The Candid Counselor

Helping individuals overcome anxiety, depression, and life's issues

Dr. Julia Becker


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Licensed Psychologist
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Serving the greater Waco, TX area, including Woodway, Hewitt, Lorena, Bellmead, Robinson, and China Spring.

Should You Make New Year’s Resolutions?

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, December 29, 2011 1 comments

 

NewYears There’s something about the new year that fills us with hope and a sense of possibility.  This new beginning inspires many people to make New Year’s resolutions.  Often these resolutions are changes that people have thought of throughout the year, and even changes they have tried to make in the past.

 

Many people make the same resolutions each year, and they fail to keep these resolutions year after year. One reason people don’t keep their resolutions is because they get discouraged.  People who experience repeated failures can develop a sense of helplessness and doubt in their ability to succeed.  They may start to interpret setbacks as failures, rather than as obstacles to overcome.

 

Tips to making (and keeping) your New Year’s resolutions:

 

1. Think about what you can realistically accomplish. Making changes will take both time and effort.  Consider your other responsibilities, available time, and energy level as you make your resolutions.

 

2. Think in terms of behaviors, not just end results. If your goal is to lose weight, the end result is your goal weight.  The behaviors related to this goal may be the decision to exercise three times a week, eating out once a week or less, and planning healthy meals each week.  

 

3. Set smaller goals and monitor your progress.  Breaking the task into smaller steps will help you stay motivated, help you feel less overwhelmed, and give you a sense of accomplishment as you complete each step.  For example, if your goal is to write a book by the end of the year, give your self deadlines for chapters or for number of pages to complete.

 

4. Predict potential challenges, and decide in advance how you will deal with them.  Making major changes is a difficult task, and you will face setbacks along the way.  Setbacks will be easier to overcome if you have already planned how you will deal with them. 

 

5. Decide who you will rely on to help you meet your goal.  This may be a supportive friend, a personal trainer, mentor, or teacher.  Having social support, accountability, and professional expertise can mean the difference between success and failure.

 

6. Consider getting assistance from a professional counselor.  For many people, self-doubt and fear of failure are major roadblocks to success.  A counselor can help people overcome these feelings in order to reach their goals. 

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…Or is it?

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, December 15, 2011 0 comments

 

christmas_shopping If you have listened to the radio during the Christmas season, you probably heard many songs proclaiming how joyful this season is, including the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

 

For many people, Christmas is a time filled with mixed emotions, including sadness, anxiety, and grief.  These feelings can be increased by the expectation that people are supposed to be happy around the holidays.  A person experiencing sadness or anxiety may have feelings of loneliness and shame as they think that everyone else is so joyful at this time.

 

People may have increased sadness and during holiday seasons for several reasons, including:

  • Grief reactions: The pain of losing a loved one becomes more pronounced during the holidays.  Even happy holiday memories involving deceased loved ones may cause bittersweet emotions.
  • Expectations: Holidays carry certain expectations, including expectations to participate in holiday events, expectations regarding gift giving, and expectations that people should be joyful.
  • Worry about spending time with family: Unresolved family issues and dysfunctional communication patterns cause added stress during the holiday season. 
  • Money problems: The expectation to give gifts to family and friends can be stressful for someone who is experiencing financial problems.  Believing that you have to “keep up” with others and spend a certain amount of money adds to this feeling of stress.

How to deal with holiday blues:

  • Recognize that other people are experiencing these feelings too.  Give yourself permission to feel sad, and let go of the expectation that you have to be joyful because it’s the holiday season.
  • Let yourself experience some joys of the season that are meaningful to you.  Do you have a favorite holiday tradition? Consider participating in those traditions that bring happiness. Even if you are depressed, you may still feel some joy while participating in these activities.
  • Say no to holiday activities that bring stress and sadness.  You do not have to attend every party or every family holiday activity.  Know your limits and plan accordingly.
  • Plan a gift budget and stick to it.  Long after the holiday have passed, your credit card bills will still affect your life.  Is it worth it?  If finances are a big concern, consider handmade gifts or give the gift of time—plan a special activity with family or friends.
  • Set boundaries regarding family interactions. Decide in advance how you want to respond to dysfunctional communication patterns and behavior.  Plan opportunities to relax and separate from your family if your stress level increases.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

OCD does not stand for “Organized and Clean Disorder”

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, December 1, 2011 0 comments

 

“Is it you, me, or OCD?”  This is the question on the minds of “Rachel” and “Clint” as they enter the office of their new OCDandCleanpsychologist.  Rachel and Clint are seeking couple’s counseling to figure out how they can resolve their differences.  Rachel is fed up with Clint because he insists on having things organized a certain way, and he is very rigid about his routine.  Clint is irritated with Rachel for not helping him keep the house organized and for not understanding his need for certain routines. 

 

Although this particular story is fictional, it represents the struggles of many people as they interact with their partners, friends, and family members.  Some people are very structured and organized, while others are not.  Some people are very concerned with germs and cleanliness, while others do not think twice about eating food that has fallen on the floor.  It is not uncommon for people to joke that their friend has OCD because she insists of keeping everything clean and organized.  Another person may joke that his friend is “OCD about Star Wars” because he has a tendency to collect Star Wars memorabilia and is very familiar with Star Wars trivia.  Everybody has a range of personality traits and individual differences.  But when does cleanliness, intense interest, and organization cross the line to OCD?

 

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a psychological diagnosis given to people who have obsessions and compulsions.  Obsessions are intrusive, disturbing thoughts that cause anxiety and impairment in daily functioning.  Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person feels compelled to engage in.  If a person with OCD is not able to engage in these compulsive behaviors, intense anxiety often results.  Only a psychologist or other qualified health professional can diagnosis OCD.

