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Why does therapy work?

Counseling is not an environment in which you will be fixed, because you are not broken.

In life, we face many adversities that could cause us to become anxious, depressed, suicidal, or submissive. We may even have a mental illness for which we are not at fault, but it is a diagnosis and normal part of life just as one might be diagnosed with diabetes. You wouldn't expect to manage your diabetes without the help of a medical professional would you?

Counseling can come in many forms, including play therapy, family counseling, group therapy, expressive arts therapy, and the most commonly known talk therapy. While some may believe counseling consists of sitting on a couch and disclosing your problems it is much more than this! Yes, a counselor may have a couch and yes she/he will want to get a psychosocial and medical history before hearing what has brought you in, but the main objective is to work toward solutions! Everyone can benefit from therapy if they want to. So how does this work? Well 55% of the process is YOU. According to Lambert, 15% of the therapeutic experience resulting in positive changes is related to your belief that counseling can work. Another 40% is your lifestyle, friendships, faith, support, crisis situations, etc. which can affect the occurrence of change.  Picking out a counselor that best suits your needs and that you feel comfortable with is another huge factor! It is okay to change counselors if one is not a good fit for you, as there will be others who practice from different perspectives or specialize with a certain population in which you may fall. 

You do not have to be in a state of crisis to attend therapy either. As a future trauma-informed counselor and play therapist I hope to work with children who have experienced adverse events, but there are many counselors out there that want to help you find a solution to your anxious thoughts, dilemmas in the workplace, marital problems, or even trying to get rid of that extra 20 pounds you just can't seem to lose.  

In counseling, your brain can be "rewired". Neural pathways created by habit effect our everyday life. Imagine being a child who had nearly drowned during the floods overtaking Houston during Hurricane Harvey and your family lost everything, this trauma lives in the right side of your brain. For days you may have lived in terror among thousands of other evacuees at a shelter as the rain continued to poor down. Now this is NOT a time for therapy, but for crisis intervention. After this step the trauma is still trapped and can be triggered, by senses, smells, images (ex: weather predictions on the TV), sounds (ex: rain hitting a tin roof), etc. Avenues of therapy such as expressive arts, sand tray, and movement work to activate the right brain and use bridges (the corpus callosum) to the left brain. The solution is to develop a new template (or neural pathway) for the life experience; a new way of looking at these problems that is healthier and more functional. 

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Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study

As a beginning counseling student I found the ACEs study to be the most fascinating research I had ever read- it was outstanding and terrifying to me all at the same time! The study looked at the relationship of childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. 

What did they find? Well, as the number of adverse childhood experiences increases so does the risk of:

  • Risk for Intimate Partner Violence
  • Smoking
  • Suicide Attempts
  • Unintended Pregnancy
  • Risk For Sexual Violence
  • Poor Academic Achievement
  • Alcoholism 
  • Heart Disease 
  • STDs
  • Depression
  • Fetal Death
  • Poor Work Performance
  • Financial Stress

For example, an ACE score of 4 increased the risk of suicide by 1200 percent and alcoholism by 700 percent. 

However, risk does NOT define destiny. It is important for us to know the connections between adverse childhood experiences and risk outcomes, but this does not mean having a high ACE score will result in cancer or other health problems. Resiliency is a big factor when this topic is discussed! 

If you are interested in taking the ACE questionnaire for yourself please feel free to do so with the link below:  

And if you are a TED talk lover like me here is a wonderful speaker addressing the ACEs study from a physician's point of view:

Childhood trauma isn't something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.
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therapeutic activities

What can I do for myself or with my child?

Expressive Arts

  • Yoga
  • Painting
  • Rap Therapy (yes this is real!)
  • Journaling

Play - For Children 

  • In childhood, play is the natural way children learn about themselves and their environment. 

Mindfulness 

  • Mind-Body Connection 
  • Breathing Meditation

Nature Walks

  • Leads to stress reduction and a connection to nature can help some individuals feel meaning and purpose. 

Creating A Calm Down Jar

  • A sensory toy which may calm and regulate a child or adult