5 Things You need to know before you start counseling

So, you’ve decided to start counseling and you’re ready to go.  Perhaps you’ve never done therapy before or maybe you’re looking to take a new approach.  Here are some things you need to know before you start counseling.

1.  Finding a therapist that you feel safe with is most important. 

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You can line up a bunch of great therapists, but if they’re not the best fit for you, you’re not going to do the intense, deep work you’re looking to do.  The role of a therapist is to be a guide through your journey, reflect back to you what we see and help you to overcome obstacles towards meeting your goals.  If you don’t click with your therapist or don’t feel safe enough to trust them, reaching your goals with them is unlikely.  Your therapist should be someone you can relax around and speak freely without fear of being judged.  Trust and safety are of paramount importance when you’re looking to do deep work on things like eating disorders, trauma, PTSD, couples’ work or issues specific to the LGBTQIA community.

2.  Specialties mean that there’s been special training in a particular issue. 

Our training in graduate school and doctoral programs very rarely provides training for specific diagnoses like PTSD, eating disorders or addictions.  So when a therapist decides to have a particular specialty, we need to seek out training geared specifically towards these issues.  If you notice that a therapist you’re interested in has indicated that we specialize in a particular area, you might want to ask us what sorts of training we’ve done to qualify us as an expert.  This will give you a better idea of how equipped we are to help you with your specific struggle.

3.  When you hire a therapist, you are paying for a space that is yours, for you.

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I’ve heard people say that therapy is like paying someone to be your friend.  This is actually not true.  When you hire a therapist and you pay money, what you are paying for is a safe, neutral, objective space and time where you can do your work.  It is an energy exchange.  You are not paying your therapist to care about you, you are paying for an hour in a room that is completely and totally about you and no one else.  In friendships, there’s a give and take, there’s a social obligation to ask how they are and be a support to them.  In a relationship with your therapist, you are taking time for yourself only and receiving support that is not reciprocated emotionally, only financially.  This dynamic can be extremely healing and empowering and for many, it is the only time and space where healing can truly take place.

4.  The more consistently you go, the more effective therapy is.

Sometimes, in an attempt to save money or save time, people want to schedule therapy sessions every other week or once per month.  While there’s nothing particularly wrong with scheduling like this, you may want to rethink the frequency and consistency of your therapy schedule.  You don’t have to be in therapy forever.  You can establish and work towards specific measurable goals with your therapist and see regular progress.  However, progress is more difficult to measure when you attend therapy inconsistently.  You may be having symptoms of PTSD, for example, and when several weeks go by without working on those particular symptoms, it is more difficult to get traction.  If you’re struggling with binging and purging and you go every week, you can check in with your therapist about the particular triggers and behaviors that may have lead to your binge and purge.  Don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.  Set a goal with your counselor and try going weekly, write down your progress and notice the differences between your weekly sessions over a period of at least 3 months versus bi-weekly or monthly progress over a 3-month period.  You may be surprised with the results.

5.  Therapy happens in stages.

Sometimes we think that as soon as we set foot in the door of a therapy office, we will be “cured” immediately or within a few sessions.  The reality is that there’s a therapeutic process which happens in stages.  The first stage is joining with your therapist or learning to trust them.  When we meet a new friend, we don’t usually tell them our deepest darkest right off the bat, it takes time and trust building to get to a place where we know they are a good friend.  A similar concept is applied in therapy.  Depending on the client, the level and amount of trauma and defenses, this stage can take anywhere from about a month to sometimes a year or even more.  Safety, trust and a therapeutic bond, known as a therapeutic alliance, is formed in order for the therapist to really know and understand the client and for the client to feel safe enough to open up and do their work. 

The second stage is where the work is done.  Since there’s now an underlying foundation established between therapist and client, the second stage is about vulnerability.  There is an unpacking, uncovering, examining and exploring the process that happens with the client and their trauma or their history.  This stage is where people see their patterns and make shifts and changes in their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.  The second stage of the therapeutic process is where clients reach their goals.

The third stage may or may not be part of the therapeutic process, dependent upon the client’s preference.  This stage is for maintenance.  The client continues therapy but perhaps doesn’t come every week any longer.  They use their therapist to check in with, get help with issues as they arise and review the goals and behaviors they established during the second stage.  Some people choose to forego this step and skip to the fourth stage.

