Thursday, November 21, 2013

Making Difficult Conversations Less Difficult

by Joyce Geddie, M.A., RN, LAPC

As we approach the holidays, many of us will face a difficult conversation with relatives, in-laws, or even our spouse. So what is it that makes a conversation difficult? How do we navigate in the midst of a difficult conversation so the relationship can stay afloat and not crash on impact?  I’m glad you asked. Members of the Harvard Negotiation Project put their findings together and wrote a book called, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. While a newsletter only allows me to give you some highlights of their findings, I encourage you to read the book if you find the information I’m sharing informative.

The authors describe three types of difficult conversations:

The “What happened?” conversations. These are conversations where someone makes assumptions about what happened and are based on what we believe to be true, what intentions they believe the other person has, and tends to use blame. The hallmark of these conversations is people disagree, and while arguing feels natural, it’s not helpful. When people disagree, we often assume they are being selfish, controlling, naïve, or irrational so we try to break through by persistence, by educating them, or pretending it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately none of these tactics work because people typically do not change unless they feel heard.

The Feelings Conversations: Naturally strong feelings arise when we engage in a difficult conversation, so it isn’t about pretending we don’t have feelings, it’s what we do with them. Strong feelings make it hard to be rational and they can cloud judgment. It’s challenging to talk about feelings because it makes us feel more vulnerable, but not talking about them can make them fester, so finding ways to talk about them involves some skill. Here are a couple pointers about how to bring up feelings in a conversation: 1) Start by sorting out what you are feeling.  2) Negotiate with your feelings. What are you telling yourself that makes you feel like you do? Questions you may want to ask yourself: What might the other person’s story be? How does my view of their intentions affect how I feel? How might my actions have impacted them? Can I describe the other person’s contribution without blaming? and 3) Share your actual feelings, not judgments or attributions about the other person. 

Identity Conversations: These conversations are about who we are and how we see ourselves. For example: If you ask for a raise, and your boss says no, even though you have the self-image you are a competent, respected employee, it can feel like your self-image is on the line. You could lose confidence, forget what you want to say, or feel paralyzed. There are three common identity themes: Am I competent?...Am I a good person?...Am I worthy of love? Grappling with these identity issues is what life and growth are all about. The truth about us is that we all make mistakes and admitting a mistake doesn’t make you weak or incompetent. Be honest with yourself that you won’t always have purely positive motives, because motivations are complex and multifaceted. Take responsibility for what you may have contributed to the problem.   Do not define your identity on the basis of a difficult conversation.

 Four things to do to help you maintain your balance before or during a difficult conversation:                     
1) Let go of trying to control their reaction. It’s understandable you don’t want to hurt them, but you have no power over their reaction, and it can be destructive to try.                                                                 
2) Project yourself into your future, and reassure yourself you will eventually feel better. Imagine that you will learn from the experience.                                                                                                                           
3) Sometimes you may find you feel too overwhelmed or too close to the problem and you need time to untangle your thoughts. Ask to take a break to think about it, check for any distortions or gaps in your perception, and give yourself time to regain your balance rather than say things that may make it worse.                   
4) While you may be aware during the difficult conversation that you are struggling with an identity issue, sharing it explicitly in the conversation probably won’t move it forward. Recognize identity is something you need to work out on your own. Find the courage to ask for help.

Here are some liberating assumptions related to identity: It’s not all my responsibility to make things better…   It is my responsibility to do my best…   They have limitations too…  They can’t change overnight...  This conflict is not who I am… Letting go doesn’t mean I no longer care.

Speaking of getting help, remember Fountain Gate for all your counseling needs. You may even want to recommend it for someone with who you have difficult conversations with, but remember that too may be a difficult conversation.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stone, D., Patton, B, & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.   New York, NY: Penquin Group (USA) Inc.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Grace in Transitions

by Deb Torell, M.A., LPC, LMFT
Deb Torell, M.A., LPC, LMFT

     George looked out the front window of his home, noticing with alarm the funnel cloud moving in slow motion toward his neighborhood.  He heard the tornado sirens go off and quickly ushered his wife, his three small children, and the family dog into the basement just as the winds hit.  In less than 60 seconds the neighborhood that he had lived in for much of his life was decimated.  George and his family and their neighbors were alive, but their formerly stable, secure, kind of “ho-hum” existence was instantly transformed into a nightmare of homelessness and uncertainty.  They would need a great deal of grace in the days ahead.

