottman, a marriage researcher talks about a couple’s tendency to begin to live parallel lives. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work he talks about how over time, a couple can drift away from one another. Their parallel lives become more like roommates, than as partners.

Dr. Gottman discusses how couples need to have a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative. I would take that a step further. Couples also need to focus on daily interactions that cause strife and grow their cognizance of how their mood and personality can change the tone of the environment.

Further, marriage research discusses how a couple needs to look at their issues and see if the are resolvable or if they are positions that the person is entrenched. If it is not an issue that can be resolved, such as religion or sometimes politics, a couple can agree to disagree or figure out a way to call a “time out.” When couples begin this process, they can find less stress that effects their daily life.

So maybe I had a comment or two, but the video is pretty awesome, isn’t it?


counselor Traverse City counseling family






Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed therapist and the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He is learning techniques to help his clients and his own marriage. Also, he likes funny rap videos like this one.

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The Teen Brain

The Teen Brain

“All teenagers are risk-takers, moody, and get embarrassed by their parents.”

“They are angry and hate adults.”

“They only listen to their friends.”

Are these statements really true?

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore discusses why teenagers seem more impulsive and less self-aware than grown-ups. She compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to adults. Often typically “teenage” behavior is caused by the expanding development of the brain. Within the context of my counseling practice, parents often view their children through an adult lens.

As I watched this video at my Traverse City office, I liked the idea of synapse pruning. This is where the adolescent brain is working to fine tune brain tissue that is important and that which is not needed. Functional MRIs help to discover aspects that are more or less important and to view what assists teenagers through this process.

Further, the limbic system is more sensitive to the emotional rewards and feelings of risky behavior. It is heightened during adolescence so that risky behavior feels more exciting and fulfilling. However, the pre-frontal cortex  is the section that stops risky behavior and helps to connect behavior and consequences. That section is not as developed. So there is a deeper sense of excitement without the stop-gap measures.


So what can parents do to help their teenagers?

  • Understand the teenage brain and learn more to develop a working knowledge of what natural barriers they may experience.
  • Realize that frustrating behavior is often part of teens learning how to appropriately be independent.
  • Environment can play a substantial role in which synapse connect. Work to create an environment that helps your teen to have a realistic understanding of the world.
  • Don’t fear giving positive and negative consequences. Seek to have them relate to the inappropriate behavior. You don’t need to assist in funding behavior that you do not agree with, but do it with love and understanding.
  • Work to allow family discussion so that your teen feels heard.
  • Get counseling or therapy as a family if you feel that you have hit a roadblock.

counselor Traverse City counseling family


Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner and a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He does therapy with families, teens, and couples to grow through all of the phases of life. He is interested in the neuro-development of people over a lifetime.





Counseling Traverse City therapist

Three things anyone can do to prevent suicide

Three things anyone can do to prevent suicide



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Appearing in the Record Eagle on 9-8-12

In 9th grade, the school counselor brought me and several other students into her office. She informed us that a peer had committed suicide. Later, the entire school was informed. It is devastating to get that type of news. Every 15 minutes another family, friend, and school deal with news of a suicide.

This coming week is Suicide Prevention Week. Often people think that the issue of suicide prevention is only for mental health professionals, but sometime in each of our lives we will probably have it touch us. Here are a few things that every person should know to help a friend, family member, or co-worker.

If you are concerned, ask

Asking a person if they are suicidal is the best first step. When a person is dealing with intense emotions, friends often feel uncomfortable asking about suicide. However, a direct question from a friend or family member is shown to reduce the risk of suicide.

Understand more about suicide

For a number of years, San Francisco has employed interviewers to speak with people who have jumped from the Bay Bridge and survived. One thing that an overwhelming majority report is that during their fall, they regretted the decision and hoped to live. These individuals often became advocates for suicide prevention. Further, research continues to support that suicidal feelings often last only hours, but return if help is not sought.

Know resources

Knowing that you can ask about suicide and that it is often a short-term feeling, getting a friend help is a great first step. Third Level Crisis Center (231-922-4800) is a 24/7 resource.  Also, supporting the individual through counseling and being a friend is the best role that you can have.

