How the Brain Reacts to Traumatic Grief

How the Brain Reacts to Traumatic Grief

There are many things to keep in mind when considering events that are described as “traumatic” and capable of causing considerable and long lasting grief. Perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that the response of someone who has experienced a traumatic event is due to intense chemical changes in the brain. This means it is usually completely natural and often not under the control of the individual. Expecting someone who gone through a traumatizing event to get over it is unrealistic, counterproductive and insensitive. None of us can simply “snap out of it” so expecting that is not realistic and completely lacking in empathy.


Because the reactions have a biochemical basis, the prolonged nature of a series of traumatic events or the severity of even a single event can cause mental disorders. These may be due to trauma or grief and sometimes both. We will discuss trauma and grief separately to develop a better understanding. Even so, it is important to understand they are interconnected and that trauma is often followed by severe grief and sorrow. If the initiating events are severe enough, disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder can develop. In the worst case scenario, both disorders render the patient incapable of continuing their life and they cannot remain functional. These disorders are diagnosed illnesses of the brain and should be treated as such by seasoned and qualified treatment professionals.


There are a number of events that can cause significant trauma such as the loss of a loved one or being subject to sexual abuse, rape and bullying among others. During the event itself, a “flight, freeze or fight mechanism” is initiated in our brain caused by the release of chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. Our body responds to prepare for danger by increasing breathing and heart rate and directing a large amount of blood flow to our muscles to face the danger and as such we experience anxiety, fear, panic and stress.


If the events are severe enough, the brain is rewired to respond to stimuli even long after the event has passed. Sometimes these stimuli are only remotely related to the event and in severe cases may have no relation to the event whatsoever! The region in our brain known as the hippocampus is responsible for converting short term to long term memory. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can cause reduction of volume of this area and this causes the brain to have difficulty distinguishing past events from the present which often causes these triggers to occur. PTSD also causes reduction in the volume of the prefrontal lobe of the cerebral cortex; an area in the brain responsible for controlling the amygdala of the brain which causes these emotional responses. The amygdala then becomes hyperactive leading to increased response to often innocuous stimuli.

As a result of all this the patient undergoes flashbacks, nightmares and experiences panic and fear to any event that can remotely trigger the memory of the initial trauma. This entire process can be solved with proper medication and psychotherapy with a specially trained professional.


Grief is the emotion encountered after a traumatic event. This motion can, at times, run its course. However, prolonged continuation of the same or even different traumatic encounters, can cause an individual to develop Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). It is imperative to understand that this is a medically diagnosed disorder of the brain and that patients can’t simply fix themselves by trying to be happy or making an effort to go out more.


Patients will often isolate themselves and experience emotions of guilt and self loathing at times as well. They may feel a lack of energy when it comes to carrying out their regular activities and experience long bouts of sadness and gloom. Or they may perceive situations and the future in a negative light and with a lack of hope. Physical symptoms can also include feeling tired, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, insomnia and reduced or increased appetite. At their worst, they may be prone to self harm and immediate help is required.


Depression is linked to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain which becomes the biochemical cause of the feeling of gloom and the physical and emotional symptoms described. Depression is an illness that has to be treated with appropriate medication and psychotherapy with a seasoned professional.

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The above discussion makes it crystal clear the trauma and grief aren’t emotions that any of us can simply snap out of or that should be taken lightly. They can progress to serious mental illness and hence appropriate measures should be taken to help and support the patient through the disorders associated with traumatic events.


Depressed Teen at Home?

Depressed Teen at Home?

The teenage years are emotional mine fields. Sometimes you might feel that your teenager is always depressed because that seems to be the mood they project a most of the time. Does it seem like they just don’t want to be with the family?  Or maybe they spend most of their time at home closed up in their rooms? Perhaps they seem to do nothing but stay plugged in to their smart phones, tablets or gaming systems? An adolescent suffering from depression can be hostile to you, exceedingly grumpy or easily lose their temper. But then, this sounds like a lot of teenagers, doesn’t it?

So, what’s the difference is between this behavior, which seems like their normal attitude lately, and a full blown depression? The truth of the matter is that it’s sometimes difficult to tell just where their teenage angst ends and real depression begins.


Common Signs of Concern

A teenager suffering from depression may show signs of hopelessness, cry often, be tearful, or may begin to write dark poetry and become interested in dark themed music and movies. They may begin to feel that life is not worth living, to the point that they neglect their personal hygiene because it’s simply not worth their effort. A depressed adolescent can feel as though this dark cloud over them will never leave and therefore their future is bleak. Boredom and the loss of any enjoyment from previously engaging activities is another sign of depression

Low self-esteem is common in a teen suffering from depression. Their sense of self-worth, which is always difficult to maintain during the teenage years anyway, takes a huge hit when depression creeps into the life of a teenager. Depressed teens may feel worthless or that they’re simply not good enough. Feelings of guilt can overwhelm them when things go wrong, as though every bad thing that happens is their fault.

Feelings and Emotions

Teenagers are already susceptible to feelings of inadequacies. When a perceived rejection occurs to a depressed teen whose sensitivities are already heightened, it can result in a devastating emotional spiral.

Bouts of irritability, lashing out at those around them and isolating themselves from friends or family can also be signs of depression. Sometimes a depressed teenager will ‘reject’ their own family in an attempt to preempt being rejected by them.

Traumatic events can also be a causal factor – especially those suppressed and not talked about or shared in a safe environment. And what teenager do you know that tells everything to their parents? If you know there have been some pretty scary or painful events in your teenager’s life talking with an teen counselor or working within a group may be helpful for them. When trauma or loss is involved, you might consider adding EMDR to your toolbox to help your teen.


A decline in grades or behavior at school can also be a warning of more serious problems. Especially if they become hostile when approached about the situation, it could also be a sign of depression. There are so many traits in depression that can mimic normal teenage phases. It can be difficult for parents to determine whether or not a teenager is suffering from a major depressive episode.

In the Family?

A teenager who is suffering from depression probably has one or two parents at home who are also struggling with this mental health issue. Genetics/biology play a role and but so does environment/exposure. If you feel your teenager, or a teenager you care about, is in danger, please contact their parents, their school counselor or religious leader so that they can receive the help they need.

Chemistry as Agonist

Drugs and alcohol are not always in play when depression is on the table. But let’s be clear – it’s a common risk especially for teens and young adults. If your teenager is using drugs and/or alcohol – this will only increase emotional and other problems. Parents sometimes dismiss this, attributing “recreational” use as a seemingly normal part of youth. But whether dependency, abuse or recreation; mood altering substances always wreck havoc in the long run.


It’s what many call the “play now, pay later” principle and the price gets very steep when the turmoil of adolescence and depression are in the recipe. In addition, we now know that use of drugs and alcohol during teenage and early college years (while the brain is still developing) has a permanent effect on the brain. If these are part of your teen’s current picture, don’t minimize the seriousness of the risk it holds for the kid you love.


If you are a parent of a struggling teenager or college-aged young adult, listen to your heart. If you are seeing signs of concern don’t ignore them. Reach out, ask questions, get support – be active and get involved. You cannot afford to be their friend – you have to be a parent. If you need more support, reach out to a friend or family member. If you need more information or guidance, a counselor can be a great help as well.

Forgiveness; Is This The Real Deal?

Forgiveness; Is This The Real Deal? – Live Better Live Now. Your life will require you to forgive and to be forgiven by others many, many, many times. The sooner you can learn this and also teach it’s practice to those you love – the sooner you and they can embrace a more free and happy life.

Here’s the “skinny” on what is and is not, forgiveness:


What Forgiveness Is NOT:

1. Condoning, dismissing or minimizing what has happened. Pretending it doesn’t matter only drives the negative inward, it doesn’t make it go away.

2. “Forgive and Forget”; this has got to be some of the worst of common wisdom out there. Forgetting is utter nonsense and foolishness. If you do not remember, you cannot learn and make better decisions ahead. Even the great religious texts do not ask us to forget. (ex. The bible specifies forgiveness, it doesn’t support forgetting…these two are very different.)

3. Reconciling. Keep in mind that forgiveness is a spiritual and internal act. It does not require the other person(s) involvement. Reconciliation is between the offending and the offended – this is a human exchange and unlike forgiveness, reconciling require reciprocity. Forgiveness is an action solely of itself. (forgiveness heals the self, reconciling heals the relationship – sometimes the relationship is not a safe or healthy one and it needs to dissolve).


What Real Forgiveness IS:

1. It’s hard to truly believe in or be open to forgiveness for ourselves when we cannot practice it for others.

2. The conscious choice to not only not seek revenge, but to not harbor the desire for it within ourselves.

3. Allowing whatever injustice we feel to be righted by an appropriate higher system and/or our higher power.

4. Allowing ourselves to see humanity, however flawed, of all involved and not just from a perspective as the offended.

5. Relating the story of what happened with consideration for the above (4) and not an account of accusation that continues to spread injury.

6. Asking, praying, meditating or hoping for healing for the offender – to whatever extent you can. This frees you to move forward in life.


(If you are having trouble wrestling with forgiveness, forgetting and reconciling in your own life, getting some professional guidance might be helpful).

7 Drug Free Treatments – Pain and Anxiety

There are a variety of drug free, holistic treatments for pain and anxiety today that can compliment medical or therapeutic practices and help reduce both physical pain and emotional distress. In this article, 7 Holistic Treatments – Pain and Anxiety, we will be taking a brief look at a few of these drug-free methods and the benefits each of them offers for managing pain and anxiety.

