I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist providing faith-based, trauma-informed therapy for individuals and families. My heart is to see hurting people saved, healed and delivered. Currently, I am practicing in my Avila Beach, California office but travel internationally educating parents and professionals on adoption and permanency skills. You can schedule an office visit online now or take a free online course at FamilyHealerSchool.com
In order to develop a more resilient sense of self, Ron Huxley has created a new series called “Reflections for Resiliency”. The reflections are free to use for your inner development and self-care. This is a sample of what you will get in a new course on resilience at FamilyHealer.tv, coming Fall 2020.
In this first blog on personal reflections, Ron Huxley provides direction on living a worry-free life. Use them as proclamations over your life and shift the atmosphere of your home and relationships. Use a journal along side each reflection to write our thought own thoughts and feelings. Answer the Self-Reflection Questions at the end to help you apply them to your life.
Be sure to share this blog post with your family and friends…
I Live A Worry-Free Life
There is no better way to live than to live a life full of joy, health, peace, and happiness.
I choose to live a worry-free life because I know that anxiety crowds out productivity. I can and do plan for the future, but I realize that the only moment I can control is the present.
I use the creativity and wisdom I have gained from my experiences to make the best plans I can for the future. I realize, however, that even the most carefully laid plans are just ideas – figments of my imagination susceptible to factors outside my control. By acknowledging that I have no control over the future, I free myself from the dead end of worry.
I choose to conserve my mental and emotional energy by keeping my focus on the reality of what is in front of me. I make the most of this moment and trust that I will be able to handle the next when it comes.
When my focus is on this moment, I am alert and able to recognize the people who are invaluable to me. When my focus is on this moment, I am able to take advantage of new opportunities that come my way and create a life that is rich and rewarding.
By letting go of worry, I free myself to use my energy to be productive in the here and now.
Am I wasting time fretting about something that is outside my control? Why?
What do I realistically gain by worrying?
What can I do, today, to help me live a worry-free life?
A parent coach is a professional who helps parents cultivate better relationships with their children. A coach provides insight, education, and direction that is concrete and practical. Although similar to therapy, coaching focuses more on short-term plans than processing emotions or working through past traumas. It doesn’t mean that parent coaching can’t provide this type of processing, but it is not its primary focus.
Parenting coaches help in a variety of ways:
Behavioral problems help parents find strength-based ways to address children’s challenges, such as sibling rivalry, defiance, talking back, aggression, running away, meltdowns, and more.
Parenting self-care, managing adult stressors, and find balance in work, family, and social life.
Cope with transitions and crises that occur in life and the world. With all of its effects on schooling, work, and isolation, our current pandemic is a common crisis all parents must learn to manage.
Developmental and emotional concerns in children need expert insight and detailed plans when depression, anxiety, or delays present themselves.
Any family structure can utilize parent coaching. The traditional family of yesterday is the nontraditional of today. It can include two parents families, divorced parents, single parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, foster and adoptive parenting, same-sex parents, and multigenerational families.
Coaches typically have a master’s degree or higher in education or family counseling or completed a parent coaching certification. They should have experience in the specific area of specialty, such as aggressive teenagers or adoption.
Coaching sessions are usually briefer than traditional therapy with 1 to 5 sessions. Each session has a specific outcome with homework to test “in the field” and then feedback and further revision until a parent feels change is happening.
Ron Huxley is a licensed marriage and family therapist with 30 years of experience in parenting, family therapy, and specialized clinical issues, such as anxiety and trauma. He has served as the director of several clinical programs that utilized a coaching model. He is the author of the book “Love and Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting” and founder of the FamilyHealer.tv online school. You can set up a coaching or therapy appointment with him now. Just click here to schedule a time.
Teens often feel insecure and anxious about growing up. While this might not be surprising to you, but most teens act as if this was not true. Everyone understands the typical developmental angst that accompanies the teen world. This pandemic is causing everyone, regardless of their age, to feel uncertainty and angst as well.
Teen’s innate drive for independence causes them to behave as if they are superhuman. They talk about what they will do when they are old enough to be on their own, and although they can’t wait to be an adult, the truth is that they are frightened. Feelings of insecurity will crack their thin shell of confidence. Parents see these cracks in their safe expressions of sarcasm and anger. Anger is a useful cover for the insecurities in their hearts.
The challenge for parents is to increase teenagers’ feelings of real confidence to succeed in life. This confidence comes from experience, and experience is filled with failures. Failure and disappointment are part of the learning cycle of life.
Parents can model this reality and cope with it to provide their teen with an example of mature adulthood. Parents don’t need to “fake” toughness to their teens. Be willing to confess times when you were unsuccessful and what it taught you. It may not have been that long ago!