When we as a community work together to help those that are struggling, when we ask, understand, and refer, it can help reduce suicide. Each one of us can use our relationships and unique roles to be a part of a more healthy community.


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Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC  is owner and a counselor with Mental Wellness Counseling. He is hosting a free Suicide Prevention Wine Party with NMC Student Life and Lake Side Counseling on Sept 12 at 5:00 at Left Foot Charley. Visit for more details.

Photo used with Creative Commons, thank you Robert S. Donovan

The Cancer Effect

The Cancer Effect

cancer counseling thyroid

In July I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Fairly soon I will be having a bunch of additional tests and have a treatment plan. I will soon have my thyroid removed, have a scar on my neck, and be on medicine for the rest of my life. I feel too young for all of this.

On Sunday I was swinging at the beach with my daughter and wife. My wife was pushing my daughter and the sun was bouncing off both of their faces. It was better than any photo. I couldn’t stop thinking about how the two of them deserve to have a husband/dad around. How life in the simplicity is wonderful.

So often in my life, I have thought about my next steps and how to improve, evaluate, and enhance my life. I strategize  and am goal-oriented. I often have a view that if there are improvements to be made, that life will be better when those improvements occur. Maybe it has been in regards to improving the furniture in my house or renovating a room.

When that is done, then I will be happier.

When I start seeing more clients in my private practice, then I will be happier.

When my websites are running more, then I will be happier.

My formula has been that as progress occurs, happiness will develop too. In many ways this is true and reiterated in our lives. When we complete college, we usually get a better job and have more economic freedom. We can choose our career direction more accurately and potentially develop careers that are fulfilling. When I fight with my wife and we work it out, we usually fight less. Fixing often does lead to more happiness.

However, holding out for that happiness or believing that future me will be happier because of those things is a farce. That belief, that is perpetuated by media, friends, and our own internal voices is a falsity. If we are not seeking balance and emotional wellness now, we will not have an easier time tomorrow, next week, or next year. Instead, it will be harder because we then have more time living in the less fulfilled world we have created.

I have been given a gift through telling people about my cancer. When I tell someone those words for the first time, they will hug me, cry, give me encouraging words, tell me that they are praying for me, or sending me positive vibes.

Really they are saying, “Joe, you matter to me. The world would not be the same without you.”

In doing this, I am on the receiving end of experiencing something magnificent, knowing that I matter to people.

How often do we tell people that they matter? It can be a “Wellness Discipline” to build our own health. When we notice that others matter and that they are important to us, it builds that relationship, while also creating a thankful heart. The more that we experiences a feeling of thankfulness in the now, the harder it is for the other mindset to push its way in. We can’t have those mutually exclusive feelings of “I am so thankful for what I have right now” and “I will be thankful and happy when X happens.”

So today, may you grow in your thankfulness and tell people that they matter to you and that the world would be different without them. Tell them and tell yourself that life right now is good and wonderful and full of moments of simplicity with the sun bouncing off people’s faces swinging on the beach.


counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He is trying his darndest to approach thyroid cancer with an attitude of thankfulness, even though he feels like it really sucks.

Helicopter Parents Gone Wild

Helicopter Parents Gone Wild

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A “helicopter parent” is a parent who hovers over their child, waiting to catch them before they skin their knee. “Helicopter Parents” schedule, plan, and create a world for their children. They are usually highly involved and deep down want the best for their kids. They are often high achievers or wish they had been high achievers. “Helicopter Parents” also are usually highly involved in their kid’s education, after-school activities, and social lives. Overall, they have great intentions. I may even end up being one, in some area intentionally and in others unintentionally.

The hardest transitions for “helicopter parents” are to stop when they are tired and to allow age-appropriate freedoms. Are you one of these parents?

When you’re sick of flying

When these parents are frustrated with their kids, it is often because they don’t want them to fail. They have a difficult time with skinned knees and broken hearts. They have created a dynamic where they are the safety nets for their children, rather than teaching them how to create their own nets.