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that has its roots in Eastern tradition. It is the practice of conscious awareness of the person’s inner states, feelings, behaviors, thoughts, and even external events. Mindfulness involves observing one’s experience without necessarily trying to change it or labeling it as good or bad. It can be applied in an effort to be more present and engaged with what’s going on around you or with what is happening within you. It means being present in the present. When practicing mindfulness, we pay attention to a single thing at a time and observe it with focused intention and without judgment.

When applying mindfulness for pain, we pay attention to that pain, which might seem paradoxical. However, when we pay attention to the pain, we reduce the stream of negative thoughts that can increase the experience of pain and e can reduce both the pain and the emotional effects it has. Mindfulness can reduce pain dramatically, with better effects the longer it is practiced. It can reduce the experience of pain too, helping us reduce the unpleasantness of it significantly.

Mindfulness can also help improve the quality of life for people who experience chronic pain and also boost mood which can also have a positive effect on pain levels. Remember the old saying “misery loves company”? – well, if your mood is negative, anxious or depressed that actually increases your sensitivity to things you find discomforting. Essentially, you are primed to find more discomfort.

As for anxiety, mindfulness also involves paying attention to the anxiety and observing it without judgment. You actually focus on the feelings and symptoms of anxiety rather than attempt to suppress them or change them. This allows you to calm down and become more aware that the anxiety is a response of their body. The practice of mindfulness can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and is useful for anxiety disorders also.

2. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a treatment with a long history, being practiced in China for many hundreds of years. It remains a somewhat controversial treatment today, but there has been growing scientific evidence in recent years to support its effectiveness for a variety of conditions. (*some insurance companies now cover accupuncture for cardiac patients) Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into specific points of a person’s body at varying depths. It has been suggested that acupuncture stimulates certain nerves in the body.

Acupuncture can be used to help with pain, especially for migraines and back pain. People with chronic pain can benefit significantly from it as a drug free option to increase quality of life. Reportedly, it can relieve pain significantly in about 50% of the cases. It’s worth mentioning that with a good acupuncturist the procedure is not painful and can be almost painless or fully painless, so there is no significant pain associated with the needles. The practice also has much fewer side effects than medication.

Acupuncture has also been found to be useful for anxiety. It can help reduce anxiety in general and also to improve symptoms of certain anxiety disorders. The results usually begin to appear after a single treatment and become more significant after continued sessions.

Acupuncture is a focused treatment, addressing a specific problem through the application of needles to certain points (also called meridians) on the body. Usually, the acupuncture is directed at resolving a specific issue. However, if acupuncture is effective for the individual’s pain or anxiety, it might be useful to return to it for other difficulties that can be appropriatly treated through acupuncture.


3. Medical Hypnosis

Medical hypnosis is an advanced form of hypnotherapy used in medical settings to help people manage pain, anxiety, increase their ability to relax, or better approach their treatments. While hypnosis is a controversial treatment that often is incorrectly associated with performance or stage magic, the legitimate use of it by a clinician with advanced training can be highly effective. Hypnosis can help reduce pain or even nausea, being used, for example, with cancer patients who are struggling with some of the negative side effects of radiation and chemotherapy treatments

Hypnosis involves an altered state of consciousness, as happens with meditation, but the person who is being hypnotized does not lose awareness or memories. They can not be manipulated into doing something specific (nobody can make you cluck like a chicken), rather, they enter a state in which they are more relaxed and more open to positive suggestions. The person’s focus is directed at a single thing, so their distress becomes less and their pain and anxiety is reduced.

Hypnosis can have pain relieving effects, ranging from moderate to strong. Hypnosis can be useful for a multitude of conditions associated with pain. Some people might respond better to hypnosis than others, but approaching it with an open mind can help make it more effective from the start.

Anxiety also can improve through the use of hypnotherapy. It can be helpful, as it is easier for the person to be more open and relax physically in the moment. Some results of hypnotherapy for pain and anxiety might be seen after the first session, however, there is usually a treatment plan for several sessions that occur progressively further and further apart. It’s important to seek this type of service only from a licensed therapist with advanced training in medical hypnosis.

4. Medical Meditation

Medical Meditation is another practice that is quickly gaining recognition in the medical community. Medical Meditation has a wide array of benefits and few to none side effects. Medical Meditation involves the practice of focused attention (for example, attention focused on breathing, repeating a mantra, or on something else). Medical Meditation is a well-established practice that helps reduce pain, relax, improve one’s physical and mental health, and obtain a wide variety of benefits, such as a greater control over one’s thoughts and inner states, which is clearly very helpful for anxiety.

Medical Meditation can be used as a form of pain relief, but unless you have a great deal of previous training, you are likley going to need to begin with a professional. A clinical professional with advanced training in this area can help you gain more control over your reaction to experiences and increase your ability to self-drive relaxation; reducing stress and pain too.


For anxiety, Medical Meditation can improve the control an individual has over their thoughts, helping cut negative ideas that might make the anxiety build up. The person also can learn to relax and breathe when they choose to, helping address the physical symptoms of anxiety as well. The practice of meditation, once learned, can be practiced without the need for any special location or materials. What is also significant is that it has a variety of health benefits which increase the more a person practices meditation.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR is a treatment approach that is primarily known and used for trauma. Like many holistic methods it is controversial, but is also simple and can be very effective. The basis of EMDR is that certain eye movements help the brain reprocess traumatic or difficult events. When used for traumatic events, the therapist may make specific motions with their fingers, asking the patient to follow them with their eyes while they talk about the traumatic event. Eye movements reduce the emotional charge of memories as they help the brain reprocess it.

However, EMDR is not just for trauma. It has been used effectively one of the more popular treatments for pain, too. For instance, people with chronic pain through the application of an EMDR protocol can also experience a significant reduction in the pain, better mood, and more control over their own pain levels.
EMDR can help with anxiety as well. It seems that it is best applied when it is used with traumatic anxiety, as the person might be asked to recall and talk about situations that have caused them anxiety in the past. There is less research on EMDR for other anxiety disorders, however, it does seem to be effective to address trauma and reduce anxiety. (EMDR is an approach that requires specialized training to be practiced, so it’s important to only seek treatment from trained, clinical professionals.)


6. Yoga

Yoga refers to a variety of practices that also originate in Eastern spiritual tradition. There are many different variations of yoga that might have different purposes. Yoga involves a series of poses, breathwork and physical exercises that are meant to help a person relax, get more in touch with their body, and as a form of exercise.

There are different types of yoga. Some provide a more intense workout, while others focus on different goals. There are yoga poses and approaches that are directed at providing pain relief. Yoga is especially useful for some forms of back pain. However, it is important to be careful when doing yoga, as some poses might not be good for pain or might aggravate it due to the physical demands they might have. In general, yoga as a form of exercise might be less demanding, especially some forms of it, and provide the benefits of pain relief other forms of exercise have due to the biological effects of exercise. Exercise is a natural painkiller, so practicing yoga can help with pain relief.

Yoga can also help with anxiety. Firstly, yoga is a form of exercise, which means that it has the benefits exercise has in general, associated with pain and distress – like endorphin release. Yoga also promotes a more relaxing way of breathing – bringing your heart rate and breathing into a more relaxed pace. There are also specific poses that address anxiety and help relax. Yoga can help improve a person’s physical condition and help them become more physically active.

7. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

EFT is a relatively new holistic treatment that is gaining more popularity. Research is limited, but the field is relatively young and the public response has been positive. EFT is based on acupuncture, but rather than using needles, it uses pressure. EFT is a form of physiological acupressure that uses tapping instead of needles. The practitioner taps specific points on a person’s body while the person thinks about a specific problem and voices affirmations. EFT has been used by medical practitioners, although it is still not fully recognized.

EFT can be used for both anxiety and pain. EFT has also been used to teach patient’s with Parkinson’s to self-regulate their anxiety, which can have positive effects on their mobility. And more recently for equestrians with fears following an injury. with It can be adapted to these problems by tapping specific points on the body, voicing specific affirmations, and focusing the patient’s attention on the pain or anxiety. It can help relax and reduce stress, which benefits both pain and anxiety.


Overall, these holistic treatments for pain and anxiety offer similar benefits – they all offer drug free relief from pain and from anxiety although through different methods. Some of them, like mindfulness and meditation, offer a wide variety of benefits in addition to reducing pain or anxiety, while others focus more on the problem at hand. Different people might benefit more from one type of treatment rather than the other, so the choice of treatments for pain might depend a lot on individual differences. Some of these treatments are also more established, meaning that it might be easier to find a licensed practitioner or a course teaching how to practice something, like yoga or mindfulness, in one’s home. Holistic treatments also might not always work as the primary treatment. For instance, for chronic pain it would be important to establish the cause with a doctor before seeking a holistic way to relieve pain. However, these holistic treatments can be very effective when done in addition to primary treatment or on their own in some cases. It’s always wise to talk with your physician before adding a new modality to your treatment plan for pain.

Need help finding the right professional for you? Click here for a free guide.


7 Holistic Treatments for Pain and Anxiety / Houston / Live Better Live Now

The Benefits of Yoga for Stress Management

The Benefits of Yoga for Stress Management

The raves about yoga are more than just a current trend or a flash-in-the-pan fad. The physical and psychological benefits of yoga for stress management have been taking America by storm.