            Mary could not wait for the big wedding day coming up in a few short weeks.  She and Rick had met in college, courted for a year and a half, saved their money, and excitedly planned for this day to come.  Everything would be perfect; her dress, the music, the food, the presence of her friends and family, and then the honeymoon!  She and Rick were as prepared as they felt they could be.  But transitions always bring some surprises. What would they be?  Going from singleness to a twosome is a transition.  Whether easy or hard, they would need grace in the days ahead.

            Helen went in to work as usual this Friday morning.  She had been working as an administrative assistant in this company for 18 years.  She was hoping to be able to work until she reached the age of 68; this would enhance her retirement portfolio and give her a better feeling of security after the death of her husband two years ago.  On her desk was an envelope.  She opened it to find a pink slip.  What a way to announce the downsizing!  Her world suddenly caved in and she unexpectedly was in the midst of a transition.  She would need a good deal of grace in the days ahead.

            Stability, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is the quality or state of being firmly established.  It is predictable, constant, and unchanging; helping us to feel secure and safe.  We all desire stability in our lives and work hard to keep it when we have it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Balancing the Give and Take in Your Relationship

by Tiffany Kingsfield, M.A., LAPC

Tiffany Kingsfield
Tiffany Kingsfield, M.A., LAPC
     Romantic relationships:  What else in life provide so much joy, but can also cause such profound pain?

     In “Love Busters: Protecting your Relationship from Habits that Destroy Romantic Love,” Willard F. Harley, Jr. explains the six primary “Love Busters” that damage relationships. Couples are introduced to the concepts of the internal “Giver” and “Taker,” which affect each partner’s “Love Bank.”
      According to Harley, the Love Bank is where we accrue “love units” when someone makes us feel good. When our partner shows us love, appreciation and affection, our Love Bank balance goes up. When our partner criticizes, betrays or ignores us, our Love Bank balance goes down. Harley states that we each have within us a “Giver” and a “Taker.”

     Our Giver is caring, compassionate and concerned for the welfare of others. The Giver says,    “Do whatever you can to make others happy and avoid anything that makes others unhappy, even if it makes you unhappy.” This half of us is more likely to make deposits into our partner’s Love Bank. The other half is our Taker. The Taker says, “Do whatever you can to make yourself happy and avoid anything that makes you unhappy, even if it makes others unhappy.” This half is more likely to deplete our partner’s Love Bank.  

     The first Love Buster is making "Selfish Demands" or commanding your partner to do things that would benefit you at your partner’s expense. We all have needs and at times need to make requests of our partner that will benefit us.  However, when the Taker shows little compassion for how the request will affect their partner the Love Bank balance is in jeopardy. In order to combat Selfish Demands Harley recommends what he calls the Policy of Joint Agreement in which you never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your partner.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Social Media - Self Love or Self Loathe

By Elisa Torell, M.A., LAPC 
Elisa Torell

     I recently read an article by writer Jessica Winter, Selfie-Loathing, on which claimed that social media applications, such as Facebook and Instagram, have been found to correlate with feelings of loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem.

     “Loitering through photos and posts of others can often provoke feelings of jealousy and overall dissatisfaction with our own lives; we infer that others are happier, wealthier, and more successful than we are,” said Winter.

     There is no question that the social media has completely changed our society. The way we relate and connect with each other has changed dramatically in less than 20 years.

      People have shorter attention spans. The way information travels through social media seems to be quicker than wildfire. Unfortunately not all of these changes have been positive when it comes to human relationships.

     I frequently have conversations with clients who have experienced some form of rejection, hurt, or jealousy as a result of social media. So is social media the evil?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Meet Our New Intern...Jessica Bello

By Jinna Marbry, B.S.
Fountain Gate CC Program Manager

Jessica Bello, Clinical Intern
Jessica Bello, Clinical Intern
     On May 21, 2013 Fountain Gate launched the second year of its internship program with the addition of two new interns to the family. Jessica Bello and Bruce Knight are graduate level interns from Richmont Graduate University in the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) Program. As we welcome our counselors into the fold we would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the second of our interns in this newsletter.

    Please welcome our new intern…Jessica Bello.