This typically creates a dynamic where the parent is blamed for the child’s mistakes. Both the parent and child think that it is mom or dad’s responsibility to get homework done, wake up on time, and not be “bored.” Yet, ultimately, we each are responsible for changing our lives toward what we want.

So how do you land the helicopter?

Daddy needs a drink

When was the last time you took a bath without interruption? What about sitting outside and enjoying the evening? Time with friends without looking at your phone for texts from your kids?

Sometimes, a parent needs to just step back and let the kids experience natural consequences. Whether it is a teen waking up late for work or kids sorting out who gets to play the game system, stepping back will often show you what you kids are capable of. Usually, the worst case scenario is not that bad and the best case is that they will increase their abilities to be responsible.

But they’re not old enough

Every single generation does it. They think they are so dang special. In counseling sessions or even with friends, I’ll ask, “What did you do when you were (insert age here)?” Almost universally friends and client respond, “I did some inapropriate behavior but…

“…it was different in the 60s, 70s, or 80s.”

“…things were safer.”

“…we didn’t have the internet.”

But parents weren’t thinking that then. They were thinking the same thing that parents are thinking now. When we’re a kid, we are oblivious to the dangers, consequences, and ways of the world. How did we learn? Was it when mom said, “No” or was it when we tried it out and formed our own conculsions?

Now I’m not saying take a step back and let “Lord of the Flies” occur in your household. Otherwise, you may come see me in counseling for something else. The main goal is to transition toward the empty nest not to have it be a sudden change.


counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed therapist and counseling in Traverse City, MI where he owns Mental Wellness Counseling. He once flew in a helicopter in Nepal, it was a lot of fun.





Photo from Creative Commons, thank you JD Hancock

Mental Wellness: Opposite-sex friends

Mental Wellness: Opposite-sex friends

sex opposite gender friends counseling Traverse City counseling

Originally featured in the Record Eagle July 14, 2012. Available at:

I have seen many a friendship and marriage fail because of opposite gender friends. What happens when you have a great opposite gender friend and you get married? What about friends that you make after marriage that are opposite of your gender?

A marriage is built on trust, love, and the ability to grow together over time.

At the core of this issue are healthy communication, openness, and realizing that you made a lifelong commitment to your spouse.

Each couple has to decide their own levels of comfort, but here are a few discussion points that seem to help.

More time together in groups

Time together in groups, whether as a group of three or larger, helps the friend and the spouse get to know one another. As well, it sends a message that the primary relationship is the marriage. Within these types of settings the friendship does shift, but it also sets a boundary of intimacy with the opposite gender friend, spouse, and to oneself.

Be open about alone time

When I have meetings with opposite gender professionals, I let my wife know about it. If a friend of hers saw me out with another woman and then talked to her, it may raise unnecessary internal or external questions for my wife. Seeking to avoid even the appearance of questions can build trust. Even though my intentions are professional, within a marriage couples are often combating their own internal dialog as well as the actual discussion that occurs. The same is true of opposite gender friends. Alone time should be discussed and agreed upon.

Be careful of depth

When someone is struggling in their marriage, they often discuss those issues with someone. Sometimes lamenting and complaining about a relationship is a way to verbally sort out thoughts.

However, when this is with an opposite gender friend, it can complicate the relationship.

The friend wants to support their friend, while also needing to respect boundaries that have been established.

As well, intimacy with that supportive person can lead to an emotional connection that distances spouses from one another.

Other’s intentions within a relationship cover the map of possibilities. That is why it is important for spouses to discuss their levels of comfort.

The biggest errors occur when friends unintentionally or intentionally start to take on roles that are primarily the spouse’s.

counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph R. Sanok is a licensed counselor and owns Mental Wellness Counseling. He works with family issues and enjoys innovative projects such as family therapy on a sailboat.