The regular practice of yoga can help decrease stress and tension, increase strength, balance and flexibility, lower blood pressure and reduce cortisol levels in the brain – which in and of itself is a very positive step in preventative health care. It also yields strong emotional benefits due to the emphasis on breathing, grounded and focused release of negative thoughts and the interconnection of mind, body and spirit.

Frequent practice of yoga for stress management can result in better sleep, help you not to focus on things beyond your control and spend more energy learning how to be mindful and live in the present. While it won’t erase or remove stressors – it can, in effect, makes a stressful event a lot easier to handle, whether it’s family, work, health, relationships – or something else.

Whatever misconceptions you have about yoga and stress management, perhaps they should take a back seat. While most people have the notion that you have to be flexible in order to do yoga, the truth is, anyone will benefit from yoga regardless of age. In fact, many times people who aren’t very flexible at all will actually see results even faster. It’s perfectly suited to all levels because yoga is a practice geared to helping you become aware of your own highly individual mind/body connection.

There are many different styles of yoga to suit your preference. Hatha yoga is one of the most flowing and gentle options that is a good choice as starting point. Vinyasa is more athletic while Iyengar concentrates on proper alignment. However, Bikram or “hot” yoga, is not recommended for beginners. (In fact, no one, regardless of fitness level, should begin any “hot yoga” practice without speaking with their physician first.)

It doesn’t matter if you join late in a yoga class. It’s not about doing it better or worse than the others, it’s not even a competition with yourself – nor a competition at all. It’s about how you feel in the moment of each stretch in your body. What matters most is how present and relaxed you can allow yourself to become.

Yoga is considered as a deeply personal practice and no two people can or should hold a pose in exactly the same manner. A person has to work at his or her own level of flexibility, one that is challenging but not overwhelming. If you don’t feel good with what the instructor is telling you to do, don’t do it. Your body will warn you if you are about to get hurt. It is important that you listen to your body, push the limits gently, but don’t let yourself be overcome by ego. Allow your body to guide you and be your friend.

The goal of yoga is to synchronize the breath and movement. When you inhale and exhale as you work through poses is important. Breathing only through your nose keeps heat in the body and keeps the mind focused. Concentrating on your breath is the key to yoga for stress management, as it helps you let go of external thoughts and anxiety, requiring you to focus on your body in this moment. The easiest way to bring yourself into the present moment is to focus on your breath. Feel how it goes down your nose and into your body. It helps you let go of the worrying thoughts.

Bear in mind that yoga is a slow process. Forget about expectations. Let go of competition and judgment. As yoga brings you into the present moment, you will experience joy not only in the physical movement and mental benefits but in spending time in the now.

12 Steps To Finding The Right Counselor For You

12 Steps To Finding The Right Counselor For You (Plus 12 Tips To Help You Do It)

Making the decision to start counseling or psychotherapy does not come lightly. It takes courage. To reach the point where we know that our life needs a change, new growth or direction toward healing requires a boldness many don’t fully appreciate. Yet the idea of being emotionally vulnerable and baring our deepest thoughts to another is often enough to scare many “brave” people away. So before we start, let me tell you; YOU are brave. It takes real courage to seek out and welcome change, especially when you do not even know what it may look like once you get there. Being willing to “let go and grow” is something far too many adults overtly avoid throughout their lives. If you are looking towards self-change and growth – feel good about that. But how do you set about finding the right counselor?

There are many incredibly gifted, experienced and ethical professionals working in emotional health. There are also far too many that are undertrained, have little or no experience to speak of, are practicing outside of their training scope or have put commerce so far above their clients that they hurt the reputation of the entire industry. Finding the right counselor in the vast seas of professionals out there can feel a little overwhelming.  Hopefully, this article can help a bit. (I am fully aware that some other professionals in my field may take issue with what I am going to point out below – and frankly, if they do – they just further prove some of the points you will read below.)

My hope in writing this is to provide anyone looking to find a counselor or psychotherapist with some insights to help you make an informed choice and more importantly, find the one that is right for you.

So, as we say in Texas, “let’s thin the herd!”

License VS Certification

Although a license doesn’t guarantee ethical or professional care – it does at least mark a minimum level of competence required to practice. Additionally, it is flat out illegal to practice psychotherapy without a license. Even then, all licenses are not equal. Some licenses cover a specific area. For example, in Texas we have a specialist license called an LCDC; Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. This license holds professional competence in addiction and dependency. But it would be completely inappropriate and outside the scope of their training for an LCDC to provide marriage counseling. Some licenses hold a service level as well – as in the interpretation of psychiatric tests requires a licensed psychologist; an LP. (more on this in section 3)

Stick with me. The important part is that license assures you of a base level of competence. Certifications on the other hand can be very misleading. Some certifications, like the ones issued by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) also have a measure of competence and require a minimum of a masters degree to even test for it and just like a license – they require continuing education training throughout your practice life. Others, like the CSAT (specific to sexual addiction treatment) require an extensive period of applied practice before you can earn the credential. These types of certifications – above and beyond graduate training and a license – may add to the potential abilities of a prospective counselor.

But be warned there are many other certifications out there that are mediocre at best, if not entirely worthless. Some can be earned with a multiple choice online questionnaire and $40 fee. Some at a one day seminar. The quick check I often suggest is this; if you can get the certification without a graduate degree in a related field – then don’t put too much confidence in the certification. (*you can spend 5 minutes online and check the value of any certification pretty quickly.)

Tip 1: Be sure they have a license and what it is. Search any certification they have online.

Generalist VS Specialist

I can’t tell you how many times at a conference or symposium I hear a psychotherapist or psychologist tell someone they work “with all ages and all issues”. (OMG, people!) I tell every client I speak to that if they ever hear someone say they work with everyone and everything – just run. Unless that counselor is a generalist ( which means generic – not a specialist in anything), it simply is not possible in a human lifetime. Period. No exceptions. If you want to learn basic stress management or how to work through mild seasonal ‘blues’ then a generalist is probably okay, I guess. But then I could say, go to a yoga class or talk to respected clergy or a mentor – you’ll probably get the same help.

A true specialization, in my book, is not something you can earn with one or two training classes. When I refer to someone as a specialist in this field it means that (a) they have formal training in that area (internships in graduate school do not count towards this). (b) they take continuing education classes every year in that area to ensure they stay up to date in that arena and (c) they have worked with that specialty subgroup for a minimum of 25% of their practice load for no less than the last 5 years, preferably 10 years.

So, do the math. They cannot be a specialist in 20 different areas. And if they got their license (their fully independent license – not the supervised/intern level) within the past 5 years, they are surely not a specialist in anything. Training and education are wonderful and hold great value. But actual time spent in the field, applying that knowledge in real life situations with real people is where professional practice wisdom comes from. There is no fast track for that. “I’m glad your doctor was the top of his class in medical school – and you say he’s doing his first organ transplant surgery ever, on you?”

Tip 2: Don’t tell them what you are looking for until after they tell you what areas they specialize in.


Degree is Academic, License is Professional

This is bound to ruffle feathers with a few out there, but again, if your ego cannot handle the facts – you probably shouldn’t be practicing in this profession. This comes up again and again. It’s been an issue in managed care for decades. It crops it’s head up in litigation over and over. The title afforded a person by their educational degree is an academic title. This statement is not at all meant to minimize the respectability of the accomplishment. Whether the doctoral degree was in political science, anthropology, english, accounting or international business – the title of “doctor” is deserved. But it is still an academic title only.

In psychology this gets confusing to those not working in the field. There are many psychologists out there and most of them hold a license, but a great deal of them are not Licensed Psychologists. The reason is that “Licensed Psychologist” (LP) is an actual credential. You have to earn your doctorate and then pursue this licensure for several years afterwards. Many psychologists opt instead to get a license that is also available to masters level psychotherapists (In Texas these are LPC, LCSW or LMFT). These professionals are psychologists by academic title, but they are not Licensed Psychologists. Academically they have more education and a higher degree that a masters, but from a professionally licensed standpoint, they are essentially the same.

Tip 3: don’t let the title “doctor” sway your decision one way or another.

None of this is a measure of how good they are or if they are the best fit for you. There are fabulous masters level counselors out there and there are fabulous psychologists out there too. But don’t be too impressed by the “doctor” title unless you really understand what it means. And regardless of license and title – remember the specialist section above. That will speak more to what you may need than the degree the hold or license type.

The Folly of Youth

This is somewhat of a similar track to something mentioned earlier. So, I will be brief. There are a lot of young, recently trained and licensed clinicians hitting the arena – especially in bigger cities. Some of these folks are fantastic – high energy, teeming with optimistic drive and freshly trained. You can discover a great resource here. What you cannot discover is someone recently out of school or newly licensed who is seasoned and experienced in what happens when you apply what you learned in school or practicum and it doesn’t work. There simply has not been very much time working within the field to have gained the finesse and wisdom that comes with time and practice. You can’t short cut experience.

I’ll give you an example. I attended a conference a few months ago where one trainings being billed was an advanced training on mindfulness in clinical practice. I have blended Eastern and Western approaches for over two decades and studied Eastern philosophy in college – continuing to study in that area since. So, this interested me. The “advanced trainer” for the class was 23 years old and working under a temporary license. Her Power Point was full of bright images but the text content had been cut and pasted from various websites as images and stuck into the slides (she just copied things off various websites and stuck them in her presentation). She offered a lot of content and definition but floundered when audience members asked her to give applicable examples and to relay how she employed it in her own life. One attendee asked her to whether she was more influenced by Taoist or Buddhist philosophy – she said she didn’t really know anything about philosophy and it went downhill fast from there. (yikes!)

