Mentoring and memories

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I belong to this great group called DC Therapist Moms.  It is pretty clear who they are: therapists who are moms that live in the DC Metropolitan area.  Their main function is to host a listserve where therapists post on a daily basis about anything and everything.  Questions about specific clinical topics, looking for referrals for their clients, suggestions on business practices or inquiries about books or conferences including off topic posts like ‘in search of a nanny’.  It is a wonderful resource and has truly changed my professional life.

They have a mentoring program that I used last year when I began my private practice. I met with a wonderful woman who had been in private practice a little longer than I had and I picked her brain about EVERYTHING. It was so nice to   be able to ask every last question that was swimming through my  brain. She has since become a friend and is part of my wonderful peer supervision group.

This week it was my turn to be the mentor.  I met with a therapist who is starting her private practice.  She is a decade plus younger than me and has a toddler and a baby on the way;  talk about different life stages.

It was a really nice meeting; we shared our work histories, that we both went to the same graduate program (of course, she was in diapers when I was there) and various other war stories from the social work field.  I processed about  a difficult client that I had sat with the day before since it was somewhat close to her area of expertise and I shared with her my special interest in the area of adoption.  She hadn’t worked with adopted clients so it was fun to be able to answer her questions and reflect on my experience with that population.

We also talked about  our kids, day care challenges and balancing it all.

I heard some really fascinating things from this young mom that I hadn’t expected.  She was interested to hear that I hadn’t gone into private practice  until recently.  I explained that I wasn’t ready until my kids were older and I could put more energy into building a business.  She appreciated how hard it was to balance the daycare, sick kid and early school release days with a busy practice.  I told her  that when I had a fixed schedule working for an agency it worked better with day care and now that the kids were older and more self-sufficient, it was easier for me to come and go and have a more random schedule.

As she processed my journey, I was able to see it in an objective way.  I hadn’t really planned my career path or thought it out, it kind of just happened that way (I tend to live that way, uber planner, I am not).  And yet, as I recollected my process with my colleague, I realized that it made sense. My professional career has worked very well with our family life.

I have always been very grateful that since my oldest son was born, I have had the opportunity to work part-time.  As I sat in playgroups with other moms of babies and toddlers and we ranted on about family-work balance, I truly believed that I had the best of  both worlds.  My Tuesdays and  Thursdays have forever been my work days; that was when I would put on grown-up clothes, interact with other adults, and continue to learn and  practice my profession.  The other days were filled with diapers, playgroups, laundry and nap time.  I wouldn’t have traded that lifestyle for anything.

As I set out for our meeting at Starbucks the other morning, I certainly had no idea that these thoughts would have been generated.  I am glad that this young mom-therapist was able to send me on a little tour of memory lane.  It doesn’t help that we are about to have our basement painted and this morning I  removed all of the artwork from pre-school from the old chipped painted walls.

Ah, the journey of life, hop aboard, it is a fast moving and crazy ride.

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Non-Snow Day Snow Day

Yeh, not so much this time

Yeh, not so much this time

This morning during my regularly scheduled check on FB for what’s going on in my little world, I saw a conversation about whether there would be an early dismissal from school today.  The Boston girl that I am rolled my eyes and moved on with the  morning.  During my wonderful peer supervision group where we were discussing a pretty intense therapy case my son texted that school might close early.  Not five minutes later, my friend and colleague heard from her husband, a teacher for the school system, that school was, in fact closing early.  And then, during the next 30 minutes, each of the five of us therapists in the room got a text or a call from either a spouse or the robo school system informing that school would be letting out two hours early due to an impending forecast of 1-2 inches of snow.

By the time I got home, there were 25 minutes before the first child rolled in.  About an hour later the next one hopped in with a gust of energy and then the last one, with car privileges who had politely asked if he could go out to lunch with some friends, entered the house.

By this time the first one and I were cozied up on the couch.  The sky was grey, my kids were home and the husband called that he was on the way home since he has been fighting a cold all week.  Talk to me mid-Monday when they are bored out of their mind and still have another day and a half before they go back to school due to teacher work days, but in that moment, I had this nice warm feeling when I realized everyone was home and safe, warm and cozy (and not fighting).

I always laugh at how snow is handled in this “pseudo-Southern” area.  But, I have to admit that once in a while, being home with everyone and cozying up is nice.  Like I said, call me next week and we’ll see where I am on this subject, but until then, be safe and warm, my friends.