Photo used with Creative Commons thanks to jessi.bryan

Mental Wellness: More than beauty rest

Mental Wellness: More than beauty rest

sleep counseling Traverse City counselor family

Originally appeared in the Record Eagle, April 21, 2012 available at:

My grandma had a sleep mask. You know the kind that blocks out light? Hers was pink. I always thought it looked stupid. Then my wife gave me one last December, except mine is brown and black. When I got it, I thought, “Am I ever going to use this except on an airplane?”

Every morning when the light smacks me in the face at five something, I now put it on and have a glorious last hour of sleep. I love it.

We all know how important sleep is for kids. If they don’t get their naps they are cranky and everyone in earshot knows. We underestimate the importance of solid sleep for adults. Here are some things you should know:

Sleep is tied to mental wellness

Did you know that poor quality sleep is tied to anxiety, depression, attention, mood swings, panic attacks and self esteem? If you are fighting with your kids, spouse, or friends, feeling frustrated, or just anxious, maybe it isn’t medications that you need. Maybe you need more sleep.

Sleep is tied to memory

During the day our brains store most information in a short-term part of our brain. At night, the brain sorts through what is important and what is not. Everything from the color of your boss’s shirt to that marketing report gets sorted to keep or delete. If not given enough time to sort, the brain hits the delete button. Things you understood yesterday will be harder to recall.

Sleep can improve with a few simple changes

Going to bed and waking up at similar times can improve your body’s ability to get deeper and better quality sleep. As well, increasing exercise, time outside, and eating more fruits and vegetables will help. Eliminating caffeine in the evening and drinking more water can help unclog the sleep center of your brain.

Sometimes we make our lives more complicated than they need to be. What if all you need is a little more sleep? It could be the key to improving the relationships in your life, even if all it takes is a pink sleep mask.

counselor Traverse City counseling family





Joseph R. Sanok is a licensed counselor and owner at Mental Wellness Counseling. He helps angry kids, frustrated parents, distant couples “¦ and just about everyone else. Check out his “Happiness Resources” at






Photo used with Creative Commons license, care of

Parenting and stepping back

Parenting and stepping back

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There are so many factors that go into parenting. It seems that every friend, website, magazine, and blog is telling you how to get more organized and structured in your parenting.

But what if I told you that you were too organized and rigid? Would that be freeing?

Of course there are times that you need to focus on structure and consistency. I teach parents those skills all the time. But I was thinking about this the other day. I was feeding my 13 month daughter. Everytime she would take a bit of banana, she would spit it out, smear it all over, and often then throw it on the floor. At first, I was saying, “No, we don’t eat that way,” or “Let’s not smear the banana.”

Then I stopped.

She has the rest of her life to eat in a polite way. So I just enjoyed the moment with my daughter. My stress dropped and almost immediately I was laughing with her.

Here are some things that most kids need more of:

1. Unstructured time to explore and play. This helps the brain learn to create, rather than be told how to create. For example, kids that watch a TV show and then have the action figure of that show are more likely to engage in play that has been defined by the TV show or by what the action figure is “supposed” to do. Over time, kids may say to one another G.I. Joe is a person, you can’t pretend that it’s a rocket ship.

2. More toys that don’t have a “meaning”. Why do you think kids love sticks, boxes, and tape? They are totally free.

3. Messy time to get dirty, covered in paint, and feel free. As well as the fact that it is just plain fun, it also helps them develop sensory skills.

4. Time to make their own choices. If their time is scheduled by adults, they will not learn the important skills of working hard and resting hard, or even saying, “I don’t feel like doing that.”

By giving kids the abilities to have choice, create, and get messy, it will help them learn and adapt in ways to help them become more agile in how they live life. Also, it will cause much less stress as a parent to let go.


private practice

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor and owner at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He enjoys playing outside with his daughter.

Bus Monitor Bullied

Bus Monitor Bullied

Bus Monitor Bullied

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About a week ago, my wife was changing my daughter’s diaper. She was parked outside a pharmacy in Traverse City and she was changing the diaper on the front seat of our car. I wasn’t there.

Some teens pulled up and were seated with their windows down. They started making comments about “the crying baby” and “shut that baby up.” Of course, the audacity of the teens caught my wife off guard and in the moment she didn’t think of what to say or do, she just wanted to leave.