It has also become popular and profitable for a doctor or seasoned counselor to staff several inexperienced interns or new counselors below them and drive business to them from a brand or image based on their senior image/experience. Don’t be fooled – see only the counselor you screened and agreed to see. (The Katy/West Houston area has seen a lot of these take off)

Tip 4: Ask what year they graduated from graduate school in.


The Illusion of Age

Not to make you think I am being too hard on the newest and brightest stars to the field, we also have a frequent misconception that perceived age somehow means wisdom or assures us of a measure of quality. There are a lot of clinicians in the field who came into this area as a second career. I know of several locally who have come from backgrounds such as food industry, education, finance and hospitality. This is not to say that they may not be very accomplished in their counseling profession – but herein age gives the perception that they have been in practice a long time while in actuality some of the younger folks we noted above have actually been in practice longer. Can wisdom from a previous career add to this one? Sure, in some circumstances it can be an extension of knowledge (as in an MBA who now does professional coaching) – but it does not replace or equal actual time in this field. Chronological age is not career maturity.

Tip 5: Ask what year the therapist was fully and independently licensed in.

Internet Is A Tool, Not A Truth

This is probably more common sense to the younger “digital natives” who are reading this but for those of you are not as tech savvy this will be an important reminder. Internet searches, websites, reviews, etc are all marketing tools. They are built, sought, maintained and paid for with one primary purpose: to generate business. Yes, you can find great information out there, but please – just because someone says they are a specialist on their website or has 13 great reviews online – don’t let that alone be your deciding factor. Websites are only as good as the service who built them, wrote the content, do the SEO, etc. Reviews can be purchased. Bad reviews can be hidden with services paid to clean up your online image. A lot of search tools; like Psychology Today and Good Therapy are paid for and the specialties are self selected by the professionals listing themselves. It may be accurate – but who knows? – it is not a measure that anyone continues to validate with any high level of scrutiny. Consider it a shopping mall. Everybody puts their best smile on and knows that their product is the best deal for you. Shop smart.

Tip 6: You wouldn’t choose your babysitter from an online posting – you’d do your own due diligence in finding out who they really are. Do no less with your future counselor.

They Were On My Insurance Plan

Being In-Network with your insurance company means one thing – they will accept a very discounted rate, hopefully for the same level of service to you, in order to get a higher volume of patients. This doesn’t in any way speak to their abilities, ethics or professionalism. The base requirements to get on most major insurance panels are incredibly low. Many allow providers with only 3 years of experience to get on the panel. Some get on with less if they are in an office with a physician that the insurance company wants to keep on their insurance panel. What’s more is that most of the specialties are ones that the counselor can just self report and be listed with. Remember what we talked about with specialties earlier. Your insurance company very likely has a lot of “specialists” on their site that you would never go to if you could see how little time or experience in those areas they actually have.

Yes, insurance is necessary, and legally required, for most of us. And you the “you get what you pay for” doesn’t always work out as there are fleets of over-priced mediocrity out there. What’s important is that you understand that insurance is not about professional skill, ethics or actual care. Insurance is about payment.

Tip 7: Find the specialist that is the best for you. If they don’t take insurance and you really can’t afford it – then arrange to see them every other week or every third week, even. Don’t settle for less. Get the person who is best for you.

Who Recommends Them?

This is sadly funny. I have met a lot of practitioners who actually have their clinician friends listed as all of their references. Sometimes all of their references are even in their same office or group. I think that these clinicians may have missed the intention of a professional reference.

This is not a reference for a job application. This is reference from other practicing professionals (even in complimentary positions or fields of practice) that refer to them because of what they do and with no other relationships connecting them. Ideally they should be (a) someone they do not work with, (b) someone they do not work for and (c) someone they have never worked with or for. Bear with me.

You are trying to get a sense of who uses them because of their caliber of work. Previous work mates and employers have a bias. I know we can’t screen all this out, all the time. So, at least look for higher credentials and possible one-off sources: like a child therapist who has several pediatricians from other businesses who would attest to him/her.

Tip 8: Ask for the names of 3 medical doctors in the community (outside their office) that would recommend them. Then call those doctors and ask the office manager or charge nurse if they know anything about “Therapist Jones”. If they’ve never heard of them – not very many referrals are coming out of that office to that therapist. If they have heard of them, ask them what they’ve heard.

How Long Have They Been a Preferred Referral Source?

This one is easy. It adds on to the section just above. When you find a doctor’s office that does say they know a therapist and do refer to them – ask them how long they have been sending patients to the therapist? If they don’t know, they probably don’t send that many.

Tip 9: Your time frame a doctor’s office tells you should easily fit within the period since licensure that the therapist reports. Sounds pretty easy right? But, you’d be surprised how often an office will say a longer time than the counselor has even been licensed. (whoops. Not buying that line.)


Got Ego?

This is an obvious one and easy to maneuver. When you call to talk with a counselor and do your own pre-screening of them (how very wise of you) ask them several questions before you talk about yourself and your specific needs. You can make inquiries about several of the issues noted above. If the counselor or psychologist gets flustered or irritated and upset about answering a small handful of questions – hang up.

They do not need to know the details of your specific case before telling you the age groups they work with, the specialties they do not work with, when they were licensed and three doctors who recommend them, etc. How they respond to being asked questions will tell you a lot about their ego strength and what they are really invested in.

Tip 10: Ask them to tell you 3 areas that they do not specialize in and that are outside their scope of practice. This is a fair question and a grounded, competent and ethical clinician will have no problem answering it. A scoundrel will waver and try to avoid answering directly.

You Are Responsible

Always, always always read the entire Services Agreement (services contract) before you go to your first appointment. And keep a copy. In this day and age there is absolutely no excuse for this not being available to you on their website. It’s professional and sets an open disclosure standard so that you are aware of expectations, what the services entail, your rights and responsibilities and so on. You don’t buy a car without reading the contract and yet you won’t have that car nearly as long as you will have you. Read it and ask whatever questions you have before you begin sessions. Finding the right counselor takes a little effort, but it’s not hard and really is time well spent.

Tip 11: You always have the right to say when you are uncomfortable, are not happy with the direction treatment is going and to even stop sessions – always. They are the professional and they also can stop sessions at any time, with cause. So, please, read the Services Agreement so you know the expectations on both sides.

Beware The “Been There’s”

Okay, this is a pet peeve of mine. Yes, there can be some value in working with a clinical professional who has experienced a similar challenge and that can be especially enticing to some folks. (I’ve been through a long, debilitating illness that culminated in surgery – sometimes this experience brings me together with my medical patient clients). But, there are some pretty bold problems here too.

First, this can all too often be a banner for some by which they seek to establish a level of credibility: “I’ve been divorced myself, so I can help you better than most through your divorce.” While this might ring with a few bits of truth in some situations, it is not a measure of clinical caliber or experience as a professional. I don’t care if my heart surgeon had heart surgery too – I want to know that he’s the best available at performing my heart surgery! Using the “been there” too heavily can create a false impression of ability. Be clear about it. Been there doesn’t mean good at helping you through it.

Secondly, “been there’s” (especially the heavy duty ones) often times have lost all professional objectivity and instead of treating you as your own person; as an individual, they end up treating you as an extension or repeat of themselves. In the chemical dependency arena we often refer to them as “one-shot-wonders”; clinicians who ride the laurels of their own personal experience and have only one route for guiding clients – the same route they took. It’s not to say that it can’t be helpful to some, but a true professional meets each client where they are and facilitates their progress by the path most likely to be successful for the individual client. The “one shoe fits all” is a surefire marker of clinical mediocrity.

Tip 12: “Been There’s” are not necessarily a problem, but they are definitely not a measure of quality. Everyone has a personal story, even your counselor. But if the counselor is routinely using their own story to guide their client, or marketing their story as proof of their professional ability – you are probably better off with a self-help book or some retail therapy.

Final Note

Yes, it sounds a bit like a tirade and I am sure I have outed a few colleagues who are even now taking me off the holiday party lists or making wax dolls of me to stick with pins. But, finding the right counselor isn’t easy and there is so much the everyday client doesn’t see that can make such a real difference in their experience and ultimately to find the best fit for them. I came into this field as a passion and a commitment – I want my clients to be healthier, be happier and to succeed in the lives they pursue. I hope this at least helps get more people off to a good start. You don’t need to know all of the above – but at least use the tips to guide your questions and do read the Service Agreement carefully. A little knowledge and a little effort can go a really long way.

Oh, and one more thing – here’s the “Benji Bonus” ; the research shows that how much you connect with and feel you can trust your counselor has much more to do with the outcomes than whether they have a masters or a doctorate degree, are male or female, younger or older or trained in one approach or another. So ask your questions, do your research and when you have the information you need – consider it and go with your gut. Your ability to feel safe with and bond with your counselor has more to do with long term positive results than anything else.

Within the first session or two ask yourself if you feel you could probably trust this person with your deepest secrets and if you could trust what they said after you did. If you don’t think so, look for someone else. But if YOU think it’s a good match – the odds are in your favor that it probably is.

I respect your courage and wish the very best in your pursuits.

Thanks for reading!


Live Better Live Now / Finding The Right Counselor For You / Houston, Texas

8 Tips for Dealing with Mild Depression

8 Tips for Dealing with Mild Depression

The term depression is so commonly used today that people tend not to take it seriously anymore. But depression is a very serious condition that can severely diminish quality of life. Even mild depression takes it’s toll. Depression is not just a passing phase or mood-of-the-moment. The struggles faced when dealing with mild depression are very real and surprisingly difficult to understand for those who are not suffering from it themselves.