The fourth stage of counseling is a closure process.  After attaining goals in the second stage, and maintaining new behaviors and thought processes in the fourth stage, this last and final stage is a review of accomplishments, work together and closure of the therapeutic relationship.  If the client chooses to end counseling, this practice of review and closure can be especially healing for those who have experienced traumatic grief or loss.  Saying goodbye in a healthy way, honoring the relationship without suddenly cutting it off is a beneficial process to learn about emotional maturity and sophistication. 

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I hope these tips have been helpful.  Please feel free to comment below with any other tips or feedback you have on this topic.  If you’d like to speak further about starting counseling or have any other questions about some of the things I’ve mentioned, please contact me at TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com or call 610-314-8402.  I wish you luck in your endeavors and look forward to hearing from you soon!!

Free Tips On Loving Your Body

Give yourself a break: when you compare yourself to people in magazines, remember that these people don’t actually look like that.  They are photo-shopped and air brushed and have had their hair and makeup professionally done. 

Focus on appreciation: Take 3 deep breaths and ask yourself ‘what do I love about my body’? Maybe start with things like: ‘I love the way my arms are able to hug people’ or ‘My legs get me places and help me close drawers when my hands are full’.  See how many things you can find about what your body DOES that you can appreciate.

Reduce the criticism: Sometimes people believe that if they focus on what they don’t like, it will motivate them to change.  The opposite is true.  If you notice yourself measuring and pinching parts of your body that you don’t like, see if you can get yourself to STOP these actions.  If you notice you’re in front of the mirror or critiquing your selfies often, commit to yourself that you will avoid the mirror and/or stop taking selfies for 1 week (or 1 day if you need to start there).  Journal about this experience: what did you notice?  Were you as critical?

Breathe into Compliments: If you receive a compliment, see if you can breathe into it rather than brushing it away.  Take a few moments to really savor the compliment.  Give yourself a few moments, even if you don’t believe it, to just pretend that it’s true.  How would your life be different if you believed the compliments you received? 

Project: You are on a search for body love.  Look for images of people who are beautiful but are not perfect – whatever that means for you.  If you feel that you need to be very thin, look for images of people who are NOT thin, but are beautiful anyway.  Get at least 20 images.  Gather these images in a place where you can look at them often – weather you have a paper copy or a Pintrest Board – put them all somewhere you can look at them at least daily and notice what you appreciate about these bodies.  You might be surprised how your view of perfection shifts.

To learn more about how to love your body, call now to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation: 610.314.8402

"We cannot love others until we love ourselves" by Mikala Morrow

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 "We cannot love others until we love ourselves"

by Mikala Morrow, Villanova Graduate Counseling Intern

This saying has been a cliché statement that has been thrown around as a way to encourage self-care or even used as a convincing statement to those who find it hard to love themselves. What does this statement truly mean?

It means that someway, somehow we must find, within us, love. This must mean that love is an innate ability and we all possess the ability to love ourselves without the assistance of others.

Personally, I do not believe this to be true. Can we truly have an innate ability to love ourselves without any help from others? If we truly cannot love others until we love ourselves, we have to be able to love ourselves without help, right? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Which comes first, our innate ability to love? Or is love taught to us from our caretakers, partners, peers or a higher power?

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What if, “We cannot love others until we love ourselves” becomes “We cannot love ourselves and others until we have been loved.” My argument is that in order to learn to love others, we must first be loved. We must learn how to love and what love is.

Imagine a child who is neglected by their caretaker. This child never truly learns love. Instead, to them, love means neglect. Later on in life when meeting new people, how will they love them? If all this older child has known is that love is neglectful, they too will neglect those that they love.

Compare the first child with someone who has a loving caretaker who has shown interest in who they are. This child will grow up with the idea that love is showing interest in others and will love in this way. These examples may not be true for all, but it is something to think about. The child in the first scenario may

learn somewhere how to truly love but this will not come as easily as the child in the second scenario.

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We need to learn what love looks like towards us and we also need to learn how we love.  We may love by giving others gifts or our time. We may show our love through compliments or by offering a shoulder to cry on. We all have a unique way to show love. In order to practice our ways of loving, we need people around us to accept our love. If our unique way of showing love is rejected, we learn that we are not good at loving, or our way of loving is wrong.

Let’s say you show love with your time but your partner becomes annoyed and tells you they just want space. Your way of loving has been pushed away. We need other people around us to affirm the way we love.  While the statement, “We cannot love others until we love ourselves” has a good message at the core, it can be damaging for those who have never learned how to love themselves.

We all need love whether it is from other humans on earth (maybe even from a pet) or a supernatural love. Then we can truly love others’ authentically and comfortably.