The recent viral video about a bus monitor being bullied has touched a nerve. In the video, a bus monitor is called a litany of names and she ends up crying. The video is just plain terrible.

People are asking:

What has happened to our society?

How are kids this terrible?

Where is the respect?

What is going on?

In some ways, kids are just as cruel as in past generations; however, they have more tools for learning and spreading this cruelty. The point for me is not how we got here, but how do we get out?

When I work with families in counseling, at my Traverse City practice, we discuss a number of factors. Here are a few steps that can help with this discussion.

Schools have been limited

In past generations, teachers and principals spanked, paddled, and hit kids. It is essential to strong learning and emotional development for kids to feel safe. Those days are done and I am not advocating for them to return. However, due to the culture of lawsuits and continued restraints on teachers to give detentions, in-school suspensions, and other negative consequences, it has created an environment where youth will dictate their own culture.

Parents are less involved

As parents evaluate their interactions and involvements in their kid’s lives, they need to continue to seek consistency and a culture of both positive and negative consequences. Our society continues to function based on us all seeking that most of our actions have clear consequences. As parents build this social skill in kids, they will collectively gain traction.

Society as a parent

Even though we are more connected, most cultural tools have been de-centralized. As a result, specific parenting and expectations have become less clear. As  a result, we don’t want to “step on toes”. Often people don’t speak up when their “gut” is telling them to speak up.

The answers to these behaviors are not clear cut like many talking heads are saying, but, as we evaluate empowering schools, parents, and individuals, we may see bullying decrease.


private practice

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He has worked with bullied, at-risk, angry, and hurt kids since 1998. He also loves sailing.

When an escalator is not just an escalator


I was at a conference today in Traverse City and the facilitator showed this video. I absolutely love it. For one, it is funny. But It also makes several points that I think are worth noting. The facilitator discussed the mentalities that many of us have: Victim vs. Creator. When a stimulus happens and disrupts our lives we are handed a choice as to how we will react. Will we view it as a victim or as a creator.

Victim Mentality

As a victim, we respond with blaming and complaining. As well, we seek excuses and often repeat behaviors we have done over and over. Our energy goes into thoughts of, “Why did this happen to me” or the one that I often think, “Why didn’t someone else plan better?” “Why didn’t they fix or maintain the escalator?”

Creator Mentality

Within the creator approach, we seek to create a new situation. We spend our energy on seeking solutions, taking action, and trying something new. Rather than focusing on why we are there, we focus on how we get out.

When I was in school studying psychology and counseling at Western Michigan University, I helped with a research project that was observing people with ADHD. We found that they could not adapt or try new things as easily. Rather than keep trying new things until something worked, they overwhelmingly would try the old way, just with more energy.

When one spends a lifetime, or even a childhood like this, it can seem like the world is against you. As well, it feels like you can never succeed. One of the first steps in the therapeutic process, is to start recognizing that “victim” mentality. For example:

Victim Language: “My kids are always fighting, on one another’s case, and I can’t ever get anything done.”

Creator Language: “I need to set time aside to get things done and I may need to ask someone for help.”

One focuses on why we got to where we are, why we took that escalator today and why we were so stupid to be on it at that time. The other looks at how to get off the escalator so as to move on with life, even if it is difficult.


Joseph R. Sanok is a licensed professional counselor and owner at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. As well, he enjoys sailing. He has been on the only escalator in the Upper Peninsula of northern Michigan.



15 things I learned while in the hospital


Psychologist Traverse City Family






I haven’t told everyone, but I have told a lot of people, my daughter was recently in the hospital for a week. It was something fairly severe and we’re now in recovery mode. Here are some things that I wrote down the night that her surgery was over and things were stable. Maybe you will resonate with these things, maybe you don’t think your reaction would be the same. Either way, I hope it inspires you to build deeper relationships, appreciate family more, or reach out to those in your life that are hurting.