Teenage Depression and Suicide Presentation

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How many of you loyal readers remember this post about a presentation that I was being trained to give about teen suicide and depression? The presentation was last week at my synagogue and it went really well.

There were about sixteen high school kids ranging from ninth to eleventh grades that met with the Religious School Director and another volunteer therapist from our congregation.  Ivy Weitzner, our liaison from Jewish Social Services of Northern Virginia and I met with their parents, about 19 in all (some of the kids had both parents present).

Ivy and I met with the parents in the sanctuary. It was a calm and serene setting for our presentation and discussion.  We shared some scary statistics about teenage suicide such that suicide is the third leading cause of death for those ages 10-24,  children and particularly adolescents who suffer from depression are at much greater risk of dying by suicide than are children without depression (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999), and children who first become depressed before puberty are at risk for some form of mental disorder in adulthood. Five years ago, 1 in 25 teenagers were making suicidal attempts, today 1 in 12 teens are attempting suicide.

We talked about some common risk factors for teenage suicide:

  • previous suicide attempt(s)
  • History of mental disorders, particularly depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide or child abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness or isolation
  • Loss or interpersonal conflict (problems with school or the law)
  • Physical illness

and some of the warning signs that demand immediate attention:

  • Talking or writing about suicide or death
  • Giving direct verbal cues “I wish I were dead” or less direct verbal cues “You will be better off without me”
  • Expressing that life is meaningless and/or isolating from family and friends
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Neglecting appearance or  hygiene
  • Dropping out of school or other activities or groups
  • Obtaining weapons (gun, knives, sharp objects) or prescription medication
  • Exhibiting a sudden and unexplained improvement in mood after being depressed or withdrawn (this often signifies that the person has made the decision to end their life. Once the decision is made, the weight is lifted and the person feels a sense of relief which can translate into an unexpected euphoria)

We then talked about indicators that could help prevent suicidal behavior such as supportive family relationships, good social skills and knowing where to seek help when difficulties arise. Additional protective features are connection to extra curricula activities and having good relationships with ‘other’ adults that were not necessarily the teen’s parent.

The DVD that I talked about in detail in the original post was viewed (I tactically suggested we cut out the cheesy dramatizations and instead focus on the people that shared their real life experiences.  I was even thanked by one of the parent participants for sparing her the cheese factor).

The discussion that ensued was beautiful.   There were tears and fear and honesty.  Parents shared about their personal experiences, their experiences with their kids and various stories about what their kids had endured be it depression, the loss of a friend or exposure to cutting (an important note that cutting is not necessarily a suicidal attempt, it can be, but it can also be an unhealthy way that one deals with emotional pain).

It was lovely to see how the group respected one another and offered compassion, or in some cases a tissue.  One parent shared that he and his daughter had read the book, Willow by Julia Hoban  about a girl who coped with a tragedy via cutting. Others (myself included) copied down the book information as a resource for our kids.  The group felt safe, they asked amazing questions and allowed for a rich and thoughtful dialogue about such a scary and poignant topic.

The review from the teen group was that it went equally as well.  I polled a couple of teens on their way out and they gave me a thumb’s up.  The leaders of the teens were impressed with their maturity with this difficult subject and with much of the discussion and candid responses that were shared.

One of the parents shared with me in an email that “the best part (for me) was the discussion it provoked in the car on the way home with my 16 year old daughter.  Having had separate but similar sessions we were able to compare them, and this led to us talking without awkwardness.  I shared about my post-natal depression, and she discussed her stress at school (nothing rising to the level of depression, thank goodness), but we both felt reassured that the door was always open between us, and that is a very valuable outcome”

We will be repeating this program at another synagogue at the end of the month.  I feel honored to have the opportunity to spread such a powerful message and hopefully make a difference for those that are struggling with these mental health challenges.

As always, if there is EVER a question about someone’s safety or risk of suicide the National Suicide Hotlines are available 24 hours/day 7 days/week.