     Jessica Bello, was born the normal Orange County California girl; she grew up loving the sunshine and fast paced American lifestyle, quite the opposite of her traditional Colombian parents.
    Even as a child Jessica had a desire for helping others and enjoyed observing how people communicated with one another. It was this desire that eventually led to Jessica become a school teacher working with elementary and middle-school children in both Colombia and Georgia. Yet it was Jessica’s Christian faith that would lead to her most important steps of becoming a pastor’s wife and seeking a career in counseling.
    In 2008, Jessica thought her life was all planned out; she had just married her husband of two weeks, David (Youth Pastor at Iglesia Nuevo Horizonte Church) and was looking forward to settling into a bright future. However, Jessica’s life was turned upside down upon hearing that her mother, Bertha, who now lived in Colombia, was diagnosed with cancer.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Encouraging Those Who Follow

By Jinna Marbry, B.S.
Fountain Gate CC Program Manager

     On May 21, 2013 Fountain Gate launched the second year of its internship program with the addition of two new interns to the family. Jessica Bello and Bruce Knight are graduate level interns from Richmont Graduate University in the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MAMFT) Program. As we welcome our counselors into the fold we would like to take this opportunity to introduce them to you in coming newsletters.

Please welcome our new intern…Bruce Knight.

Bruce Knight, Clinical Intern
Bruce Knight, Clinical Intern
     Bruce Knight, a Virginia native, grew up fast. After losing his father at the age of 12 Bruce struggled for a number of his teen years with rebellious behavior until at age 19 he found his Christian path. While on his journey Bruce acquired a Masters of Divinity degree from Liberty University and met the love of his life and wife of 31 years, Kitty.

     After graduating from Liberty, Bruce and Kitty moved to New York City where they founded the New York Baptist Bible Church with Bruce serving as pastor and began raising their two daughters, Erin (28) and Laura (23). Unfortunately for Bruce and Kitty the pressure of juggling marriage, ministry, and raising young children began to take its toll as Bruce shares.
     “Following the six years in New York my wife and I spent almost two decades in what I would call a roller coaster and ping pong recovery mode. At one point in time we were separated for almost a year. Through all the ups and downs, pain and suffering, and a few really good churches we have come to the place where our relationship is the best it has ever been.”

     Yet while the road was rocky it was this journey to healing that brought Bruce to his true aspiration of working with couples and families in crisis.
     “All that I have experienced has led me to the place of pursuing a marriage and family therapy program with Richmont. Both my wife and I have a passion for coming alongside couples, families, and individuals in their time of pain. The grace and healing that we have experienced, we now desire to pass on to those who are in the midst of it.”

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Challenge of Change

by Deb Torell, M.A., LPC, LMFT

Change:  To make different in some particular; to make a shift from one to another, transformation.

In counseling school, we learned that most people do not willingly make a shift, a change, or a transition unless the place where they are feels more painful than the pain of the anticipated change.

Resistance to change is quite common, even when someone hates the place that they are in.  Most people would prefer that the situation change, or another person change, rather than consider that they themselves could change.  The ego self, at a deep level, is quite unsure of the benefits of change.

But the journey of personal growth and maturity, by its very nature, requires that each of us change.  The change is not to be an outward one, that is, just a change in our behavior.  The change actually requires inward transformation.  Change from the inside out is true change.  This type of change takes time.  I love what Geneen Roth, in her book Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, says about change:

   “Change generally happens the way a plant grows slowly, without
force, and with the essential nutrients of love and patience, and a
willingness to remain constant through periods of stasis.”

Psychologists have come up with various models of how change occurs.  The model that seems to be most simple (and the one I like the best) starts out with a person not even considering trying to achieve change, or the ”pre-contemplation” stage. 

Next, often because something or someone is urging them, the person begins to “contemplate” making a change, believing that change may be possible. But they may not be quite sure.  This is often the place where people get stuck.  But hopefully, at some point, the person gets beyond ambivalence, and decides to try to achieve change. 

The third stage in the process of change happens when the person begins to “prepare” for the change.  This is when the person gets the information needed to make a shift, learning the best way to go about making change.

The fourth stage is the “action” phase.  The person begins to implement their plan and over time, achieves change!

Finally, the person works to “maintain” the achieved changes.  There may be some lapse or relapse here, but the determined person is on his or her way to a new way of being in the area of change. 