 

OCD is a disabling condition that affects interpersonal relationships and daily functioning.  It is sometimes very difficult for someone to understand why their partner engages in compulsive behavior and obsessive thinking.  Often these behaviors are dismissed as “silly”, and the person is told to “just stop” doing them.  In the case of the couple mentioned above, the counselor may work to help each person understand and accommodate their partner’s personality traits.  However, if Clint truly has OCD, this approach would not work.  Asking Clint to give up his routine may spur feelings of anxiety, followed by feelings of defeat when he is not able to succeed in changing behaviors.  This may lead to feelings of resentment and anger in Rachel when she sees that Clint is not changing his behavior.

 

The good news is that there is treatment for OCD.  Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown great effectiveness in reducing OCD symptoms so that OCD sufferers can get their lives back. 

 

Organization and cleanliness are not clinical diagnoses, but Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is.  If you think you may have OCD, please consult a psychologist in your area. 

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Dealing with conflict…should you avoid or confront?

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, November 17, 2011 2 comments

 

Conflict is a natural part of life and relationships.  How people deal with conflict depends on their interpersonal style.   Each person’s general relational style falls somewhere on a continuum from passive to aggressive. 

 

<----------------------------------------------------------------------------->

Passive                                           Assertive                                                   Aggressive

 

Passive people avoid conflict at all cost.  They work to keep others happy and feel very afraid of having any conflict with others.  They often have very negative beliefs about conflict, which may be influenced by personal life experiences. 

 

Aggressive people are quick to speak their mind and often react with strong emotions when they perceive they are being insulted or treated unfairly.  Aggressive people do not usually avoid a conflict, and they may react with verbal or physical aggression.

 

Assertive people recognize when problems are important to address with others, and they also recognize when problems are not as important.  They may chose to accept small acts of injustice rather than confront a person.  Assertive people are usually able to confront others about important issues in a respectful, productive manner.

 

Deciding whether to avoid or confront various types of conflict is not always easy.  A passive person may struggle with feelings of anxiety, guilt, and self-blame after a relationship conflict.  If they choose to avoid the conflict, they may struggle with feelings of anxiety, resentment, and unhappiness.  An aggressive person may experience anger and resentment if they try to avoid a conflict.  However, aggressive individuals may also experience regret, uncertainty, and mixed emotions after engaging in a relationship conflict.  Passive and aggressive people differ on how they think about conflict, but both types struggle with their own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors regarding conflict.

 

What’s your relational style?  How does it affect your personal relationships, emotional well-being, job satisfaction, and self-esteem?  A person is not born with any particular relational style, but it is shaped over time as a result of life experiences and personality traits.  Furthermore, relational styles can be changed.  Counseling can help people understand why they react the way they do, how their relational style was shaped, and what keeps them stuck in old patterns. 

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Are Halloween Costumes Offensive?

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, October 27, 2011 1 comments

 

Halloween Along with the traditional ghost, cartoon character, and princess costumes, you may see some different characters this year. Halloween costumes are supposed to be fun and humorous, but is there a line between funny and offensive for Halloween costumes?

 

Many people believe so, including some University of Ohio students.  These students are protesting costumes depicting people of different ethnicities, such as Japanese geishas, a Latino wearing a poncho and sombrero, and an Arab terrorist wearing a fake bomb.  Such costumes can promote stereotypes and hostilities against certain ethnic groups. 

 

Especially troubling is the new “sexy anorexia” costume, depicting a skeleton body with measuring tape around the waist and neck.  Making a joke of anorexia or depicting it as “sexy” sends the wrong message to girls and women.  This also fuels the general public’s misunderstanding of anorexia and other eating disorders. 

 

Children and teens may have strong emotional reactions to the Halloween costumes their peers wear to school.  Kids and teens already deal with the normal developmental tasks of trying to fit in and developing self-esteem.  At the same time, they may also be struggling with an eating disorder or discrimination based on their ethnicity.  Seeing their peers depict these issues in humorous Halloween costumes may cause feelings of shame, anger, sadness, or confusion.

 

However, these costumes can also provide an opportunity for people to start open conversations about eating disorders, discrimination issues, or any other concerns that the costumes may evoke.  Parents can take this opportunity to talk to their children after school and discover what their kids and teens think about these issues.

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

What kind of stress management do you need?

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, October 20, 2011 0 comments

 

It’s no secret that we live in a high stress world.  Stress is not going to go away, but it can become more manageable.  Many people come into counseling with the goal of working on stress management.  They know that stress is a problem in their lives, but they do not fully understand how or why stress affects them.  When thinking about ways to manage your stress, consider the type of management you need.

 

For example, do you need to manage your reactions, your time, your habits, or your relationships?

 

Managing your Reactions:

Think about how you react to changes and stressful events.  Do you get anxious and upset? Do you tend to have a lot of negative thoughts, such as thoughts about how this event will negatively affect your future?  Do you have muscle tension and aches when you experience stress?  We can’t control everything that happens, but learning to manage our reactions to stress can improve overall health and wellbeing.

 

Managing your Time:

Sometimes simply making small changes to schedules can improve one’s sense of control and peace.  Other items, larger changes need to be made.  People are often overscheduled and overcommitted. Managing time may involve looking closely at your schedule and deciding what needs to be cut out.  Furthermore, when people are overscheduled, sleep is often the first thing that is sacrificed.  Not getting enough sleep can increase irritability and feelings of stress. 

 

Managing your Habits:

Behavior has a major influence on mood and health.  Not getting enough sleep, unhealthy eating, and not exercising are just a few of the habits that can lead to increased stress.  Employees who spend their lunch breaks working or surfing the web often feel more tension throughout the day than employees who take a brisk walk or go out to lunch with a friend.  Think about your daily activities.  What are all the small things you do that lead to increased stress?  What do you do that helps decrease your stress?