When teens fail, reframe it as a normal part of life that teaches us how not to behave again in the future. This is the definition of “wisdom.” If your teens make a mistake and they will… Don’t make a personal issue of it? Stay focused on solutions. You have just discovered one solution that won’t work in the future. Work on finding solutions together and be a strong cheerleader for your teen as they learn.
Teens may have the “hardware” of adulthood, but they lack the “software” of experience that we all have to download through experience. All of their experience has been of being a child and problem solving as a child. The adult world is new, and even if they don’t admit it, scary. Don’t be surprised if their actions and reactions are childish.
Parents’ challenge is to keep from overreacting to behaviors and, instead, teach them the skills necessary for life. Despite their isolation and one-word responses, try to spend time with them, have open conversations about life, don’t judge or criticize their ideas, explore their hopes and dreams, and model emotions and thoughts transparently. Most importantly, be patient with teens. Remember what it was like for you as a teen. No, remember! The mind has a built-in defense that causes us to remember the good and ignore the bad. Please dig deep and meditate on what it felt like to be a teen. This will give you more empathy for them, and empathy will provide you with the patience to teach them.
Emotional Intelligence is one of the most important attributes of success at home and school (and later in life, in business). This is because EQ is about being self-aware and socially sophisticated. The better children are at understanding and managing the world of emotion and social interactions, the better they will be at controlling anxiety.
Another way of looking at EQ is to say that “emotional intelligence is being able to feel an emotion without having to act on it.”
Emotional IQ Training
Howard Gardner, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education, has suggested that there are many different types of intelligence, not just academic (linguistic and math) ones. He refers to these as talents that all children possess, male or female. Being able to use these talents is what makes people successful and satisfied in life. Peter Salovey, another psychologist, refines Gardner’s talents into five main domains of emotional intelligence:
Knowing one’s emotions
Recognizing emotions in others
and Handling relationships.
In order to help boy and girls develop all of these areas of emotional intelligence and use it to cope with stress and anxiety, we have to intentionally implement “learning opportunities” into their daily lives. The more skills that we provide our children in understanding their emotions, recognizing stress, and feeling confident to manage it, the more adept our children will be in finding freedom from fears and anxiety. It is the avoidance or lack of confidence emotionally that causes anxiety to be so intimidating.
Gender Differences In Emotional Intelligence
FACT: Girls are 2x as likely to develop anxiety than boys.
FACT: Boys use aggression to express most of their emotions.
Research has shown that girls develop language skills much sooner than boys and are more articulate when it comes to expressing themselves emotionally. This natural advantage and the de-emphasis on emotional training for boys, lead males to communicate their emotions behaviorally. This may be why so many boys get into fights, play competitive sports, or act aggressively towards others. It is their way of communicating their feelings. And anger is the socially acceptable spokesperson for all of those feelings, be they positive or negative.
Why, in our modern society, do we continue to see this pattern of emotional deficiency in boys? Is it simply a matter of biology and not something that we can control. Although nature is a significant part of personality and social/emotional development, I don’t believe that is the answer.
In most societies around the globe, girls receive more “training” on how to process a full range of emotions that do boys. Research proves that biological is not as powerful a reason for this as you might think. A lot has to do with nurture and modeling.
Research and common sense suggest that we give our sons undivided attention every day. This means full attention, not partial or half. Don’t engage in cooking, cleaning, reading or anything else that might detract from the attention given. Playing a game or working on a project, side-by-side, with minimal words is enough. Jerrold Lee Shapiro, Ph.D., in his book, The Measure of a Man: Becoming the Father You Wish Your Father Had Been, states that while men and women experience emotions similarly, they may share those emotions differently. Men, due to past Emotional IQ training, are used to indirectly communicating with one another. This is what, Dr. Shapiro calls “side-by-side” or “shoulder-to-shoulder” communication. Moms tend to prefer the more “face-to-face”, direct approach.
Dr. Shapiro talks about the different styles of communicating emotions by men and women: “Men have long been criticized for either having no feelings or having the wrong ones, or being unable to describe them. It is true that males in our society are trained to deny, ignore, cover up, and rise above feelings. However, we do have them all the time. It is important that we express our feelings to our children in male ways. It is customary for men to be most open, for example, while they are working on a joint project together (i.e., shoulder to shoulder).”