Joyce Rupp, in her book, Open the Door: The Journey to the True Self, shares poem written by a twelve year old girl on the night before she was struck and killed by an automobile.  Her poem contains wisdom for the journey of change.  I share her poem with you here:

            Look at me-----

            I’m walking through a door

            My life is changing and it’s just perfect now

            No more doors for me

            They’re too hard to get through

            I’m staying here where it’s safe-----

            No, child,

            Those doors are a part of you

            You can’t ignore them

            ‘Cause they’re there

            You’ve got to go through them

            Who knows what you’ll find

            You’ve got to meet their trial

            If you don’t, you won’t be what you should become

            There are always gonna be doors and you

            Can’t stop ‘em from comin’

            You’ve got to go through them to grow

            It’s called change

            Look at the wildflower; it changes all the time

            Always blossoming or closing up, sprouting or withering

            You’re scared to go through those doors

            Into the unknowing, “into change”

            You don’t know what’s going to happen

            You don’t know what change is going to bring

            Listen to me

            Go through those doors with hope

            Go through those doors knowing change is the future and you’re a part of


             You don’t know what change is, that’s why you’re scared

            Change is the sun booming over the horizon

            Scattering rays of hope to a new day

            Change is a baby lamb meeting the world for the first time

            Change is growing from a young child to a young woman

            Change is beautiful; you will learn to love it.

                                                -----Mary Katherine Lidle (1982)

Mary Katherine, even in her short life, captured the truth about change:  we must give ourselves to it.  We ought not to fear it, but embrace it, welcome it. 

Counseling is about change, a shift in one’s way of being…transformation really.  If we let it, it will stretch us, cause us to search more deeply, and hopefully become a little freer, both emotionally and mentally.  May we all be challenged to “go through those doors with hope”, accepting and adapting to the possibility of true transformation, trusting that the growth and maturity it brings will benefit not only each of us as individuals, but those we love as well.

Roth, Geneen, Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, Penguin Books, Ltd., (London:

            2004), p.139.

Rupp, Joyce, Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self, Sorin Books, (Notre

             Dome, In.: 2008), pp 34-35.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Don’t Stay Away! (Why People Avoid Counseling)

People come to counseling because they are unhappy. Something is not going well in their lives or in the lives of people around them. It may involve circumstances at home, work, school, or a combination of all three. Their attempts to fix or improve the problem have failed, but they also believe that something has to change – things cannot go on the way they are. They need an outside, objective person to help them clearly identify the core issues involved, and to identify and help them accomplish the changes necessary to resolve the situation.

So what’s not to like about counseling? Why would people hesitate to seek relief from mental and emotional confusion or pain? What prevents people from making a simple phone call to inquire about counseling services, or to come in to talk about what’s going on in their lives? The fact is that the field of “counseling” has been burdened with stigmas that are based on inaccurate information and distorted perceptions of therapy, its goals, and its potential.

Let’s look at several common objections or misunderstandings related to counseling.
Counseling is for weaklings and losers – I should be able to fix my problems myself, and certainly not go to people I don’t even know for help. As social creatures, we are not designed to “go it alone”; no individual has all of the mental, emotional, and spiritual resources needed to meet every life challenge. Counselors are trained and skilled to develop healing relationships with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Counseling is for crazies, nuts, and freaks – people who need counseling are “mentally ill” and belong in an institution —the further away from society, the better. Most people in counseling do not exhibit “extreme” or “strange” behavior; they come to counseling from many walks in life, and normally continue with their everyday lives and activities while engaging in counseling sessions.

I just need a little more time to figure this thing out – somehow, it will get better, even though I don’t know how. This is a popular definition of insanity: “Doing things the same way while expecting a different result.” It’s a form a denial, and only prolongs a person’s unhappiness.

A counselor is just a “paid friend” – it’s not really a relationship with someone who truly cares about you. A counselor is trained and motivated to display warmth, love, empathy, genuineness, and respect – it’s the only way that counseling can have a real and lasting effect.

I (or he or she) can’t change – some people are too far gone to be helped. Human beings are adaptable, and can actually change in a variety of ways at any stage or age in life.

My problems are unique – no one could possibly understand what I’m going through, so how could anyone help me? It is true that each person’s life story is different, but counselors are able to exercise empathy to perceive and validate your thoughts and feelings, joining with you at the point of your pain.