 

Managing your Relationships:

Think about all of your relationships and how they affect your mood.  Not having enough social support makes people more vulnerable to experiencing anxiety and depression.  Having close relationships that are high in conflict or emotionally draining also leads to feelings of stress.  Managing your relationships may involve developing new relationships, creating boundaries in existing relationships, and managing your emotional reactions to other people’s behavior. 

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

What to do when your doctor says “It’s all in your head.”

Posted by Dr. Becker Wednesday, October 12, 2011 0 comments

 

doctor-talking-to-patient

It’s a common experience:  A patient goes to see the doctor about a physical problem such as  frequent stomachaches, chronic pain, or fatigue.  After some tests and appointments with a specialist, the doctor concludes that the problem is psychological, or “in your head.”

 

Patients may then asks themselves “What does this mean?  Is the doctor saying my symptoms are not REAL?  I know they’re real!”  This feeling of being misunderstood can lead to a shut down in the communication between doctor and patient.  The patient leaves the office silently, intent on finding a new doctor who will understand these physical symptoms.  Although the patient was given a referral for a counselor or psychologist, the patient promptly throws it away, certain that no psychologist could help with a physical problem.

 

Were the problems “real” or “psychological”?  The answer is not so simple.  Physical problems can have multiple causes, and can be “real” and emotionally based at the same time.  Psychological factors such as anxiety, stress, and depression cause real physical symptoms.  In recent years, research has demonstrated the powerful connection between the mind and the body.  Through this research, psychologists and physicians continue to discover specific ways that mental states affect physical functioning.  Research has shown that many physical problems are influenced by a person’s emotional state, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Perception of pain
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Immune system functioning

Furthermore, research has shown that psychological therapy produces positive changes in the brain that are detectable by medical tests such as a PET scan or MRI.  When the brain changes, the body can also change.  If your doctor has advised you to see a counselor, consider whether this may be useful to you.  Ask your doctor questions about why they think counseling will help you.  When in doubt, seek a second opinion.  Many people with psychologically based physical problems benefit from a combination of counseling and traditional medical treatments.  Your counselor can talk with you about how counseling can improve your physical problem.  Learning to manage stress and learning relaxation exercises are common approaches that counselors use to help people with physical problems.

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Beyond Time Management: Breaking the Procrastination Cycle.

Posted by Dr. Becker Tuesday, September 20, 2011 0 comments

 time_management

“I’m just lazy.” 

“I just don’t want to do it.” 

“I don’t know why I don’t get things done.”

 

These are common statements I hear when counseling people who procrastinate.  Procrastination is often misunderstood, and it is often labeled as laziness.  Many people do not realize why they procrastinate.  Here’s what often happens during a typical cycle of procrastination:

 

Procrastination occurs when the task seems overwhelming and stressful. People avoid the task, and they experience immediate relief.  When they think of approaching the task again, they become more anxious.  Avoiding the task again produces a feeling of relief.  This feeling of relief occurs each time the person avoids the task. This relief is a positive reinforcement for the procrastination behavior. The longer a person procrastinates, the more difficult it becomes to take care of the task.  Procrastination also reinforces a person’s belief that they cannot handle the task because it is too big or stressful.

 

How can people stop this destructive cycle?  The answer involves gaining awareness of thoughts and feelings that cause procrastination.  For example, Jill had been avoiding writing her English paper.  When she thought about writing it, she felt anxious and irritated.  After reflecting on her thoughts, Jill recognized she was having the following thoughts:

 

                    I’m going to fail this anyway.

                   I’m a terrible writer

                    This is going to take way too long.

 

By avoiding writing the paper, Jill was able to temporarily avoid her unpleasant thoughts and her feelings of anxiety.  Jill began to work with her counselor to battle these negative thoughts.  Through counseling, she gained self-confidence and realized she could succeed, and that she did have writing skills.  She also learned how to break the task down into smaller pieces so that it felt less overwhelming.

 

Think about your own life.  What tasks do you routinely avoid?  What negative thoughts do you have about such tasks?  Challenge these thoughts by coming up with evidence that does not support these negative thoughts.  Talk to friends about these negative thoughts to help you gain perspective.  If you’re still struggling, consider talking to a counselor.  Procrastination may be a symptom of low self-confidence.  Psychologists routinely help people improve their self-confidence so that they may lead happier, more productive lives.

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Surviving and Thriving in College

Posted by Dr. Becker Wednesday, September 14, 2011 0 comments

 

university College is a time for students to develop independence, try new things, and discover what they want to do in life.  Although it’s commonly referred to as “the best years” of a person’s life, college comes with many challenges.  Anticipating and preparing for these challenges can help students be successful and happy during their college years.  To survive and thrive in college, consider the following:

  • Talk with your roommate early on about important issues.  Important things to consider include: How will chores be divided?  How does each person feel about having friends visit or spend the night?  Will roommates share food or buy their own groceries?  Can all the roommates agree to talk about problems they have with each other, rather than letting resentment build up?  These are common concerns that come up in college students, and these issues have been discussed multiple times in counseling.

  • Don’t feel pressured to quickly choose a major.  You’re not expected to know what to do with your life when you’re 18 years old.  Visit the career center, try out different classes, talk to professors, and volunteer at places you find interesting.  Use these experiences to figure out what you want to do with your life.  If you’re still having trouble choosing, talk to a career counselor or psychologist about your ideas.

  • Get involved, but not too involved.  There are so many activities and social clubs on campus.  Think about what you really want to be involved in.  It’s okay to try out different activities during your first year before you commit to any.  It’s important to have free time in college to relax, study, and spend time with friends.  Being over involved in activities can increase stress and lead to burn out.

  • Get a day calendar and use it daily.  Go through your syllabus at the beginning of each semester and mark tests and assignments on your calendar.  Use your calendar to keep track of daily assignments, reading, and plans.

  • Stay healthy.  Eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and avoiding excessive alcohol will help you stay healthy and perform well.  These behaviors are not practiced enough by most college students.