Depression can debilitate a person’s normal functions, making even the most mundane tasks such as getting up from bed or eating breakfast seemingly impossible. It is a tragic truth that a lot of depressed individuals are never treated because of a lack of information, dismissal of seriousness by self or others and even misinformation.

However, coping with mild depression is very possible – even without professional help in some cases.  Learning ways to combat the effects of mild depression, and applying them to practice, can give you the edge you need. (it is important to note here that professional therapy is still invaluable and very necessary when it comes to moderate or serious depression.)

Here are a few things that can help you alleviate symptoms and manage your depression:


Staying active is one way to fend off mild depression. Primarily, activities help distract people from whatever it is that is causing their depression and it also helps channel unspent energies (anxiety) that build up when we feel depressed. Keeping active also releases endorphins – natural mood boosters in your brain that have a direct and positive impact. We sometimes say, “You have to get up to cheer up.”



It is also important to rest. Not lethargy and laying about – but regular sleep and down time. Insomnia and lack of good sleep actually compound anxiety, lower frustration tolerance, diminish short term memory and have a tendency to make us more emotionally reactive – these typically cause more problems and add to depression.

Being depressed can be very exhausting, so it is essential to regain strength and energy if you are going to effectively deal with depression. Relaxation techniques can help us all be more attuned to daily impact on our body and mind, and of course to be more at peace. When resting, stressors should be kept away from the bedroom so that ample rest can be obtained. (Tip – get that TV/tech out of the bedroom. It stimulates a part of the brain that actually makes getting the sleep you need harder to get).


Depressed people often have been holding back from  expressing their emotions. Mild depression often comes, in part, from suppressed emotions and avoided conflict. People who are grieving or silently angry can be very prone to depression – especially if they keep their emotions locked up to themselves. Sometimes people avoid crying because they think it might be a sign of weakness. Or avoid being angry because we are not sure how to do it without negative results, or even because of how they think others will judge them.



However, expression of emotions and talking about what we think and feel is a part of being human. We are communal creatures and even the most introverted of us needs the support and confidence of others. It is okay to express anger in a healthy way. It is important to cry because release is needed.

When expressing feelings, it is important to avoid destructive behaviors – like releasing your anger by doing something violent like boxing, smashing things, and the like. Joining destructive behaviors with release teaches the brain that these go together – that force is required for release. Not a very smart pairing, right? If you need help with expressing grief, anger, sadness or other concerns, reach out to a seasoned and professional counselor. (for help knowing how to find the best counselor for you, check out our previous blog)


Hang around with your friends and loved ones. Depressed individuals need support very much. Other people can distract us from stressors, provide support and insights. Your supporters can also remind you that there can be so much more to life, and it is worth living even if it is simply because of the company you share with wonderful people.


It is important to preserve, protect and believe in yourself. A lot of people feel depressed because they put themselves down or allow themselves to be taken advantage of. Boundaries are gold here – learning how to set clean boundaries and uphold them is a great way to start taking care of you. It is also important to satisfy yourself spiritually and to cultivate a sense of self-worth. Raising the health of your mind; the way you think, is as important as taking care of the health of your body. Some activities can benefit both – like yoga.

Peaceful Potter


There is nothing more depressing than a life of desolate monotony to many of us. Your brain needs “new” experiences and material. Go to a museum you’ve never been to, try a new type of restaurant, revive the old days and go bowling or to a kids’ movie, go listen to a live band … Do something new.


If you are still struggling or can’t get peers together – Get out there and volunteer. Acts of service to others less fortunate than us is a great way to put perspective back into an otherwise gloomy view. Do something that is meaningful to you. It feels good to do good. And right now your brain needs some healthy “feel good” time. So, while you are out there helping others you’ll be helping yourself too.

One Last Comment…

Sadness does not disappear overnight; it takes time. Everything worthwhile in life does. So be patient. However, if symptoms are more than mild or seem to be getting worse – please, don’t wait. Reach out to your physician or counselor. Or let a friend know you need help finding one. Nobody waits until a fire spreads throughout the house before they go to get help. So, don’t let a growing problem become something even more difficult before you get a professional on your team.

Hope this gave you a few ideas or re-inspired some old ones.

Journey Well and thank you for visiting!



8 Things To Expect After A Traumatic Experience

8 Things To Expect After A Traumatic Experience

Еvеrу humаn bеіng who еxреrіеnсеѕ a trаumаtіс еvеnt hаѕ аn еmоtіоnаl rеасtіоn аnd mоѕt реорlе wrеѕtlе wіth vаrіоuѕ іѕѕuеѕ fоr some tіmе аftеr thе event. Addіtіоnаllу, most PTS sufferer’s rеѕоlvе their issues еіthеr on their оwn or with professional соunѕеlіng within a fеw months оf thе trаumа, while a few ѕuffеr a реrmаnеnt loss of the quality of lіfе. Althоugh the ԛuеѕtіоn оf реrmаnеnt emotional dаmаgе is mоѕt оftеn rеlаtеd tо whеthеr there іѕ аnу residual рhуѕісаl disability оr whether the PTS ѕuffеrеr іѕ the vісtіm of a реrѕоnаl attack оr insurmountable loss. Hоwеvеr, thе bоttоm lіnе is thаt emotional responses аrе аll subjective. Thе medical еxреrt who trеаtѕ the PTS раtіеnt does nоt hаvе аnу dеfіnіtіvе test like a blood сhеmіѕtrу report that іdеntіfіеѕ a trеаtаblе or реrmаnеnt аdvеrѕе condition.


Thе Dіаgnоѕіѕ аnd Hоw іt Wоrkѕ

Psychology, аѕ an artful and ѕсіеntіfіс bоdу оf knowledge, dіffеrѕ from mеdісіnе аnd оthеr allied рrоfеѕѕіоnѕ wіth one basic, іmроrtаnt distinction; it studies hоw humаnѕ rеѕроnd to past, existing аnd potential рrоblеmѕ. Aѕ such, since trаumа іѕ defined аѕ a lіfе-аltеrіng event, we рrоvіdе соріng assistance for раіn, mеntаl аnguіѕh, рhоbіаѕ, асutе anxiety, panic, irritability and the lіkе. It all bоіlѕ down tо a сhаngе in how thе trаumаtіzеd реrѕоn іntеrасtѕ wіth his/her environment аnd vаrіоuѕ соmmunіtіеѕ (ѕсhооl, wоrk, place of wоrѕhір, home, еxtеndеd fаmіlу, friends, neighbors, оrgаnіzаtіоnѕ etc.). To that end, thеrе аrе a number оf ѕресіfіс mаnіfеѕtаtіоnѕ оf реорlе’ѕ rеѕроnѕеѕ that thе рrоfеѕѕіоn has іdеntіfіеd in tеrmѕ оf dіаgnоѕіѕ аnd trеаtmеnt.

  1. Thе Injury рhаѕе – an invasive wave of pain and emotions.

Durіng thе fіrѕt instant after a trаumаtіс еvеnt, thе victim is іn ѕhосk. Dереndіng оn thе ѕеvеrіtу оf the insult the іnіtіаl ѕhосk can lаѕt frоm a fеw seconds tо a fеw hours and саn even be lіfе-thrеаtеnіng. Thе ѕuddеn onset оf рhуѕісаl оr emotional impact рrоduсеѕ a change thаt evokes a ѕеrіеѕ оf responses such аѕ раіn, аnguіѕh, dеnіаl, anger, guіlt, аnxіеtу, hеlрlеѕѕnеѕѕ аnd раnіс. Thеѕе rеасtіоnѕ, іn rеаlіtу, аrе a dеѕреrаtе аttеmрt оn thе раrt of thе vісtіm tо mаіntаіn соmроѕurе аnd regain соntrоl.

2. Pain – “It hurts!”

Pain, being a humаn rеѕроnѕе, іѕ a necessary раrt of оur ѕurvіvаl. It іѕ uѕuаllу оnе оf the fіrѕt ѕіgnаlѕ thаt something іѕ wrong. The problem with іt іѕ thаt оnсе it hаѕ done іtѕ jоb іt lіngеrѕ аnd the trаumа vісtіm suffers. For thаt rеаѕоn, wе have many pain-relieving drugѕ and there іѕ no dоubt аѕ tо thеіr bеnеfісеnсе. However, thеrе are аdvеrѕе affects; раіn kіllеrѕ dull thе ѕеnѕеѕ and place thе ѕuffеrеr оn a dоwnwаrd ѕріrаl tоwаrd сhеmісаl dереndеnсу. There іѕ аlѕо thе danger оf оvеrdоѕе wіth ѕеlf-аdmіnіѕtеrеd narcotics thrоugh a dose-demand dеvісе thаt dеlіvеrѕ a measured amount іntо thе blооd or spinal fluіd. Nurse whо provide coping аѕѕіѕtаnсе ѕееk to work wіth сlіеntѕ tо іnсrеаѕе their thrеѕhоld fоr раіn tоlеrаnсе. However, the mеаѕurеmеnt оf quаlіtу and quantity оf раіn іѕ рurеlу ѕubjесtіvе. Thе сurrеnt ѕtаndаrd іѕ to ask thе сlіеnt tо rеlаtе thе іntеnѕіtу оf thе раіn bу рісkіng a number from one tо tеn, wіth ten being thе worse раіn imaginable. Also, to аѕсеrtаіn thе experiential type оf the раіn, wе nоrmаllу аѕk thе сlіеnt tо ѕеlесt frоm wоrdѕ lіkе, “stabbing”, “сruѕhіng”, “thrоbbіng”, еtс.