Counseling will make me look like a fool – it’s all about making me cry and talking about “how I feel” about everything. The goal of counseling is healing, not displays of emotion. Some people are more comfortable talking about feelings than others; counselors enter into your journey at your level of communication and experience.

Counseling is invasive and intrusive – I’ll be forced to talk about private things that are nobody’s business. Professional counselors do not force you to do anything you are not ready or willing to do. Counseling is a collaboration – a team effort – between therapist and clients.

Counseling is an old-fashioned practice – lying on a couch, talking to a doctor (“shrink”) who is stroking his beard, smoking a pipe, and telling me all the things that are wrong with me. We have couches, but they are for sitting on. Our counselors are not doctors; they have Masters Degrees in Professional Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Clinical Social Work. We do not follow a “medical model,” dispensing advice in a one-sided conversation; rather, we help clients see their situations clearly and consider their reasonable options so that they can come to their own conclusions.

Counseling is like talking to a mirror – the counselor will just repeat back everything I say. Counselors do not repeat back what clients say in a rote fashion; rather, they work hard to “think your thoughts and feel your feelings,” reflecting back what they hear in a way that makes clients feel deeply understood.

A counselor will make me do things I’m not comfortable with – like talking to an empty chair while pretending someone is sitting in it, or using silly finger puppets. There are hundreds of therapies and counseling techniques, but professional counselors will not introduce any type of therapeutic method without receiving your permission.

My friend/relative/family member/co-workers told me that counseling is worthless (and maybe even dangerous!) – I’ve heard that people can even get worse instead of better. Research has proven that counseling is effective for a wide variety of life problems. During the process of counseling a person may “feel” worse temporarily while facing difficult issues, but the end result will be positive.

A counselor might call a psychiatric hospital and have me committed – as soon as I say the wrong thing, I’ll be carted away in a straightjacket. If you make statements that lead your counselor to believe that you are a threat to yourself or others, the counselor will take time to carefully evaluate and clarify the seriousness of your mental condition prior to taking any action. This is an exceedingly rare event.

A counselor will label me with some type of “mental illness” that will stay with me for the rest of my life – it will affect my ability to get the schooling or job I want in the future. If you choose to pay for counseling with insurance, the insurance company will require a formal mental health diagnosis code. Otherwise, any diagnostic information remains in your private record and will only be released with your permission.

Counseling shows a lack of faith in God – if I just believed God’s Word and praised the Lord more my troubles would quickly disappear. “All truth is God’s truth.” This means that any insights the mental health profession has learned about how we think, feel, and behave are insights into how God has created us. Consequently, any legitimate counseling techniques that alleviate a person’s discomfort and distress can be seen as expressions of the grace of God.

Counseling will bankrupt me – I can’t possibly afford to pay someone for several sessions of therapy. Insurance coverage normally pays for a at least a limited amount of counseling sessions. For those who have used up their coverage, or who do not have insurance to cover counseling costs, counselors often have sliding scale rates that make counseling affordable. Fountain Gate is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers counseling exclusively on a siding scale basis.

Many people begin to feel better as soon as they call to inquire about counseling services. It’s a concrete action that can give a person a sense of hope. We encourage you to “try out” the counseling process for a few sessions to see what it’s like—there’s no obligation to continue if you feel it’s not helping you. At Fountain Gate we have provided counseling services to nearly 2000 people in the past 5 years, and we would be honored to join with you in your path to healing and wholeness.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dealing with a Quarter Life Crisis

I was listening to a popular morning talk show on the radio the other day and they had a segment on young adults who are experiencing what they called a “quarter-life crisis.” This is that season of life in your mid-20’s when you might have just graduated from college or have a year or two of working under your belt, and life just doesn’t seem to be coming together like you planned. You worked hard for a degree—had hopes and dreams of changing the world—but now find yourself working at Starbucks to pay the bills. You had to move back in with your parents. You thought you would have found “Mr. Right” or “Mrs. Right” by now but instead you are faced with a dismal dating life. All over Facebook it looks like ALL of your friends are moving on with life, getting jobs, promotions, houses, fiancés, babies, vacations…and then there is you, feeling lost, confused, disappointed, and defective. You want to feel happy for those friends but you are sure that you just can’t take one more post that reads, “65 more days till we tie the knot!”