  • Know when to ask for help.  Parents, friends, professors, and counselors are great resources for college students.  It’s normal to need guidance and advice during college.  Asking for help early on can help prevent a difficult situation from becoming much worse.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Happiness and Motivation: Ingredients for Success

Posted by Dr. Becker Monday, September 5, 2011 0 comments

 

presentation Motivation is a necessary ingredient of success in work.  Many people say they would like to accomplish more or be more motivated, but they often do not know how to do this.  One important thing missing may be a sense of care and meaning in the work.  Research shows that people who don’t care about their jobs show up less consistently, are less productive, are less creative, and have lower work quality. 

 

Although conventional wisdom suggests that pressure and negative feedback motivate people to perform, research shows that happiness and fulfillment are better motivators. Happiness results when workers find their work meaningful, and they achieve progress in meaningful work.  The result of this happiness is harder work and greater productivity.

 

Managers often do not recognize how important meaningful progress is as a motivator.  Instead, managers tend to use less effective incentives, such as raises and bonuses, or they may try to use fear or criticism as motivators.  Due to budget cuts and other limitations, many workplaces do not try to foster a sense of meaning for employees. This means that employees may have to work harder to find meaning on their own.  This can be done by thinking about work in different ways.

 

Consider the following:

  • Think about your own workplace.  Are there parts of your job that are meaningful and important to you?
  • What do you think you are adding to your workplace?  How is your work benefitting others?
  • Think about what makes you smile at work.  At the end of the day, what makes this a “good day”?  How can you add more of these positive things to have more good days?
  • Focus on the good parts of your work.  There may be many unpleasant aspects of your work.  Focusing on the good will help you strengthen your sense of meaning and positive feelings about your work.
  • Understand why your work is important.  Learn more about the company and how it benefits your community.  Work to understand how your role benefits the company as a whole.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Making Decisions…Should you “sleep on it”?

Posted by Dr. Becker Friday, August 26, 2011 2 comments

the-thinking-about-counseling-sulpture-blog When making a big decision the old advice is to “sleep on it” and make the decision the next day.  It turns out that this advice has some scientific merit to it.

 

Research shows that people experience “decision fatigue” after making multiple decisions during a single day.  Decision fatigue is similar to physical fatigue, except that most people are not aware of the mental fatigue they experience.   As the brain become fatigued, it looks for mental shortcuts.  One common shortcut is to act impulsively without considering the consequences of the decision.  Another common shortcut is to avoid making a decision at all.  The second shortcut can ease mental strain in the moment, but create more problems in the long run.

 

Think about how many small and large decisions you make during a typical day.  After a long day of working, taking care of children, or attending school, you have likely made many small decisions without even realizing it.  By the end of the day, you may be experiencing decision fatigue, and this is not the best time to make major decisions. 

 

Large decisions cause decision fatigue also.  Consider the process of buying a car.  After deciding on the make and model, there are so many other decisions to make.  Do you want to buy the extended warranty?  What kind of financing do you want? Do you want to trade in your old car, and what kind of deal can you negotiate?  The dealer may overwhelm you with decisions so that you experience decision fatigue.  The result is that you become more likely to impulsively agree to expensive upgrades on the car.

 

Tips to combat decision fatigue:

  • Think about when you are the most mentally alert, and plan to do your decision making and problem solving during this time. 
  • Let yourself have more than one day to make major decisions.  What seems like a good idea one day may look very different the next day.
  • Ask for input from friends and family.  Ask them what factors they would consider if the decision was theirs to make. 
  • Tune in to your own emotions.  If you feel eager to quickly make a decision, or if you feel a strong desire to avoid making the decision, you may be using a mental shortcut.  This can be a clue that you are experiencing decision fatigue, and you may need to take a break from decision making.
  • Decide what you want ahead of time.  When making major decisions such as buying a car, it helps to anticipate your choices and take your time to decide what you want before you go into the situation.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

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Inspiration: Making time for what’s important

Posted by Dr. Becker Wednesday, August 17, 2011 2 comments

busy_woman 

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
~Benjamin Franklin

Does it feel like you never have enough time?  Do you feel like the time you do have is being spent on unsatisfying tasks?  Many people are overscheduled and overstressed.  As a result, there is little energy for meaningful, satisfying activities at the end of a hard day or a difficult week.  Often people say they just don’t have time for these things.  Think about your own life.  Are there activities that have brought you joy and meaning in the past?  How can you make time for these activities in your life now?

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information


Did you know that in 2010 antidepressants were the second most widely prescribed class of medication in the United States? Their use continues to grow. It’s hard to miss all the television ads for antidepressants. The ad begins with a statement like “Are you taking medication but still suffering from depression?” The next part promises relief by taking the advertised antidepressant. There is no mention of receiving counseling if you are still depressed. Medication is often the first thing that patients and their physicians think of when dealing with depression or anxiety. People have mixed feelings about psychiatric medication. Some are afraid and unwilling to take it, while others just want to take a pill to quickly “fix” their depression so they do not have to deal with it.

So which group is right? It depends. A psychologist can evaluate and make recommendations about the best treatment for each individual. For some people, counseling is the best course of action. For others, a combination of counseling and medication is the best treatment. For a third group, medication alone may be the best option. The third group includes people who have already been through therapy and worked through the core issues that created their depression or anxiety. Many people in this group have a chemical imbalance and need to take a low dose of medication for maintenance.

Unfortunately, many people skip the counseling part and go straight for medication. The problem with this approach is that there is no magic pill that can fix all the emotions, thoughts, and life situations that lead to depression. When people develop depression or anxiety, a psychologist works to find out why. During counseling, psychologists work with people to overcome the deeper issues that created their emotional pain and fears. Many people do not need to take any psychiatric medication after they complete counseling.

If you are considering getting mental health treatment, talk to a psychologist first. Most psychologists complete a thorough 45-60 minute evaluation on each new person they see. After this evaluation is complete, your psychologist can make recommendations for treatment and answer any questions that you have.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.