It is also important that mom’s and dads encourage boys to express the full range of emotions. Past social conditioning that only some emotions, namely anger, are acceptable need to be removed. All emotions are valid. Be receptive to a baby’s sadness and discomfort as well as his cooing and giggles. Ask toddlers and school-age boys if they are feeling sad or tired and empathize with those feelings. Tell older boys that it is normal to feel awkward or anxious and have open discussions about his relationships with girls, other boys, siblings, teachers, and family.
When boys do express themselves aggressively or act rambunctious, look below the anger. While it is true that boys, on the average, do play more aggressively, don’t let that prevent you from checking for underlying emotions of sadness or anxiety. Remember that acting out means just that. Boys often act out their feelings of hurt and loss. Labels those feelings for them if they are obvious or ask them about their feelings if they are not. Reflect on their behavior by stating, “You seem to be upset about this situation. I wonder if you are feelings hurt/sad/anxious by it.” Model complex feelings by admitting you often get angry when you feel these other emotions too. It is often difficult for young children to understand that people can have more than one emotion at a time.
Be willing to express your love and empathy openly and generously. Loving your son will not “baby” him, “spoil” him, or make him a “sissy.” It will make him more self-assured, confident, and secure. When a dad is openly affectionate toward his son, a very deep message about manhood and emotions is communicated. Tell your son that you love him as much as you wish. Give him hugs and take opportunities to play with him.
This still begs the question as to why girls are more likely to be anxious than boys. Aren’t they more socially trained to express feelings? Yes, but boys have one advantage over girls in this area…They tend to externalize their feelings whereas girls internalize it more. This results in girls being more anxious about their bodies, negatively affected by social ostracism, inadequate, sad and lonely.
Mental health data supports that girls are more like to miss school due to overwhelming feelings of sadness and contemplate suicide and/or engage in self-harm behaviors when situations feel more emotionally overwhelming. Helping them develop their EQ will be a powerful deterrent to these risk factors.
Expectations, Pressure, and Failure
There is a high correlation between children’s anxiety and parents high expectations. Parents want the best for their children but sometimes this can translate into unnecessary pressure on the child. Children who are pressured to perform and made to feel guilty or ashamed at not being the best are most likely to develop anxiety disorders. Parents need to take a look at themselves and their own drives to be perfect, look good to others, and issues around failure. They may be projecting their own “junk” onto their children. High expectations can lead to children making irrational conclusions about their failures. A child might state that “I failed my math test because I am dumb. I will always be dumb and I will never do well in math.” Parents need to be empathic when they hear these types of statements. Don’t criticise them for the irrationality. Help them redirect their perspectives with positive statements, such as: “You failed the test because it was a very hard test and you didn’t have much study time. You will do well next time and we will work on it together.”
EQ is NOT Innate
When children are born, they have neurons but no connections and so everything can feel stressful. The connections are created through experiences with parents and peers. Over time, through many, many experiences, children develop the skills they need to understand themselves and the social-emotional world around them. Allow them the safety to go through this process of trial and error. Be a coach to them as they learn. Don’t be too quick to tell them how to do something, manage friendship quarrels, or find solutions to frustrating situations.
Name Them to Tame Them
The best Emotional IQ strategies are the simplest. Putting names to feelings helps children communicate and master them. Fears and anxiety can appear so large and overwhelming that children don’t know how to cope. Giving them a name makes seem smaller and more manageable.
Parents can say “Anxiety wants to make you have a bad day and tell you that you can’t remember anything when you take a test. He’s such a pest, isn’t he?”
“It is very frustrating when your brother won’t share his video game with you.”
“Worry wants us to argue in the car about getting to school on time but let’s listen to the music instead.”
“When you get afraid, it makes your heart beat fast. Feel it? Good thing we can use our breathing exercises to slow it down. Let’s do it together.”
Using imaginative labels for anxiety and its entourage of characters (worry, fear, panic, frustration, perfectionism) helps children externalize their emotions and have more confidence to control them(selves).
Naming emotions are centered in the left hemisphere of the brain in a small region called Brocas Area. Our right hemisphere lacks the verbal labeling of the left but is able to process images and bodily sensations that go along with feelings. Naming our fears allows both hemispheres of the brain to work together. Strong emotions, like anxiety, panic and phobias will hijack the thinking brain as a protective function to real or perceived danger. Using words to describe them puts the thinking brain back in charge and sends signals to the body to be calm and peaceful.
Once a child learns to name their own emotions, they can better recognize emotions in others. This makes them skilled at handling anxiety, feeling confident, and being socially competent. A great combination!
EQ Habits for the home
Parents and children can use some simple habits to improve EQ and decrease anxiety:
1. Use a diary to describe one emotional experience per day.
2. Do “emotional weather” check-ins every morning to be more aware of our feelings states.
3. Practice identifying emotions in others nonverbal behavior and make a scavenger list of feelings to see how many you can spot per day.