1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)


The Bridge

I wrote this last year for my website when  I was creating  laurielevinelcsw.com.  I went back to it recently to refer it to a client that is struggling with committing to therapy.  She is hesitant and scared, resistant and angry.  I get it, therapy is hard which is why I wrote this; I know how difficult it is to get started and commit to therapy. I know how scary, painful and raw you can feel while in the process.  I happen to also know how freeing it can be once you get started and see that changes can be made. 
Read on:
Therapy can be like crossing a bridge.
You may be hesitant to approach it and take the first step.
You might feel  anxious about beginning the journey and perhaps ambivalent, frustrated and even scared during the crossing.
There will be times that you want to give up and turn around because going forward will feel painful and overwhelming.
But you will persevere; you will find that eventually, each step becomes easier and lighter.
You will begin to feel hope and your step might just become a prance or a strut.
There may be a bump or two on the bridge; it might slow you down for a bit, but then you will be right back to your easy pace.
As you get  closer to the other side of the bridge you will look back at where you started and feel a huge sense of relief.
You crossed the bridge; you got to the other side where there is a beautiful and joyful place for you to continue towards one step at a time.
I wish you a smooth ride and look forward to helping you on your journey.
-Laurie
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All kinds of nourishment inside the walls of Costco

I just left Costco and am proud to say that I spent under $200!! Woo hoo!!  I only bought food that we needed, it was mostly healthy and things that we will enjoy and nourish our bodies (frozen pizza and those flat pretzel thingies included).   What I saw when perusing the aisles during a mid-morning weekday was what looked like many  moms stocking up their carts for their families.  Yogurt, milk, juice, fruits and vegetables and the all too common granola bar of one form or another.   Why this struck me, I am not sure.   I snickered thinking about the moms in America loading up their carts in this huge wear house to feed their families.  I went so far as to imagine moms in other countries trekking to the village to grab many of the same items from local markets also to feed and nourish their families.

That is what we do; we nourish our families physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I was listening to  a really good podcast today during a walk prior to the Costco adventure.  The guest on the podcast, Elyse Resch, was talking about intuitive eating for kids.  One of the things that most resonated with me was to create a healthy relationship with food for our kids, we need to first address our own relationship with food.  I heard her talk about nourishing ourselves both physically and emotionally in order to be present and grounded to nourish our kids.

I have worked with many women who forget that second piece: the self-care.  These are the women that are at Costco and Target, they volunteer at school, make the cookies for the teacher back-to-school lunch and many of them also work.  When I ask what they do for themselves the common response is “there is no time for me”.

My friends, we have to make time for ourselves, or we aren’t any good for those that we love.  I have used the metaphor of blowing up a balloon; that is how we inflate ourselves so that we aren’t saggy and enervated.

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By filling ourselves up in the form of yoga, a good book, a movie date or a girl’s night out we can become bouncy and buoyant and playful.  I always find that I am more available to help my family and clients when I have filled up myself.

I honestly had no idea where this post was headed after seeing the carts at Costco, but on the way home it started writing itself in my head.  I must have sensed that one of the moms orbiting around the grapes and bananas seemed overwhelmed.  I saw signs of a saggy balloon and wanted to give her a big burst of self-care.

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Let’s make 2013 a great one!

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Welcome to 2013!

I am not one for New Year’s resolutions;  I try to live  one day at a time in a mindful way.  I like to think about my daily intentions  be they personal, for my family and friends or professionally.  Believe me, not all days are thought out and purposeful, but that would be my goal in a perfect world (enter those days of 7 clients, kids with multiple practices and no dinner on the table; purposeful is out the window).  All this talk about resolutions feels like a marketing ploy in my mind; it is the gym’s way to get more business.

I do find that the beginning of  new year can be a time for reflection.  How did things go over the past twelve months and what is in store for the next twelve.   I know many people that sit down with their partners and map out the calendar year: vacations, summer plans, budgets, doctor’s appointments.   I tend to live on the other end of that spectrum “what, Spring Break is next week? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?”  There is no right or wrong, it is what works best for you individually and for your family.

There are those that decide they want to make inner changes as they reflect on where they have been and where they are going.  Some have struggled with depression and are ready to take that first step to walk away from the heaviness, others may find that they are ready to face their anxiety and be rid of that beast for good and then some may be assessing negative relationships and considering opportunities to feel more positive and free.

Whatever your struggle, please remember that you deserve to feel joy.   If you are stuck in the muck, treat yourself to whatever help it is that you think you need to be free from the demons; we all deserve to have joy and peace.

Happy New Year, let’s make it a great one!!

Laurie