Sudden, Unexpected Panic Attacks...Can You Prevent Them?

Posted by Dr. Becker Sunday, July 31, 2011 7 comments

Many people with anxiety say that their panic attacks occur suddenly and for no reason at all. Some panic attacks are triggered by specific situations, such as driving or being in crowded places. For other people, panic attacks have no apparent trigger. They may occur when a person is at home watching television, lying in bed, completing a routine task.

These types of panic attacks are very frustrating because they are unpredictable and difficult to understand. Although they appear to occur "out of the blue," new research shows that these panic attacks really do come with some warning signs. Psychologists from Southern Methodist University found that the body begins to signal that a panic attack is coming up to one hour before the panic attack occurs. In this study, patients wore portable recorders to track changes in bodily functions. Psychologists found that there were changes in heart rate, respiration, CO2 levels, and other bodily functions up to 60 minutes before the panic attack occurred. The patients in this study reported that their panic attacks were unexpected.

This suggests that patients do not recognize subtle changes in their physical functioning. By learning to recognize these subtle signs, patients may be able to calm their body and prevent panic attacks. Furthermore, counselors can help patients understand and cope with the anxiety that occurs one hour before the panic attack. Counselors can help patients recognize what kind of stressful situations and anxious thoughts cause this low level of anxiety. Understanding the triggers and learning ways to cope are key strategies to help prevent panic attacks.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Does my kid need counseling or do I?

Posted by Dr. Becker Tuesday, July 26, 2011 0 comments


"My son started getting bad grades in school, and he’s always made As."
"My daughter doesn’t listen to me, and throws a fit if I tell her to clean her room."
"My daughter suddenly became afraid to go to school."
"My son has been arguing with both of us and he gets mad so easily."

These are common concerns of parents who call a counselor. When kids and teens start acting differently, they often can’t explain why, or even understand their own feelings and behaviors. Kids and teens are sensitive to their environments, and they react to changes and stressors at home and school. Events such as trauma, parent separation or divorce, and the illness of a family member can cause sadness, anger, anxiety, and behavior problems. When this happens, parents often get concerned and call a counselor.

The next step is simple…the counselor “fixes” the kid…right?

Not quite. Kid’s problems rarely exist in a vacuum. Sometimes the whole family system needs work. This means the counselor may need to work with the parents and child/teen together to improve relationships and help parents understand what their kids need from them.

Other times, parents may need to see a counselor to work on their relationship with each other. Frequent conflict and arguing between parents can create sadness or anxiety for kids, as well as behavior problems.

Counselors may also provide coaching or counseling to parents to help them learn how to manage their child or teen’s behavior. A counselor may work with parents to help them learn how to set limits, make rules, and deal with problem behaviors in their kids and teens.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Coping with disappointment: Looking for the next open door

Posted by Dr. Becker Monday, July 18, 2011 4 comments

Finding-an-open-door When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us. ~Alexander Graham Bell

 

Many people express feeling “stuck” after experiencing a disappointment, losing an opportunity, or facing a major life change.  They are so focused on what is lost that they are unable to imagine finding something different.  Whether this is a lost relationship, job, or other opportunity, disappointment and regret can prevent a person from moving forward.  One way to cope is to think about your past and remember how you were able to open new doors after other doors had closed.  Some losses are more difficult to accept than others, and in some cases the help of a professional counselor may be needed.  As life continually changes, remember to keep looking for your next open door.

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Dealing with Failure and Setbacks

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, July 14, 2011 2 comments

 

future-foward-looking New research from the University of Kent shows that positive reframing, acceptance, and humor are the most effective coping strategies for people dealing with small failures and setbacks.  Positive reframing means changing your view of the failure and creating a more positive interpretation.   This can be done by looking for the positive outcomes, and focusing on what has been achieved rather than what has not been achieved. For example, Mary felt discouraged when she did not get the work promotion she had worked so hard to achieve.  She thought about all the extra hours and energy she put in to try to get this promotion, and she felt that it was all wasted.  When she thought more about it later, she realized that the extra projects she had taken on had built her resume and increased her knowledge in her field.  She realized she was now more prepared to get a different promotion within the same company, or even go work at a different company.  She also realized that not getting the promotion had allowed her more free time to gain more education and do the things she wanted to do.  By reframing this setback, she was able to feel happier and more confident, and she could accept the loss of the promotion.

 

In the University of Kent study, strategies that led to decreased positive feelings were using social support, denial, venting, behavioral disengagement, and self-blame.  It’s somewhat surprising that using social support was  a negative coping strategy in this study. Other research has shown that there are many psychological and emotional benefits of social support.  However, sometimes friends and family can increase negative feelings even when they are trying to be supportive.  By allowing their friend to vent and agreeing with how bad the situation is, they may be strengthening the friend’s negative feelings and bad mood.  On the other hand, if friends are too optimistic and act as as a cheerleader, their friend may feel a lack of support and understanding.  Helping a friend use positive reframing after a failure may be the best kind of social support. 