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Mikala has an intensely compassionate and unique way of connecting with you to help you identify and express your feelings and your deepest sense of self.  She is persistent and encouraging in the face of hopelessness and despair.  She especially loves working with women to provide tools to alleviate anxiety and depression.  Mikala has a wealth of experience and is skilled in the mental health field working with domestic violence, food & body issues and addiction.  If you're struggling to tolerate your emotions and you're looking for a guide to help you get to know yourself better, give her a call now at 570-412-4516. 


Dealing with Anger About Your Past: 5 Ways to Channel Your Rage

You’ve been through a lot of scary, horrible situations - more than most people.  It’s in the past now, but it still feels so present.  Every time you take a shower, eat a meal, hear a certain song or smell that familiar, sickening smell, the memories are right there - alive and well in your life.  You’ve tried to get past them and move on.  You’ve tried talking about them and it hasn’t helped.  You’ve cried about it, cut your skin, cursed your perpetrators and done everything in your power to make it go away, but you’re angry.  They hurt you.  They took parts of your life from you and you can never get it back.  Here are some healthy ways you can channel your rage:

1.  Sweat it out:

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What we resist, persists.  If we continuously try to squash the anger and make it go away, it will continue to resurface.  Find ways to move the energy through you rather than trying to stuff it down.  Find a self-defense class - the physical activity and the techniques to learn to defend yourself as well can be empowering, even retroactively.  Bikram Yoga is a yang activity, as opposed to most other yin yoga.  The heat, the intensity, the discipline and repetitiveness along with the pain are quite cathartic.  Additionally, some of the poses are meant to help move emotions through, my favorite is the camel, heart opening pose - lots of emotions and no one will notice if you shed a few tears in the midst of all the sweat that happens.  Beat up a punching bag - you can imagine it’s your perpetrator or not, but either way, it’s a physical reflection of your internal state and it helps to externalize.  Other physical activities such as running, biking, swimming, etc are all excellent ways to boost your neurotransmitters AND the bi-lateral stimulation has a similar effect as EMDR.  Just be careful to make sure you stay in your body - if you dissociate while you engage in these activities you can injure your body, so feel your feet and stay present.

2.  Loud Music:

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Create an angry playlist or find a favorite angry song or two.  Listen while you drive, or walk or run.  Listen and write down the lyrics.  Create your own lyrics or your own song, change the lyrics in your favorite song to make it more relevant to your memories.  Find music that talks about resolve and peace.  Depending on your mood you might want to lean into the anger or you might be ready to cool it down.  Music is an excellent way to reflect feelings and feel connected to others’ who might have gone through some similar things.  Here are some excellent bands that write songs about anger: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Perfect Circle, Disturbed, Pierce the Veil, Bush, Emarosa, Dance Gavin Dance, The Amity Affliction, I Prevail.

3.  Get Creative:

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Write a poem or a song, create some art, write a story about your trauma, then re-write it with the ending that empowers you - it’s transformative.  Write an angry letter to your perpetrator and/or another person involved in your trauma - perhaps someone who didn’t protect you.  Create a box to hold all your anger - as things come up, write them down or create something to represent it and put it in your box.  Even if you don’t think you’re good at art, do it anyway (you don’t have to show anyone), use magazine images, clay, paints or all of the above.  Get messy, rip up a phone book, find a safe space to burn things in.  

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4.  Get Verbal: Scream!  

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Take a drive, blast the music and scream loudly.  Go into the woods and scream.  Talk to a safe friend, find an online community who understands, find a good counselor to talk to.  Talk about it with your spiritual community.  Phone a hotline or attend a meeting or a group.  Contact me at TiffanySpilove@yahoo.com if you need help finding any of these resources.

5. Center and Redirect:

If you imagine your rage as a fire hose, blasting towards unhealthy behaviors, you can learn to turn your hose towards something productive.  In order to do this, breathe deep into your belly, feel the fire of the rage, allow it to be there, then imagine you can channel this energy towards something else that benefits you.  Perhaps it’s helping others’ who’ve been through the same thing, maybe it’s writing a book on the subject or to building a support group.  Go inside and ask yourself - if a miracle happened to you and tomorrow you woke up in your own personal miracle, what would your life look like?  Where would you live? Who would be around you?  What would you do with your days?  Take that rage and channel it towards creating that life for yourself.

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You can let your trauma destroy your life, or you can use it to rise from the ashes like a phoenix.  Don’t let your perpetrators have any more of you.  Take back your power, your body and your life.  If you need help doing that, I’d be happy to help.  Call me at 610-314-8402 now for a free 15 minute phone consultation.  www.TiffanySpilove.com