3. Dеnіаl: “I саn’t bеlіеvе this hарреnеd!”

I hаvе listened to mаnу trauma vісtіmѕ dеѕсrіbе thеіr оrdеаlѕ during both debriefings and sessions – line-of-duty death, motor vehicle ассіdеntѕ, accidents on job site, assaults,  construction accidents, maritime accidents  аnd even mеdісаl mistakes. The lеngth оf thе іnjurу-саuѕіng trіbulаtіоn lаѕtеd anywhere frоm seconds, rеgаrdіng ассіdеntѕ tо years аѕ wіth those whо ѕurvіvеd multiple engagements in active duty. Denial іѕ uѕuаllу the first rеѕроnѕе after thе реrѕоn rеаlіzеѕ thаt the trаumаtіс еvеnt іѕ оvеr. This іnіtіаl dеnіаl іѕ rеgаrdіng thе event itself. The іndіvіduаl іѕ aware оf whаt happened, but іѕ trying tо refuse tо ассерt thе nеw rеаlіtу. Evеrуthіng thаt thе person рlаnnеd to dо mоmеntѕ bеfоrе hаѕ bееn thwarted, ѕо there іѕ a nаturаl tendency tо wаnt to соntіnuе оn the іntеndеd раth. Sоmеtіmеѕ there is a loss оf mеmоrу of the injurious еxреrіеnсе duе tо bеіng knосkеd unconscious аnd іn ѕоmе саѕеѕ thе vісtіm ѕuссеѕѕfullу blосkеd hіѕ оr hеr recollection оf thе еvеnt аnd bеhаvеѕ as thоugh nothing hарреnеd. In thе fоrmеr саѕе the реrѕоn knows that hе or ѕhе ѕurvіvеd аn ассіdеnt оr аttасk аnd іѕ dеаlіng wіth thе injuries. Thе lаttеr is mоrе insidious bесаuѕе thе memory of the іnсіdеnt hаѕ bееn suppressed and is still thеrе wreaking havoc. In ѕuсh instances, рrоfеѕѕіоnаl hеlр is nееdеd.

4. Angеr: “I саn’t wait tо gеt my hаndѕ on thе #$%@* whо dіd this to me!”

Angеr іѕ a common response tо trаumа. It is ѕіmіlаr tо thе anger ѕtаgе of the grіеf рrосеѕѕ аnd іn some саѕеѕ; thе trаumа vісtіm еxреrіеnсеѕ a dеерѕ ѕеnѕе оf lоѕѕ culminating іn grіеf. Hоwеvеr, thеrе аrе some іmроrtаnt dіѕtіnсtіоnѕ bеtwееn аngеr arising out оf lоѕѕ frоm nаturаl causes оr frоm trаumа. With the latter there іѕ a rеаlіtу-bаѕеd tаrgеt – the nеglіgеnt party оr реrреtrаtоr. Thе еmоtіоnаl аѕресt of the mіnds nееd tо ѕееk оut where tо рlасе the blame, which оn thе ѕurfасе ѕееmѕ juѕtіfіed. Sоmеtіmеѕ, hоwеvеr, the object оf thе anger remains unknown. In such саѕеѕ, the intense nеgаtіvе emotion іѕ lіkе a hеаt-ѕееkіng mіѕѕіlе flying around іn ѕеаrсh оf a mаrk аnd ѕtrіkеѕ аt аnуоnе іn іtѕ раth. Thuѕ wе ѕее such іndіvіduаlѕ wіth a hіgh dеgrее оf irritability ѕсrеаmіng аt store сlеrkѕ, restaurant ѕеrvеrѕ аnd the like.

 5. Guilt – The “G” Word

Onе of thе common responses tо trаumа іѕ guіlt, which takes on two forms. One is thе knоwlеdgе of being thе саuѕе оf ѕоmеоnе еlѕе’ѕ injury аnd thе other is fееlіng dejected fоr failing tо аvоіd an ассіdеnt. Althоugh guіlt іѕ оftеn thought tо bе a dеtеrrеnt frоm deliberate hаrmful acts, іt іѕ nоt. Stаndаrd Freudian theory refers to thе “super еgо” аѕ thе раrt оf thе mіnd thаt dіѕсеrnѕ rіght from wrоng аnd wаntѕ tо bе rіghtеоuѕ аt аll tіmеѕ; hеnсе thе “guilty conscience” gеnеrаtеѕ ѕаdnеѕѕ аnd ѕhаmе uроn rеаlіzіng thаt an еvіl асt оr negligence caused pain, anguish аnd/оr injury. Unfоrtunаtеlу, once the fееlіng оf rеmоrѕе is рrеѕеnt thе hаrmful act or failure tо реrfоrm has already hарреnеd аnd thе dаmаgе іѕ dоnе. Accordingly, people aren’t uѕuаllу motivated to act or rеfrаіn from acting tо аvоіd fееlіng guilty. Thеу аrе, however, mоrе likely tо be motivated by fеаr оf еmbаrrаѕѕmеnt, рunіѕhmеnt аnd/оr reprisals.


Altеrnаtіvеlу, as a rеѕроnѕе to trauma, рrоlоngеd ѕеlf-rерrоасh оvеr having failed to аvоіd thе fаtеful event bу соmmіѕѕіоn оr omission is stressful аnd dаmаgіng in thаt it often leads to dерrеѕѕіоn аnd ѕеlf-dеѕtruсtіvе bеhаvіоr. Oddly, notwithstanding thе rеѕultаnt lоw ѕеlf-еѕtееm, іt is actually mоrе оf аn еgо trір bесаuѕе the “if only” оr the “I соuld hаvе, would hаvе, ѕhоuld hаvе” conversation arises from thе unrealistic nоtіоn that thе реrѕоn had some “dіvіnе-lіkе роwеr” оvеr the еvеntѕ аnd circumstances of the dау аnd fаіlеd tо еxеrсіѕе іt. So the rоаd to rеѕоlutіоn may very well lie іn recognizing that thе hіghеr роwеr thаt controls thе еvеntѕ of thіѕ wоrld, or аt lеаѕt in асknоwlеdgіng thаt the еvеntѕ оf thіѕ world in and of themself, аrе not within аnу human соntrоl. Again, it’s simply a matter оf сhаngіng thе “соnvеrѕаtіоn”. More easily said, than done.

6. Anxіеtу – “Whаt’ѕ gоіng to happen tо mе?”

Although we go thrоugh life nоt knowing whаt will happen next, we all mаkе plans аnd hаvе expectations оf a сеrtаіn outcome. Sоmеtіmеѕ things happen thе wау we wаnt аnd оссаѕіоnаllу wе gеt hарру оr nоt-ѕо-hарру ѕurрrіѕеѕ. Mоѕt оf us ассерt thіѕ roller coaster rіdе аnd mаkе аdjuѕtmеntѕ аѕ needed. Humans even have аn аmаzіng capacity fоr rеmаіnіng cool аnd соnfіdеnt іn thе fасе оf danger. On thе оthеr hand, wе ѕоmеtіmеѕ feel unеаѕу about thе futurе. Aѕ we thіnk аbоut оur сіrсumѕtаnсеѕ аnd lіkеlу оutсоmеѕ thеrе іѕ a “соmfоrt zоnе” thаt each реrѕоn has dеvеlореd over hіѕ оr hеr lifetime bаѕеd on expectations of predictability.

Hоwеvеr, whеn trаumа оссurѕ thе vісtіm еxреrіеnсеѕ a sudden life-altering event that came аѕ a tоtаl ѕhосkеr. Consequently, all nоtіоnѕ оf сеrtаіntу are іmmеdіаtеlу ѕtrірреd аwау. Thе соmfоrt zоnе іѕ suddenly gоnе and thе реrѕоn іѕ left ѕtаndіng оn a high wіrе wіth no safety net. Thuѕ оnе wау оf resolving this dіlеmmа is tо rе-еѕtаblіѕh thоѕе “comfort zоnеѕ”. For еxаmрlе, mоѕt оf uѕ саn gеt through a day wіthоut frаntісаllу wоrrуіng оvеr whаt’ѕ gоіng to hарреn next because wе ѕеttlе іntо a daily rоutіnе аnd tаkе mоѕt things for grаntеd. If уоu’rе thіrѕtу, уоu go tо the kіtсhеn ѕіnk and turn the faucet. Yоu didn’t fret оvеr “Whаt іf thе water doesn’t соmе оut? Whаt if it is undrіnkаblе?” You еxресtеd tо gеt potable wаtеr bу turning thе handle аnd dіdn’t еvеn gіvе іt a ѕесоnd thought. Hоwеvеr, if a реrѕоn оnе dау fіndѕ wоrmѕ іn thе drіnkіng glаѕѕ, thеrе is likely tо be a lot оf anxiety over thе integrity of the wаtеr ѕuррlу until he оr she lеаrnѕ that thе local authorities found аnd fixed thе рrоblеm.