This problem does not just hit women, although I think we women have a greater tendency to have that internal “plan” for relationships and family. Guys can also experience this crisis, which often centers around having a job, money, and possessions—a feeling of accomplishment. I haven’t even mentioned those whose life threw them a curveball with an unexpected pregnancy or untimely death of a loved one and they are still trying to play catch-up to make sense of what things look like now.

Have I effectively painted the quarter-life crisis for you? Maybe it’s because I have experienced this crisis myself. I have probably spent a good portion of my 20’s coming to terms with the fact that “my plan” has not happened the way I have thought I wanted or expected. Our world is different than it was when our parents were young adults. Media and technology have given us a way to see into each other’s lives with startling detail. Hollywood and culture have taught us since we were young about the “American dream,” and we should “reach for the stars because your potential is endless.” While it has become more culturally acceptable to live with your parents after college to save money or to “still be single” at 30, the American cultural expectations of those past generations still linger, creating a great deal of incongruence in the expectations of young adults today. The reality is that our economy is not the same as it used to be—jobs are harder to find and if you do find a job, it is most likely not that dream job you have come to expect. Dating is completely different than it was during our parents’ generation. If you are not someone who likes to go out to bars to meet people, it appears your only other choice is to try online dating. And if you have been taught traditional, even “Southern” ways of doing things, online dating is a horse pill to swallow. As in, it gets stuck and lodged and you feel like you might suffocate from disappointment.

From my own experience, as well as working with others who have gone through this conflict, I believe that much of the pain of this season comes down to disappointed expectations. Yes, the economy is bad and it is not fair you can’t get that job you want. Yes, that guy hasn’t stepped up and asked you out. But the conflict you are feeling is coming from the perspective that your value and worth as a person—your IDENTITY—has been somehow lessened because of what your life looks like. If your sense of self, value, and worth comes from the external, and the external is not going your way, well, then that will yield all kinds of sadness, angry, confusion, and despair. Left unattended, those feelings will fester into full-blown depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or a range of impulsive behavior.

So what CAN you do?
  • GET HELP! One of the things I love about counseling is that it is safe to say all of these things to someone who is outside of your world, doesn’t have an emotional opinion about what is going on with you, but can also hold up a mirror and help you evaluate what expectations and goals might need to change. It is important to be able to both name and grieve the loss of what you thought life was while also exploring what it could be. Additionally, if you feel lost about what you want to do with your life, you can also work with your counselor on using specific tools to explore your options. We have an assessment here at Fountain Gate called the Strong’s Interest Inventory that is a great tool for exploring career interests. We love to work with these issues!
  • Create new goals and expectations—this time about things that are related to the present and that are directly in your control. Start volunteering with an agency that does the kind of work you’d like to do. Swallow the pill and join an online dating service. Make a bucket list of things you’d like to do for FUN before you are 30 or 40 and commit to doing one of them over the next 3 months. Goals like this one are realistic but still moving towards the kind of life you want for yourself. You could even explore new hobbies or interests outside of your normal box through online deals like, Groupon or Living Social, that often have interesting activities to try! The point is, live in the present.
  • Take a break from social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all have some great benefits, but one of their terrible downsides is it can create the illusion of everyone else’s life “being better” than yours. It can be healthy to step away from that for a while—get perspective, focus on what is going well in your life and learn to be thankful for what IS going “right.”
  • Explore spirituality—those values and beliefs have a tremendous impact on how you choose to live your life and what meaning you place on life in general. Going on a spiritual retreat weekend or getting involved in a group that explores these issues is a great way to get outside your own perspective and consider what God might have to say.
If you are reading this article and this is NOT you, but you know someone who might be experiencing these difficulties, one thing that you can do is LISTEN. Avoid advice giving and allow that person a safe place to process what they are going through before you jump into telling them your solution. That will usually make things worse.

One of the great things about the phrase “quarter-life crisis” is that there is an implication that we still have another ¾’s of our life to live. Life is not over! This season is simply about getting unstuck by coming to terms with what it is now and finding new ways to move forward from a different perspective than in the past. While painful, naming it for what it is and processing through it will create space to move forward in your life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

BE My Valentine

by Joyce Geddie, M.A., R.N., LAPC

What are the secrets to keeping romance and love alive in a relationship? If you are a man, do you secretly dread the annual upcoming Valentine’s Day? How can I let my wife know I love her and not feel like I have missed the mark yet another year? That’s right guys, there aren’t any points for last year’s romantic gesture. And you women may be thinking, am I going to have to remind him again this year that it is Valentine’s Day? Will I once again be disappointed because his efforts seem forced or contrived? My question to the women is, how have you shown that you respect and value him, even if he doesn’t get it right every time?