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Inspiration: Reaching for Goals

Posted by Dr. Becker Monday, July 11, 2011 2 comments

basket-ball-goals

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
~Wayne Gretzky

Does it ever seem like opportunities are passing you by, or that you will not be able to achieve the things you want to achieve? How many of these “shots” have you tried to make? People avoid taking shots for all different reasons. Feelings of inadequacy, fatigue, lack of interest, or not enough time are all reasons people may list for avoiding new challenges. However, for many people, fear of failure is at the root of their reluctance to try. Nobody wants to experience the sting of failure. For some, that sting is so strong that failure must be avoided at all costs. The meaning of the failure is often what hurts the most. For example, does the failure mean that you are helpless, unlovable, unintelligent, or a bad person? If this is the interpretation, it’s no wonder the failure hurts so much. Counselors help many people cope with failure and negative feelings toward themselves. To do this, counselors often use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). There are other ways to cope with failure without seeing a counselor. Click the link to read my post about dealing with failure and setbacks

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

 

Counsel-relieve-stress-ACT Kate had been diagnosed with a serious health condition that changed the course of her life.  She was overcome with thoughts about the unfairness of the situation, the difficulties she would face, and her unknown future.  As she became depressed, friends and family said she needed to “accept” her condition.  Have you ever been told you needed to accept something that seemed so terrible that you wondered how anyone could accept it?  Or have you been told that you can’t “let things go,” whether this is criticism, negative feelings about yourself, or daily stressors that replay in your mind?  Part of being human is having the ability to think and plan.  Although this is a good thing, excessive negative thinking can lead to depression and prevent us from reaching for our goals and desires. 

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of therapy that addresses these issues, with a focus on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. One major goal of ACT is to help people remove the obstacles caused by problematic thoughts so that they may pursue goals they value.  For example, a man may avoid socializing because he tends to be “awkward” in social settings.  This feeling of awkwardness prevents him from developing meaningful friendships, which is something he greatly desires.  In another situation, a woman may have a great desire to exercise, but believes that others at the gym will be judging her negatively because she is overweight. 

 

ACT counselors do not try to directly change thoughts.  Instead, the goal of ACT is to change a person’s reaction to these thoughts in order to remove the barriers that the thoughts create.  In the case of the man who avoids socializing, the ACT therapist will not challenge his belief that he is socially awkward.  Instead, the therapist will work with him to accept his awkwardness and find ways of connecting with others despite this feeling of awkwardness.  In the case of the woman who is overweight, the ACT therapist will not challenge thoughts that others are viewing her negatively as a result of her weight.  Instead, the therapist will work with the patient to help her accept her weight, accept that others may sometimes judge her, and learn ways to overcome the obstacle of feeling judged.  The ACT therapist uses various treatment techniques  to accomplish these goals. 

 

A core part of ACT is mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to the process of being fully focused on the present moment, without thoughts and concerns about the past or future.  When a person learns to be mindful and practices mindfulness regularly, thoughts lose their ability to sculpt that person’s emotions.  Mindfulness is also used to help people cope with their painful internal experiences, including physical and emotional pain.  Mindfulness means simply experiencing the pain without judgment or negative thoughts.  For example, an ACT therapist will help someone with chronic pain be mindful of the sensations without allowing negative thoughts to dominate their mind.  Negative thoughts may include “This pain will never get better,” “I can’t handle this,” or “Something bad is going to happen to my body.”  Because research shows that emotions and thoughts increase the experience of physical pain, mindful acceptance is an important part of therapy with individuals who have chronic pain.  Similarly, mindful acceptance of emotions such as anxiety, sadness, and anger is also taught in ACT.  People with depression and anxiety often judge their emotions and criticize themselves harshly for having emotions, which only strengthens and maintains depression and anxiety.  The ACT therapist teaches patients to be mindful and accepting of the ebb and flow of emotions.  ACT has shown effectiveness in helping people cope with certain chronic illnesses as well as reducing depression and other mental health conditions.

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Inspiration: When life takes a turn

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, June 30, 2011 5 comments

 

mountain-skiing-inspiration Kate* had always gone to the mountains for inspiration.  As a native of Colorado, there was nothing more peaceful to her than taking in the beauty and stillness of the peaks before she took the exhilarating snowboard ride down the mountain.  Shortly after her last ski trip, Kate was diagnosed with a heart condition which would require multiple surgeries over the course of several years.  The prognosis was not good.  Several weeks after her first surgery, she returned to her favorite ski resort to watch the snowboarders and take in the beauty of the mountains.  Her surgery had left her weak and thin, and she no longer had the strength to snowboard.  As she sat and took in the scenery, she couldn’t help but wonder how her life had changed so dramatically.   At age 22, she felt like life as she knew it had come to a screeching halt.  She wondered what her new life had in store for her and how she could accept the loss of her old life.

 

In order to cope with her emotions, Kate had to accept her health condition and the life changes that it brought.  Acceptance of difficult events and emotions is often a major part of emotional healing.  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one psychotherapy approach that emphasizes acceptance as a key part of healing.  Please follow the link to read more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

 

*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.  This individual has never been a patient of Dr. Becker or her colleagues.  Story published with permission.

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Coping with Change Through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Posted by Dr. Becker Monday, June 27, 2011 7 comments

 

Life-Under-ConstructionWhen changes and challenges arise, people react in different ways.  Some people react with a sense of calm and acceptance, others react with excitement while focusing on the opportunities the change will bring, and others may react with worry, sadness, anger, or fear.

 

For a person who is already slightly depressed or anxious, a major life change may intensify anxiety and depression.  When these emotions become overwhelming, anxious and depressed people often seek help, such as counseling.

 

After they begin counseling, people often report that the change they experienced caused their anxiety or depression.  However, it is not the change itself that caused the emotional state; it is the individual’s reaction to the change.  Furthermore, the person’s mental state before the change occurred also contributed to their reaction.  The psychologist’s next task is to help the patient understand their reaction and begin to make positive changes to reduce depression and anxiety.

 

How do psychologists help patients? 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used psychological treatment that has been proven effective in treating anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.  CBT therapists focus on understanding the role of thoughts (cognitions) and behavior on emotions.  A major task in CBT is to develop awareness of the thoughts that lead to emotions.  For example, imagine that you are criticized by your boss at work.  You may immediately feel sad, anxious, or angry.  How you feel depends on your thoughts about what happened.  If you feel angry, you may be thinking “This guy is a jerk!”  If you feel anxious, you may be thinking, “I hope I don’t lose my job!”  Often these thoughts occur so quickly that they are almost unrecognizable.  Your CBT psychologist will help you slow down this process and become more aware of the thoughts behind the emotions.  The next step in this process is beginning to challenge thoughts and working toward more balanced thinking.