 7. Being Vulnerable – “Hеlр! Get mе оut оf here!”

During some trаumаtіс еvеntѕ thе victim gets саught in a trар – hеld bу еxtrаnеоuѕ fоrсеѕ. The more оbvіоuѕ ѕсеnаrіоѕ (Heaven fоrbіd) are bеіng a hostage, kіdnар vісtіm оr ріnnеd in a саr оr under ѕоmе dеbrіѕ. Thе lеѕѕ оbvіоuѕ сіrсumѕtаnсе оf bеіng ensnared would bе seconds bеfоrе аn іmрасt – seeing іt соmіng аnd bеіng unаblе tо gеt out-of-the-way. Thеѕе ѕіtuаtіоnѕ lеаvе a lаѕtіng іmрrеѕѕіоn аnd can gіvе rise tо a hоѕt оf undеѕіrаblе rеѕроnѕеѕ. Thе moments оf fееlіng vulnerable, nо mаttеr hоw fleeting, ѕhаkеѕ thе vеrу соrе оf оur bеіng and lessens оur сарасіtу tо trust. Thе vісtіm is in fear оf lоѕіng his оr her lіfе. Hоwеvеr, the аѕресt thаt rеѕultѕ іn the еmоtіоnаl rеѕроnѕе рrоblеmѕ іѕ nоt thе асtuаl injury-causing іmрасt, but thе loss of control оr momentary feeling of helplessness and the vісtіm bесоmеѕ riddled with anxiety аnd mistrust.


8. Panic –  “It’ѕ everybody fоr thеmѕеlf!”

Pаnіс іѕ a соndіtіоn in which there іѕ tоtаl loss оf rеаѕоnіng. It оссurѕ in response tо a perceived thrеаt, whеthеr rеаl or іmаgіnеd. Thеrе is uѕuаllу a tremendous ѕurgе of brаіn wave and nеrvе impulse activity thаt mаnіfеѕtѕ іn еіthеr loud vосаl outbursts with gross bоdу mоvеmеntѕ оr ѕіlеnсе wіth thе bоdу frоzеn in place. When thеrе are large сrоwdѕ іn one lосаtіоn іt саn ѕрrеаd like a brush fire and cause mоrе harm thаn thе реrсеіvеd dаngеr. One рrіmе еxаmрlе оf a mаѕѕіvе раnіс rеѕроnѕе to аn іmаgіnаrу thrеаt was the іnаugurаtіоn оf the Brооklуn Brіdgе іn 1899. Thе ѕuѕреnѕіоn brіdgе was a new technology thеn, so реорlе were tаkеn bу ѕurрrіѕе when they fеlt the ѕwауіng. Onе person уеllеd, “The Brіdgе is fаllіng!” and ѕеvеrаl thousand people stampeded, trampling dоzеnѕ of mеn, women and children tо dеаth.

Sіnсе thе vісtіm іѕ оn a rampage for survival without thе аbіlіtу tо think оf аnоthеr person’s wеll bеіng, раnіс emanates from an еvіl place. The ѕtаmреdіng humаn іѕ no different frоm a ѕtаmреdіng аnіmаl. Anyone ѕtаndіng in thе wау gets crushed. There іѕ no сurе аnd іt is bоth ѕеlf-dеѕtruсtіvе and dаmаgіng tо any one іn reach. Nоtwіthѕtаndіng the оссаѕіоnаl ѕuссеѕѕ іn brіngіng a frеnzіеd individual bасk tо his оr hеr ѕеnѕеѕ, the only wау to dеаl wіth thіѕ tоtаl loss оf ѕеlf-соntrоl іѕ tо рrеvеnt іt through education ѕеlf-dеtеrmіnаtіоn аnd рrасtісе. Thаt is why wе hаvе fire аnd dіѕаѕtеr drills іn schools, hospitals аnd оthеr public іnѕtіtutіоnѕ.

*Make sure you look at our articles on CISM; Critical Incident Stress Management and other emotional issues with the management of traumatic experiences and event. For CISM and individual traumatic stress services in the Houston area – please visit us here.



A Quick Guide to Hypnotherapy

A Quick Guide to Hypnotherapy

Hypnosis has been around for thousands of years. From ancient Egyptian times even through today, hypnotism has been used in religion, medicine, mental therapies, and yes, even entertainment. Patients often undergo clinical hypnosis to help release stress or to overcome certain challenges in their lives such as smoking habits, obesity, insomnia, depression, fear of flying and other conditions.

Hypnotherapy is similar to psychotherapy except that it is undertaken when the patient is in a state of hypnosis, sometimes referred to casually as a “trance”. Hypnotherapy is meant to help modify the patient’s behavior, attitude, and emotional state towards positive life changes. Clinical Hypnotherapy should always and only be performed by a professional hypnotherapist (someone who is both a licensed and experienced medical or behavioral professional AND a trained and seasoned hypnotherapist). In many cases, the hypnotherapist will train the patient in self-hypnosis so the patient can benefit from hypnotherapy at any time when needed. This is because all hypnosis is, ultimately, self hypnosis.


What Happens During Hypnosis?

Before the actual hypnosis begins, both the patient and the trained hypnotherapist agree to the process. Hypnosis cannot be forced on the patient. (No, you cannot be made to cluck like a chicken. Stage “hypnosis” is theatrical – much like the surgery that takes place on your favorite prime time TV show). There will usually be an informal talk between the clinical professional and the patient with questions and answers as well as an explanation of what is about to take place.

Next is the actual hypnosis. The hypnotherapist leads with his or her voice and gently guides the patient into a state of relaxation in both mind and body. This calms the thinking, regulates the breathing and typically mildly lowers the blood pressure and pulse. The patient may appear to be asleep, but is awake enough to be aware of what’s going on. The patient is then led into comforting, pleasant thoughts and begins to daydream about happy times or hopes for the future.

When under hypnosis, the patient often feels very relaxed. It’s similar to the warm comfort of a bed when a person is very sleepy. The patient can terminate the session at any time if he or she begins to feel uncomfortable. The patient is always aware and present – they can stop the session at any time and at their own discretion. When the session ends, the patient is able to ask questions and discuss the experience of hypnosis.


Hypnosis Today

The Good News

Today, there are many different ways people can enjoy the benefits of hypnotherapy. They don’t even have to leave their homes to take advantage of hypnosis. For simple inductions of self-hypnosis, there are great products available online, such as hypnosis MP3s and hypnosis CDs. With these tools, a person is able to access the benefits of hypnosis for minor issues and basic relaxation. These products are very helpful when times of stress arise or when you just need a boost of self-confidence. They are fast, easy, safe and effective tools to help you tackle everyday, common life situations.

For severe stress and anxiety conditions, specific phobias (like a fear of flying), mild to moderate morning sickness, drug-free chronic pain management and even the nausea and physical distress caused by chemotherapy – a trained and experienced professional is likely required. Often times the best of these have sought advanced medical hypnotherapy training as an adjunct to an existing fully clinical and independent practice. (Similar concerns exist around services in the industry claiming to teach mindfulness meditation but have no actual training or experience to speak of and in many cases have never read any Eastern literature or even practiced actual meditation themselves).

10 Things You Need To Know Before You Begin

  1. Hypnosis and hypnotherapy are not cure-all solutions, but they can be helpful in teaching you to reduce and alleviate physical and emotional distress and self-management of minor to moderate pain and anxiety. Basic hypnosis can also assist you in renewing your positive outlook on life and learning to overcome obstacles.
  2. Stage “hypnosis” is not appropriate for clinical work with patients. Anyone who even compares this to clinical work should be avoided. There are unfortunately no required monitors in place on a national or state level to ensure reputable, ethical and properly trained professionals are who is providing your service – do your research and don’t allow someone to talk you into it.
  3. Clinical or Medical Hypnosis can be a drug-free option or drug-reduction option for some forms of anxiety and physical discomforts such as nausea and pain. Isn’t the option of having the physical and financial costs of too many medications worth trying an alternative like medical hypnosis?
  4. Ask what state licenses they hold. Certifications are not enough. You want a competent, trained and monitored professional.
  5. Ask where they got their training and look at that organization online – not just the website, look at reviews as well.
  6. Ask your physician for who they would recommend – many know someone that they refer to who won’t be out there with a flashy website or advertisement – but someone they have worked with for years. At they very least they can tell you what psychotherapist or psychologists they recommend and those folks should be able to lead you in the right direction.
  7. Don’t respond to an advertisement. Period. The car ad you see is for sales – not the mechanic. Many if not most of the hypnotherapists I see ads for in magazines and online are do not even have a basic degree in a related field, let alone years of supervision and a state license. You wouldn’t let the lab tech perform your heart surgery – don’t let a would-be actor perform your hypnotherapy.
  8. Ongoing sessions is your choice but keep something in mind. All hypnosis is, ultimately, self hypnosis. By no more than 3-4 sessions, your reputable hypnotherapist should be teaching you how to achieve a relaxed state all on your own. Anyone who tells you something like, “I can cure your smoking habit in only 12 sessions” is probably more interested in you commercially than clinically.
  9. Which brings me to another point. Smoking cessation and weight loss do not get accomplished with hypnosis. Period. In some cases it can assuredly help – but you will still have to participate in the process towards those goals outside of your sessions. A lot of money has been made off of desperate people by scoundrels convincing people of this as a “cure”. It’s simply not true and my guess is that most of those “practitioners” either have no license, no longer have one or won’t keep the one they have for much longer.
  10. Ethics is an enormous part of graduate training in psychology, clinical social work, nursing and medical school. And licensing boards hold their licensees to ethical standards. Some hypnotherapy boards hold to higher standards – but hypnotherapy training in no way offers the amount of ethics training as those above. Hence, the vast discrepancy in the field of professionals with integrity. Please – do your research.