4. Watch movies and call out the feelings spotted in others on the screen.
5. Write a list of negative feelings and then write down their opposites. Pick one positive and have a family plan to experience that through outings, research, etc.
6. Use dramatic play to act out feelings in puppets, artwork, music, poetry, dance/movement, character voices, fictional stories.
Where do we start?
The most natural place is the home. And the most natural person is a mom or dad. We need to be more conscious about what and how we are teaching emotional literacy to our children. Handling any and all emotions make us better equipped to tackle anxiety. Don’t sit passively by and wait till there is a big issue. Go after it now! If anxiety has already become a big problem, you can use Emotional IQ skills to uproot anxiety and build new, more adaptable reactions instead.
You might wonder if it is possible to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during a COVID-19 pandemic crisis, but this is the situation that therapists and clients find themselves. Can we find a way to maintain effective treatment through the use of modern technology? Is it possible to treat trauma with this “new world” approach to mental health?
Since the beginning of this year (2020), countries worldwide have worked to protect vulnerable populations from the virus COVID-19. The primary strategies used to prevent the spread of the virus is social distancing and self-imposed quarantine. While this has been effective in reducing the pandemic’s physical effects, it hasn’t protected us from the psychological effects of this unprecedented life-situation. We see an increase in fear, anger, anxiety, panic, helplessness, and burnout in both children and adults. As a therapist working remotely with people dealing with stress and trauma, I have seen several extreme reactions of hallucinations and delusions due to the isolation and continual digestion of negative news media.
A Healthline.com survey of what COVID-19 is doing to our mental health gives a somber picture: increased worry and insecurity over finances, higher than normal depression and anxiety, prevalent feelings of sadness, and being “on edge,” and an alarming rise in suicides. In America, Federal dollars are being released to increase mental health services nationwide to stem this rising tide of trauma without fully knowing the long-term effects of trauma.
Therapists, just like the general population, use social distancing and remote work to keep themselves, their families, and their clients safe. Therapists are “front-line responders” and considered “essential workers,” but not all therapists choose to be exposed to 30-40 people a week who might have the COVID virus. Many of them, like myself, have family members who have compromised immune systems and considered to be at-risk. Working from an office and seeing individuals, face-to-face is not an option. Therefore, therapists and clients have to seek alternatives that can be equally beneficial to both.
The European Journal of Psychotraumatology studied the Telehealth models for post-traumatic stress disorder using cognitive therapy and found that clients rated it as very successful in managing their symptoms. High patient satisfaction ratings were given for both video conferencing and phone call sessions. In the later technology, the only nonverbal communication was the tone of voice, and yet it still benefited clients.
The journal defines Post-traumatic stress disorder by “a sense of serious current threat, which has two sources: the nature of the trauma memory and excessive negative appraisals.” Traumatized individuals frequently have intrusive, negative thoughts about traumatic experiences and continue to see the world with a negative lens. They have a feeling of hopelessness about their future and easily triggered by daily events.
Professional organizations are rising to the challenge and providing education and support to remote mental health workers on the unique delivery of mental health through technology. Guidelines have been created by the American Psychological Society, International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies, and the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, specifically targeting PTSD. Governing boards for various mental health professionals are also outlining specific legal and ethical requirements for safe, trustworthy online therapy.
According to the Psychotraumatology journal article, Telehealth’s use led to “improvements in PTSD symptoms, disability, depression, anxiety, and quality of life, and over 70% of patients recovered from PTSD (meaning they no longer met diagnostic criteria). The Journal of Family Process has reported several articles on the effectiveness of Telehealth with children, adults, couples, and families.
Therapists, offline and online, can provide education and support to (1) reduce negative reactivity in thoughts and emotions, (2) build more effective coping skills, and (3) deepen the quality of life and relationships.
These three areas are healing strategies outlined in my trauma-informed training and therapy.
The foundation for PTSD work, in face-to-face or video conferencing, is to establish a sense of safety from which to utilize these healing strategies. The client has to trust the therapist, believing he can offer some hope, create an atmosphere of security, and witness the traumatic hurt for PTSD individuals. Empathy isn’t confined to the physical space of the therapist’s office. It can exist in the relational space online as well. Facial expressions on video, tone of voice, empathic responses, and supportive comments assist the connection despite distances.