 

CBT therapists also work with patients to help them change their schemas.  A schema is a pattern of thinking centered on a particular theme, and it influences the way people view the world.  Schemas may develop in childhood and persist into adulthood. For example, a person may have a schema that they are a bad and unworthy person.  This schema is strengthened as the person looks for evidence that seems to confirm those views.  The CBT therapist will work with the patient to change this schema, and develop a more realistic and healthy self-image.

 

Another important part of CBT therapy is to work on changing behavior.  A CBT psychologist will help patients understand how certain behaviors maintain their anxiety and depression.  For example, people with low self-esteem may avoid others because they believe others will not like them.  By doing this, they strengthen their schema that they are bad or unworthy.  The CBT psychologist will work with these patients to help them try out new social behaviors and develop positive relationships.  The CBT psychologist may also recommend other behavioral changes, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and activity scheduling.

 

CBT is an effective treatment for people with a variety of concerns, including relationship difficulties, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, procrastination, and stress.  To determine if CBT is the appropriate treatment for you, consult with a psychologist in your area.

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Inspiration: Reacting to Change

Posted by Dr. Becker Thursday, June 23, 2011 2 comments

 

strong-mountain-el-capitanYou cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.

~ Sri Ram

 

Why do some people seem to adapt to change and setbacks so easily, while some people become very discouraged and give up?  The people who adapt have learned how to master their attitude and their thoughts.  It takes some practice, but you can learn to shift your negative thinking and rebound from life’s challenges. 

 

 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on the relationship between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  Please see my article on CBT to find out how cognitive behavioral therapy works.

 

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

What to Expect in Counseling

Posted by Dr. Becker Monday, June 20, 2011 2 comments


Jogging-for-mental-healthMany people I see for counseling have seen other psychologists in the past. When I ask about these experiences, a common response is “It didn’t work.” It is important for me to understand why it didn’t work and what expectations and goals my patient has for counseling. Sometimes the perception that counseling didn’t work results from lack of understanding about how the counseling process works.

 

Things to consider about counseling:

  • Many people approach counseling expecting that they will feel better. They are often in a lot of emotional distress, and want to feel better right away. Counseling can stir up difficult emotions, which can leave people feeling sad, anxious, or tired after a counseling session. If these emotions feel too overwhelming for you, talk to your counselor about finding ways to cope with these emotions. One goal of counseling may be to feel better, but this may not happen right away.
  • In most cases, emotional difficulties developed over a period of months or years. Just as these difficulties took time to develop, they will take time to resolve. Some research shows that, on average, people attend 3-4 counseling sessions before terminating therapy. This is not enough time to allow significant, lasting changes to occur.
  • Counseling is like exercise: You get out of it what you put into it. Counseling, like exercise, can be challenging, tiring, and something that many people try to avoid.
  • Your counselor understands you more as time progresses, and they will use counseling to help you understand yourself better too. Counseling is a collaborative process in which counselor and patient work together to set goals and monitor progress on those goals.
  • Counseling sometimes brings up feelings and reactions that psychologists refer to as “transference.” Transference occurs when patients transfer feelings about other people in their lives onto the counselor. For example, a female patient may feel that people in her life constantly judge and reject her. She may then begin to feel like her therapist is judging her, and will look for signs that this is happening.
  • If transference develops or you have any concerns about therapy, you can bring this up to your counselor. A good counselor will be open to receiving this feedback and discussing your concerns with you.
  • Give counseling a chance before you decide to terminate. Consider sticking with it for at least 10 sessions. After those 10 sessions, you can talk with your counselor about your progress. Many times people are able to identify some progress they have made in those 10 sessions, even though they may still have more work to do in order to reach their therapy goals.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Inspiration

Posted by Dr. Becker Friday, June 17, 2011 2 comments


“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”  - B. Olatunji

It is difficult for people to be focused on the present, rather than dwell on worries and sadness related to the past and the future.  Give yourself a gift by being fully focused on the present moment, and let yourself enjoy what the moment has to offer.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Parents want the best for their children. When a child is born, mom and dad imagine a future, make plans, and talk about all the wonderful adventures they will have with their child.

Rarely does this imagined future contain serious illnesses, learning disabilities, and major struggles. When a child is diagnosed with a mental or physical disability, parents are left trying to understand what this means for their child’s future and how they will cope with the difficulties. It is then that parents have to revise their plans for the child’s future and accept that the future may look different that they had planned.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological condition that affects both children and adults. Common symptoms include difficulty with social functioning and communication, difficulty with emotional regulation and executive functioning, difficulty adapting to changes in routine, and obsessive interest in certain subjects. People with Asperger’s do not easily pick up on social signals and have a difficult time understanding things within a social context. As a result of these difficulties, they are often described as socially awkward.

Asperger’s is often diagnosed during childhood. There are several things parents should consider after their child is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome:

  • Individual counseling is often recommended for children with Asperger’s. Children may struggle with feelings of isolation and social anxiety. They may also experience high stress levels because they have to work harder than their peers to understand communication and social issues.
  • Many psychologists also refer their Asperger’s patients to social skills groups. Typically these groups consist of about 5-10 children close to the same age who have Asperger’s syndrome. Children receive social support by talking about their difficulties, and the group is also a place for children to practice social skills.
  • Parents can help buffer children’s stress by showing unconditional acceptance of the child. This acceptance is important when the child is teased or rejected by peers, or when the child says or does something socially inappropriate that embarrasses their parents. Instead of receiving sharp criticism, these children will benefit from gentle explanations of why the behavior was inappropriate, followed by a discussion of more appropriate alternative behaviors.
  • Because children with Asperger’s rely heavily on routines and predictability, they may have difficulty adapting to life changes. Such changes may include divorce, relocation, changing schools, and going away to college. Parents can help prepare their children for such changes by asking direct questions about their children’s concerns. Questions may include: “What are your biggest concerns or fears about this change?” “What do you hope things will be like after this change?” “How can I make this change easier for you?”
  • Finally, parents can consider seeking their own social support. Look for support groups for parents of children with Asperger’s or other disabilities. If there are no groups available, consider starting one yourself using meetup.com or another site. Parents may also benefit from individual counseling to learn to cope with feelings of sadness, anxiety, stress, and frustration that may come up.
Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Inspiration: Finding Your Inner Strength