1. Our network of friends and family is much larger in size and heart than I ever knew possible.
2. I can handle much more than I ever thought possible.
3. I can be annoyed with someone and have a deep appreciation for them at the same time.
4. I need to appreciate every single day that there is not a health crisis in my family.
5. I don’t need to work harder so I can have more time with my daughter, I just need to make the time.
6. My wife is much stronger than I imagined.
7. My daughter is much stronger than I ever thought a kid could be.
8. I can still trust God even when I am angry, hate, or don’t understand Him and His decisions about healing.
9. Overall, people want to do good.
10. Humankind knows a lot more about the human body than I ever imagined.
11. I really love family and friends.
12. Food heals where words can’t.
13. Sitting with someone means a lot.
14. Facebook is a great tool in a family crisis.
15. Even though I hate McDonald’s, I love the Ronald McDonald House.

I’m not sure what you will glean from this, but I hope it serves you wherever you are at.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.


Mental Wellness: Build time to slow down

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Originally published at by Joseph R. Sanok

I can’t slow down. I need this article more than anyone. I have a baby, house, job, private practice ” the list goes on and on. I bet your list is similar. There is always a reason why I can’t slow down.

I went to the U.P. this past weekend. I sat and drank coffee, looked out at the morning water, and read a magazine. Why is it that when we get away from town, we let ourselves relax? These are three things that are starting to work for me (I’m not there yet).

Put it in the schedule

Did you know that 15 minutes is 1 percent of your day? I think we actually have time to relax for 15 minutes, we just don’t make the time. If something is written down, we’re more likely to follow through. Plan to relax.

Get out

When we are in our homes, we see the laundry, cleaning and opportunities to not relax. Planning time out of our house clears our mind and gives us permission to forget about the struggles for a space of time. Get away from your house.

Drag it out

When I do errands, I fight for the closest parking spot, hurry in, hurry out and run back home. There have been times when we have gone to the farmers market and parked a few blocks away. We strolled, looked at the river, and we didn’t hurry home. Drag out the time that you are out and about.

But why should we slow down? Shouldn’t we be more efficient and productive? Yes, this is true. There are times during the week that productivity and efficiency are of value. Yet, if we make it a lifestyle, we increase our stress, which can lead to a lower quality of sleep, which increases anxiety and depression, while lowering our quality of life.

When you step back, why are you in such a hurry and what is it doing to you? Try it for a day and see if makes you feel better.


Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.

Friends and Crisis: Dos and Don’ts

You never really appreciate a life of normality until crisis hits. Our family has been through a number of things lately: a death, a major medical issue, and close friends having their own crisis. It is amazing how it seems that high profile events bring out people’s true social skills.

I learned through experience what not to say when someone is in crisis. It was several years ago. I heard that a friend of mine’s parents had got divorced. I was close to my friend, but not to his parents. During a large festival in our town, I ran into the mom and said, “I’m so sorry to hear about you and _______.” It seemed to be the right thing to say. She broke down crying in the middle of the festival.

I felt terrible, I didn’t know how to leave, and I regretted saying anything. After that I was fairly gun-shy. When I heard that people had a miscarriage, death, or sickness, I didn’t know what to say. So I just watched from a distance. Now that I am going through my own experiences, I feel that I have an understanding of what has worked and not worked for me.



Make or bring food. It allows the family to focus on one another, rather than shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Try and make something they can freeze or bring it frozen. If others are bringing food they can pull it out when the time works for them.

If you can, use things you don’t need back like Tupperware, something disposable, or a pan you don’t care about. Tell them, “Don’t worry about getting the pan back to me.”


Don’t expect to hang out with the family long.

Don’t just show up, call and ask if there is a convenient time.



Empathize with the family. Our friends that have said, “That must be hell” “I can’t imagine going through that” and “When will the universe stop shi**ing on the Sanok’s?” have been some of the most helpful comments. It makes us feel less crazy, like our feelings are normal.

Let the family or person do the talking. Saying, “If you don’t feel like talking about it, that’s ok, but how are you doing?” This is helpful because it is nice to be given permission to blow someone off and stay quiet, yet invited to talk.