Finding a private place to have a conversation is one real-world challenge of online work. Privacy can be increased by changing locations (some of my clients go inside cars, relocating to other rooms in the house, or going outside), using headphones, and letting family members know that they can’t be disturbed hour or so. Additionally, therapists can also learn about resources in the client’s living area if referrals are needed. Homework assignments can also be used between sessions and discussed online for adolescents and adults. Parents can participate online with young children, and family members can “zoom” in from different locations at an agreed-upon time. And lastly, follow up with secure emails and text messaging can further increase the outcome of this digital therapeutic medium for PTSD.
If you are looking for a trauma therapist or someone to help you or a family member with anxiety, contact Ron Huxley today at RonHuxley.com
Be sure to take advantage of our free online resources for families during the COVID-19 Pandemic at FamilyHealer.tv
There is some interesting research on the link between depressed dads and its effects on their children. This supports much of the posts I have written on the importance of father/child bond. The research is summarized by Child-Psych.org at http://bit.ly/mvo6nu: “The current study used a nationally representative sample of fathers of one year-olds, 1,746 dads in total.
The men answered questions in four different areas: interactive play (e.g., peek-a-boo), speech and language interactions, reading to the child, and spanking. Whether or not the fathers had talked with their child’s pediatrician during the past year was also assessed. Seven percent of the fathers in the study reported being depressed during the past year. Seventy-seven percent of these dads also had spoken with the pediatrician over the past year… there were no differences between fathers that were not depressed and those that were in their reports of playing interactive games and singing songs/nursery rhymes with their children. Depressed dads were less likely to read to their one year-olds and much more likely to spank them.”
Conclusions of this study focused on the relationship between a fathers well-being and the child emotional and academic abilities later in life. As you might expect, the higher the depression in dad, the lower the functioning of the child. In addition, there is a connection between how aggressive dads were in their discipline. A higher percentage of dads spanked or acted out of anger with their children. Why do I keep harping on this topic? I want dads to be aware of and accept how vital there role is in the life of their children. I want others (moms and society in general) to be more mindful of the need to educate and support dads in this role. As men, we don’t get the same amount of formal or informal training to be parents as moms. More focus is needed for men to rise to the challenge of parenting.
According to the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Telehealth or TeleMental Health services are an effective treatment strategy for trauma. Telehealth uses information technology, such as email, phone calls, FaceTime video, and Secure Online Video to conduct therapy services. This technology allows a therapist and a client to engage in real-time two-way interaction. Services that can be provided via Telehealth include assessments, individual and group therapy, psychoeducational interventions, and general therapeutic interactions.
Traditionally, mental health services are engaged in face-to-face, office visits. Just because this is traditional, doesn’t mean that is is more effective. There are times when face-to-face visits are preferred due to lack of adequate technology, challenges with privacy at home, or personal limitations of the client in using technology. In all other situations, TeleHealth is a unique service that provides several benefits, including:
Savings in time and money,
Overcome geographic distance for rural populations,
Increased access to care for individuals with mobility issues (lack of transportation),
Flexibility of appointment times (e.g., out of town for work, babysitting concerns, or other restriction on clients availability like a lunch hour, etc.),
Promotion of physical health by avoiding spreading a contagious illness (COVID-19 or general sickness, like a cold).
Telehealth is not new. It has been used for six decades, in the medical field, and is now being adopted by TeleMental Health as a flexible option for individuals. It is not a “lesser” alternative to mental health care. Outcome research has proven it to be very effective in many areas of mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, and trauma. It also offers convenient support for many general concerns, such as parenting education, life transitions, spiritual direction, and more.
A recent article from the Washington Post points out how global pandemics, like the COVID-19 virus, have shifted the landscape of mental health services through the use of technology allowing more people to attend to their mental health needs. Therapists and individuals may be just blocks away from one another geographically, but medical issues isolate and create an insurmountable “distance” between them. The use of Telehealth or TeleMental Health eliminates geographic and social distance.
The reality is that people around the world are suffering and in need of mental health treatment, education, and support. Children and adults who have experienced trauma cannot wait for medical cures or be punished for lack of mental health access. Telehealth/TeleMental Health is a powerful tool to bring immediate hope and healing.
In the last video of our 5-part virtual series Parent Connection Coach and Educator Ron Huxley, L.M.F.T., answers questions to assist families in building resilience and expanding their stress toolbox. #HelpingFamiliesThrive #ParentalResilience #StrongFamilies https://conta.cc/2WMJGHz
In this first video of five total video series on Building Family Resiliency we talk about how to manage anxiety in a time of uncertainty. Learn powerful tools that will help you and your children find freedom from anxious thoughts. Discover bodily-based strategies that don’t require lecture, rationalization, or complex ideas to bring peace to your life.
Get more free tools at FamilyHealer.tv or schedule a time to talk to Ron today!