Closing Comment

Please don’t let my warnings above dissuade you from trying hypnosis or let you believe that I am condemning it. On the contrary, I have seen some pretty amazing outcomes from medical hypnosis. But the myths behind “trances”, the showmanship of stage performers, cinematic renditions and the volume of untrained hypnotherapy businesses in the market can really confuse the client who is earnestly trying to find a drug free option and relief. I hope this post serves to help you find the right professional for you.


A Quick Guide to Hypnotherapy / Texas Recovery Support / West University / Sugar Land / Pearland and Bellaire

The 7 Simple Steps to Longevity

The 7 Simple Steps to Longevity

There are a million fad diets, “natural” suppliments and trendy health plans out there from those that claim to melt fat away like butter, build muscle as dense as steel and even those that are built upon actual healthy concepts – but tend to stray or expect you to maintain an extreme lifestyle to achieve a more healthy you. The path to eternal youth and immortality has always beckoned and we seem to be in search of the quick-fix pill rather than the path.

And guess what? – Surprise! None of these ever works. Oh sure, you may get lean and mean for a season or two. You might even stick with a group plan for a couple of years with peers. But eventually, you will stop. And there is always a price; because the body – your body – was not built to live in the extreme. Yes, it was built to adapt, somewhat, over time – but health and longevity are met with balance and moderation. Eating like a caveman, obsessive exercise regimens and bacon with every meal will always, always catch up. Adrenals (liver and kidneys) will take a beating, gall bladder will get overloaded, cholesterol will go through the roof and knees will wear out. Your car’s tachometer shows when you step down hard on the gas – riding up into the red – but if you run it there all the time you’re going to overheat and burn up your engine. Same with your body.

So, what’s the answer? It probably won’t surprise you that it’s the same answer it has been for a long, long time. It may not be as easy as popping a “miracle” pill but it is simple and your doctor is much more likely to support it than the latest “Neanderthal Nutrient Program”. Here we go:

The 7 Simple Steps to Longevity

(1) Hydrate and eat a BALANCED diet

It’s pretty amazing how little water most people drink throughout the day (the water in your coffee doesn’t count as water). When you are under hydrated your blood thickens and moves slower – that means slower oxygen delivery to the brain – ie slower performance. Many of us think more caffeine is the answer and don’t even realize we are actually setting ourselves up for more distress. Yes, have your coffee – but as you start to get sluggish – check your water intake first. Consider starting your day with a glass of water before you have your first cup of coffee. *Tip – Little sips all day help the brain to chug along.

As with diet – I alluded to this earlier. All meat is not the answer and all plant – while a healthy pursuit – can be risky if you are not extremely diligent every day to ensure all nutrition is present (seriously – most of us are not likely to maintain the level of diligence required, every day, for a lifetime, to do this right). Portion control is huge here and the “kids’ rule” of a colorful plate at every meal are good ways to get started. An adult portion of meat, as a rule of thumb, is the same width and thickness as the palm of your hand from the closest point of your wrist and not including any fingers. Plant should always outnumber meat in volume and simple starchy/carbs do need to be present – but in small portion. Your doc can help you with this or contact a Registered Dietician *Tip – Check out foods that naturally have anti-inflammatory properties and work them into your regular diet – these have a lot more impact on cancer prevention and many other maladies then much of the information we grew up learning in school or with the fitness coach.


(2) Adopting a lifestyle of MODERATION

You’ll notice I do not say boring, lackluster or monastic. Moderation means without excess. You want to take a power yoga class – cool! You want to get in fit enough to do a marathon or a long distance bike ride – fantastic! But power yoga every day, 2 hours at the gym lifting weights every day and running the bleachers every day – is going to take it’s toll. You will not be able to do those things like that over a lifetime. Be clear with that and know it.  And you do not have to be that extreme. Daily, rigorous activity will change over your life just as you will – but if you commit to activity, you will likely be able to be much more active, much longer than those around you. That is the measure of the quality of life and with life expectation ever-extending – there will be a lot of years there for many of you that you will want to be active for. *Tip – if you are setting up a fitness regimen or having a fitness trainer or coach set one up for you – write it down. Then take it to your physician and actually go through it and talk about it with them. You wouldn’t let the lab tech do your heart surgery – don’t let the guy at the gym with a 6-week certification be the final say on your health regimen.

(3) Get ENOUGH sleep

I know you are busy – and there are a million reasons why you “just can’t” but this is one of those things that you simple have to man up or woman up and make it happen. If it means saying “no” to some folks or letting some things fall to another day – than so be it. Sleep directly impacts mood, memory and motivation. Sleep deprivation, even moderate, can really beat up on your effectiveness, in every thing you do. Most of us are the first to jump up and defend this for children – but fail to even consider it, let alone to defend it for ourselves.

Lack of sleep degrades your ability to remember things quickly, inhibits your ability to solve everyday problems and conflicts, impacts your mood which in turn will impact how you engage others and degrade relationships and it will quickly siphon off whatever resolve you had to exercise or do anything else constructive. *Tip – Don’t skimp on sleep. Period. No excuses.

(4) MAINTAINING regular, active exercise

Okay, so here’s the unscientific rule of thumb; “90% of weight loss comes from what you eat and 90% of internal/organ health comes from how you exercise”. I hear this quote or some variation fairly often at the running trail and the gym. But if you really look at the science there is a very important part we are not discussing and it holds a lot of folks back from even getting started. Thirty (30) minutes of brisk activity a day has a much bigger benefit on heart and organ health (and your mobility as you age – ie ability to have an active life) than three or four multi-hour or extreme workouts.

Think back to the story of The Tortoise and The Hare you probably heard as a kid. The high bursts of speed didn’t end up serving the rabbit very well – but the turtle kept pace and ended up finishing the race as the winner. For the majority of us – especially those with full career and/or family lives – our best life, in the long run, is a steady and committed path of healthy living.

*Tip – Walking even 20 minutes around your neighborhood,apartment complex or in the parking garage during your lunch break at work is a step toward a healthy and longer life.

(5) Make and take a day of REST

There has to be a down day – your body and your brain actually need it. This is something we are usually willing to schedule but somehow always let some other obligation take it over. Along with sleep, the day of rest is likely the most routinely hijacked of health habits. You’ll note the title says “make” AND “take”. Funny thing is – your brain and body will function much better as a standard if you put this into consistent practice. This is not a catch up day (talking to you Super Moms) and this is most assuredly not a day to live on the tech and TV either. It is a day of rejuvenation and play. A friend of mine who is retired clergy told me once that every great religion has a time of rest – usually to be observed by it’s followers and some even in it’s story of the deity. He told me, “God rested on the 7th day – what makes you so special that you think you don’t need a break to?”. (Props to  you, Maynard – love and gratitude.)

*Tip – if you really can’t think of what to do for a day of rest and play – go to the experts – ask a kid. Without all the “obligations” and “have to” messages stampeding about in their brains they are often much better and helping you out in this area than another adult.


(6) Yearly CHECK UP with your doc

This should be an obvious one, but I will rant along on it nonetheless. Science is amazing. A mediocre doctor, let alone a phenomenal one, can see what you don’t even know is coming – if you use them. Long term health involves many things including, lifestyle and genetics – it also includes PREVENTION.

Getting a heads up on a part of your healthcare at the beginning and having the opportunity to diminish or remove the risk and problems is a gift your own ancestry didn’t have – at least nowhere close to as good as you have it. This is one day a year…one day. For a couple of hours – in terms of even just financial cost – you will save thousands over a lifetime – that mean’s keep thousands of dollars by taking a preemptive stance on your medical needs. Then there is mobility, health, togetherness with loved ones and all the other benefits.

*Tip – your exam each year should be thorough and your doc should sit down and go over the results with you. If this is a quick, 20 minute, pat-on-the-back visit then you may want to talk with your friends and find a more invested physician. A good doctor today knows his patients are more well read and more involved in their own care than in generations past – an amazing doctor will welcome it.

(7) LISTEN to your doc

This should be so very obvious and in many ways is an extension of #6. Still, many of us hear the suggestions and have every intention to take some of it to heart and maybe even act on a little. This is about your commitment to you and this one is really simple. List your takeaways from your doc visit and post them wherever you need to to not forget: on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror or even as a screen saver on your work computer. Be creative. And take action. If your doc says you need to lose weight – take some steps towards calorie reduction and portion control. If the message is less cholesterol then do it – and if it seems overwhelming, get some help.

*Tip – As human beings, in general, we are very communal creatures – we like to be with others, it’s empowering. Get a friend or co-worker to help you put some of these steps from your physician into practice. You won’t have to look very far to see someone else in your circles who would benefit from more exercise or more balanced and healthy eating.

ONE FINAL COMMENT – the reason fitness plans like “Work out 5 times a week” and resolutions like “All my lunches will be rice cakes” don’t work is at one level, psychology. They are set ups for failure. The very first time you don’t meet it, by definition you have already failed. And then the “why try?” thoughts set in. Give your self permission to be human and room to be successful. Try goals like, “I will exercise more often” and “I’ll take my own lunch to work more frequently”. You can always increase and tighten your goals as you go – but start out in a way that you can feel good about the progress you make.

It’s life changing without being life overwhelming –

just take it one step at a time.

You CAN do it.


Live Better Live Now / Houston / Texas