Don’t offer suggestions unless you are asked. If people are dealing with medical issues, they probably are consulting with the doctors. If they are going through a death, their closest friends will probably know what/when to suggest therapy. In general, suggestions make people feel like you want to solve their problems and make them move through their grief, rather than be with them.



Expect that your relationship will be different for a while. They may see you more or less. They may want to sit at home and drink beer. Who knows how they will react? They may not want to talk. Realize that people handle crisis very differently and the way they react can differ too. The best thing for you to do is to carry the relationship for the both of you during this time.


Don’t get offended when they focus on something other than your relationship. If you do get offended, don’t show it. Months later if it is still bothering you, you can talk with that person. People don’t need to think about the dynamics of your relationship as well as their crisis.

Don’t worry about spending too much or too little time with them. Ask them if it would be helpful to come over. Most people will tell you what works if you ask in a direct way.

Don’t say, “Call us if you need anything.” Say something more specific like, “Would it be helpful if we had you over for dinner? We’d love to have you, but you can totally say ‘no’.” Sometimes what people need is awkward to ask for like a gas card. Rather than ask, “What do you need?” say something like, “Here’s a gas card/meal/hug if it would help.” By giving the person an out and being specific, it helps to give them the power and control, when life seems out of control.

Depending on which side of the crisis you are (going through it or supporting through it) everyone should realize that you are lucky to have one another. As someone going through life issues, I am so thankful for people saying and doing something, even if they fumble through it. Despite the missteps some have taken, we have realized that it is all done out of love and care for us, which is absolutely wonderful to have in our life.

I would much rather have someone awkwardly try and console me, than to remain quiet out of fear…and then go through a crisis alone. Even if you don’t do all the “dos” or you accidentally do some of the “don’ts” it is ok. Just do your best.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.


Money, Couples, and Mayo


It all started when we were shopping for mayonnaise. I mean, we didn’t go to the store just for mayo, it’s not like we have an all mayo diet, but it is now known as the “Mayo Incident.” I would say that it started years before that incident, but it was the catalyst.

We had been married a month. I was determined to live frugal so that we could make ends meet. My wife knew that I was frugal and wanted to establish that we could have fun in life. I saw it as an opportunity to focus on living poor, so as to be rich later. She saw it as a quality of life issue. We both entrenched into our positions. I wanted the generic mayo that was fifty cents cheaper, she wanted to “bring out the best.”

I “won”, in that we got the off brand. She then decided that she would only eat sandwiches with mustard. I was stuck eating crappy mayo. Finally, after two months, I caved, threw it out, and we have had Hellmann’s ever since.

When I step back from the Mayo Incident, I see patterns that we have both sought to overcome. She has recognized that she did not make financially sound decisions in the past, whereas I realized that I have missed out enjoying the fruits of hard work. I don’t know exactly how we each arrived at those unique positions, but somehow, somewhere, we did.

Our first year of marriage was rough; it was not the bliss we imagined. We had to struggle through many other areas we had entrenched ourselves. What helped us was finding a common goal to work toward that was bigger than either of our own personal agendas. When we focused on where we were going as a couple, it made more sense to step back from our entrenchment.

I think this is also true in work and friendships. So often, I see that I am distracted by the present situation, that I don’t look at the broader goal. For example, I just started learning about ways to expand my counseling practice. My thought was, “If I could someday make money in a passive way, then I could spend more time with my family and not work as hard.”

That’s a good thought, but I found that instead of playing with my cute 11-month daughter, I was on Twitter, Facebook, building a website, and listening to podcasts on passive income. I had lost sight of the goal. I was giving up family time to have more potential family time.

Now I have shifted to trying to only reply to emails/Twitter/Facebook when my daughter is asleep and after my wife and I have had time together.

I think that I’ll always struggle with the balance of new, exciting projects and family time. But it is helpful to see what is happening, step back from my current project and look at the real goal. In that way, I hope to avoid another Mayo Incident and work toward my true direction I am seeking.

Joseph R. Sanok is the owner of where he helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples. He also helps private practice clinicians be more awesome through his blog, where he discusses marketing, running a business, and setting up a website.

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Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.