The truth is romance in relationships serves to protect, restore, and renew relationships. The surprise is both men and women long for the romantic feelings, both yearn to be desired and sought after by their mate. We all want our spouse or partner to be our soul mate, not our cell mate. So where does romance get off track and how can we begin to get the train out of the station?

I will offer some tips and secret ingredients of romance, but the real effort has to come from your heart or your spouse will suspect you are insincere. Even if you feel a little insincere, it is still worth the effort to fake it till you make it. So here is my list of "BE's" so you can Be a good valentine…
  • Be Proactive. Attempt to meet an unmet need of your spouse before they ask. At this point in your relationship it may take some real thought and effort to understand what excites your spouse or partner, but you can do it. Do you recall what an expert you were on your partner’s need when you were first dating? You probably studied her/him in order to please them. What kind of things did you do when you first feel in love? If you really don’t know what unmet needs your mate has, recall the things you did early in your relationship and do them again. Here’s a hint for men…if you vacuum the house she may have a surprise for you later. 
  • Be Appreciative. Communicate to your spouse their unique value. Everyone likes to be appreciated and encouraged in their efforts, even if your spouse hasn’t lived up to your expectations.
  • Be Available and Attentive. Spend quality time connecting with your spouse. Hang out together and really listen to them with interest. If your partner is vulnerable enough to show you their inner world, treat it like the treasure it is.
  • Be Self-Sacrificing. Try to forget the balance sheet you keep in your head of who gives more in this relationship. Award them with the unconditional love that you probably gave them early in your relationship. Your partner may need what is most difficult for you to give; hence, the words “self-sacrificing”. Self-centered behaviors aren’t very attractive in relationships and certainly don’t communicate romance. Speak love in their language. Women like to talk about their feelings, and want to know you care about them. Men may want to talk about football, their work goals or may enjoy having you notice a project they are working on. 
  • Be Intentional. Intentionality requires thought and planning. Making a planned dinner reservation or preparing a homemade meal speaks romance louder than getting a last minute burger because the restaurants are full. Consider leaving a little love note some place they are sure to find it. Find that card that makes her swoon when she reads it, or the card that makes him feel admired and makes him puff up his chest a little bigger.
  • Be Trustworthy. Speak the truth in love, without using hurtful words or contempt. Sometimes we tell little white lies to avoid hurting someone’s feelings when the truth may be a better option. Unfortunately, little white lies can eventually erode feelings of trust and security in a relationship. (However, it is still okay to say that dress doesn’t make her look fat...) Honesty and transparency build intimacy when there is mutual sharing and trust. Guys, this isn’t the night to work late unless you’ve decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day another time. Try to do what you say you will do.  
So in conclusion, be thankful for this person in your life and for the opportunity to show them what they mean to you this Valentine’s Day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Making Resolutions that Stick

by Tiffany Kingsfield, M.A., LAPC

When making a New Year’s resolution, the idealized life we want for ourselves seems within reach, and that feeling can be intoxicating. But statistics show that keeping one’s resolution is not easy. A recent article in USA today states that 50% will have already broken their resolution by the end of January (Neuharth, USA Today, 1/3/2013.) The excitement and hopefulness felt at the start can become disappointment and self-loathing. If we want to start 2013 on a new footing, how can we help ourselves be one of successful half who can make desired changes?

We can start by taking some time to explore why the resolutions are important to us in the first place. Ask questions like “Why is this goal important to me? How will keeping this resolution improve my life? What has been fueling my current, unhealthy behavior?” (Hint: Try to find the “reward” you get for indulging in the unhealthy behavior – you will need to find an alternate payoff for the new, healthier behavior.)

Experts recommend setting specific, measurable goals in order in increase odds of success. For example, instead of “I will start saving money,” a better option would be “I will save X amount per paycheck” or I will reduce my monthly expenditures by X dollars.” I will stick to 1,200 calories per day” is more measurable than “I will eat less junk and more fruits and vegetables.”

A study that compared those who stuck with their resolutions versus those who didn’t found that the successful rewarded themselves for the changes they were making. They also avoided situations associated with the problem behaviors, and kept reminders around urging them not to give in to old habits. The final predictor of success was practicing positive thinking about changing the behavior. Conversely, those that failed to keep resolutions spent more time thinking about how their problem behavior was hurting them, criticized and lectured themselves, and wished their problem would disappear (Norcross, Brykalo and Blagys, 2002). The same study found that those who were resolved to make changes nearly half were found to be successful six months later.

When attempting difficult changes, it helps to remember we are not alone. 1 Peter 5 reminds us to cast our worries, anxieties and concerns on God, for He cares for us affectionately and watchfully. We have reassurance that as we struggle to better ourselves, God will ground us, strengthen and settle us. The Lord tells us he calls blessed those that endure steadfastly, and He is full of compassion, tenderness and mercy toward us (James 5:11).

Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, focus on the strengths you possess that are going to help you reach your goal, the support you have in your life that will be a supportive source for you in times of weakness. If you find yourself getting stuck in some “stinking thinking” – meaning you are self-critical and overly focused on the problem rather than the solution, you may think about speaking a professional that can help you identify, challenge and replace distorted thinking.

A new year brings with it new challenges, experiences and possibilities. We can celebrate the fact that we are bringing to 2013 the wisdom we have accumulated in years past, while looking forward to growing in new ways, and living a more abundant life.

Norcross, J. D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year's Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397.

Newsweek. 12/24/2012, Vol. 160 Issue 25, p46-49.

Grief and Grace

Our nation is in mourning following last week’s murder of 20 schoolchildren, ages 6 and 7, along with 6 adults who tried to protect them. Authorities are still piecing together the details of this horrific event and the person who was behind them, while we are left with grief and unanswered questions: Are there no boundaries to the reach of evil in our lives?

“Connecticut massacre gunman described as awkward loner who felt no pain” (, 12/16/12). We are now learning the story of a 20 year old man who was on the “outside” of his social group and whose extreme isolating behaviors had concerned the staff at his High School a few years before. He was also subject to the upheaval of his parents’ divorce in 2008, but what had driven him to bring fatal violence to the heart of his community, and to himself, at this time? There are unconfirmed reports that the gunman was to have been committed to a psychiatric institution by his mother, and that the killing spree was his reaction to the news.

Speaking at a memorial service for the victims, President Obama said that for these tragedies to end “we need to change.” According to the National Institute for Mental Health, approximately 26% of the U.S. adult population has a diagnosable mental health disorder. These numbers increase among low-income families, with studies showing 32% of individuals with low incomes report issues with depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is our culture itself, which facilitates – and sometimes celebrates – independence and isolation from one another and from our Creator.

The solution is found in deeply-seated spiritual and emotional healing. We are a disconnected people who have lost their way, personally and collectively. We run from our feelings of anxiety and inadequacy, lacking the courage to face them squarely, needing faith that God will help us to overcome our problems as we submit ourselves to his design for our lives. Our mission at Fountain Gate is to help people find rest from the conflicts they experience within themselves and with others, and, for those who desire it, to discover the love of God expressed through his son Jesus Christ.

In 2012 Fountain Gate has had the opportunity to provide 4500 sessions of counseling (a 42% increase over 2011) to 301 individuals, 100 couples, and 34 families. In addition, we provided 32 therapeutic and educational workshops for 180 participants. This year also saw the start of
Fountain Gate Gardens , a community project promoting healthy lifestyles, and offering opportunities for personal connection with others. In 2013 we anticipate continued growth in our counseling and gardening programs, while we also hope to branch out into new areas, such as services to veterans, and retreats on a variety of spiritual and mental health topics.

We are grateful for the opportunities we have had to serve the people who have come to us – from 9 counties in the metro Atlanta area – and we are grateful for the support and encouragement we have received from so many. Over forty leaders from churches, schools, businesses, and city, county, and state governments have visited our facilities this year, and have strongly endorsed our vision and our work. What a wonderful experience to connect with others who have a heart for the well-being of our community!

Please hold us in your thoughts and prayers as we walk with others in their journeys toward healing and wholeness. In our personal and societal brokenness, the prescription for many is a listening ear in a safe environment – it’s an introduction to unconditional love, made possible only by the grace of God.

May the peace of Christ and the comfort of God reign in our hearts during this time and season.

Craig Torell
Executive Director