Posted by Dr. Becker Wednesday, June 8, 2011 2 comments


"What lies before us and what lies behind us are small maters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within us out into the world, miracles happen" - Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Tragedies and difficult life events do not have to define you. A person's inner strength and willingness to face painful emotions are important parts of the therapeutic process. When one is willing to look within and work toward healing, the results can be miraculous.

Are Pets the New Counselors?

Posted by Dr. Becker Monday, June 6, 2011 2 comments


There are many ways that pets can improve our emotional and psychological health. Animals such as dogs are working in many settings and helping people in a variety of ways.


Did you know that just by having a household pet, you could receive psychological and physical benefits? Research has shown that petting a dog or cat over a period of a few minutes can lower blood pressure significantly. Having a pet also allows people the opportunity to engage in healthy coping strategies. For example, a pet guardian may relieve stress at the end of the day by going home to hold, pet, and play with their pets, rather than watching television or drinking alcohol. Research also shows that people with dogs tend to walk more than those without dogs. This lifestyle change can have a major effect on someone’s mental and physical health.


Animals are also integrated into counseling programs, including inpatient and outpatient psychotherapy treatment centers. Remuda Ranch, an inpatient psychological treatment center, incorporates experiential therapy exercises with horses in addition to traditional counseling.


Pets can also help children with learning disabilities. Many public libraries and schools have begun inviting service dogs to help with children’s reading. Children with reading difficulties are often more relaxed when reading to a dog than reading to a human. This allows them to practice their reading in a fun, low pressure environment. This approach has shown positive outcomes for children’s developing reading skills.


Many people form strong bonds with their pets and feel unconditional love and acceptance from a pet. Thus, the relationship with the pet can be a major source of support, especially for people who do not experience such strong connections and love from other people. While having a pet can boost one’s mood and help decrease stress levels, a pet cannot cure symptoms of depression and is not a substitute for psychological treatment.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Psychologists have previously demonstrated that repeated exposure to a trauma or fear can decrease your emotional response to that stressor. For example, repeated exposure to memories from a traumatic experience can decrease an individual’s emotional response to these memories. This is one of the reasons why talking about these experiences can be an important part of counseling and also why your psychologist may recommend exposure therapy.


New research indicates that exposure to violent video games causes a decreased brain response to violence, and increased aggressive behavior. In this study, adults were assigned to play either a violent or non-violent video game for 25 minutes. Violent video games included Call of Duty, Hitman, Killzone, and Grand Theft Auto. Immediately after playing the video games, researchers measured brain responses while showing participants neutral and violent photos. Of particular note, participants who had not played many violent games prior to the study had a reduced brain response to the violent photos, indicating desensitization. Participants who had played a lot of violent video games prior to the study also had small brain responses to the violent photos, regardless of whether they had played violent or non-violent games during the evaluation. One explanation for this response is that these participants’ history of playing violent games may have desensitized their brains and decreased their emotional response to violence.


Following this task, participants engaged in a competitive task in which they were allowed to blast their opponent with a controlled amount of loud noise. Aggression was measured by the noise level that the participants chose. The group who played violent video games blasted their opponents with louder noises than the group who played non violent games, indicating a more aggressive response.


It remains uncertain what effect violent video games have on children, whose brains are still developing. However, the results of this study suggest that caution and prudence should be applied when selecting activities for your developing child.


For parents who are concerned about the impact of violent video games on their children’s behavior:

  • Limit the amount of time your child spends playing violent and/or aggressive video games.
  • Discuss views on violence and aggression with your child, and talk about why he/she likes violent games.
  • Explore other activities, such as non-violent games, sports, or a new hobby.
  • Foster empathy in your child by getting involved in volunteer activities that help people in need. Fostering empathy may help counter the desensitization caused by violent video games.
  • If your child is already exhibiting aggressive or violent behavior, consider counseling. A qualified psychologist can help you understand the root of the aggression and develop a treatment plan to help your child.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

The Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist

Posted by Dr. Becker Monday, May 23, 2011 0 comments

The two words sound similar, and they are often confused. Many people seeking mental health treatment do not know whether they should see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. While both a psychiatrist and psychologist have doctoral degrees, there are significant differences between the two.


Psychiatrists:

  • Attend medical school and have a M.D.
  • Receive extensive training in medicine and medical problems.
  • Prescribe psychiatric medication, such as antidepressants.
  • Provide support and may provide brief counseling to patients during medication check ups.

Psychologists:

  • Go to graduate school and receive a Ph.D. or Psy.D.
  • Receive extensive training in therapy and assessment.
  • Do not usually prescribe medication (unless they have received medical training).
  • Provide psychotherapy/counseling to patients as a primary treatment for mental health issues.

Psychologists and psychiatrists often refer patients to each other. It is not unusual for a patient to be seeing both a psychologist and a psychiatrist at the same time. This may be inconvenient, as some people would like to see one doctor for both counseling and medication management. However, this is often not the most beneficial treatment, as many people with psychological problems need focused, in-depth counseling. The type of counseling that a psychiatrist provides is different than what a psychologist provides. According to a recent study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, psychiatrists spend an average of 17.5 minutes with patients. Conversations focus primarily on case management and providing support, while specific psychotherapy interventions are rare. Psychologists, however, spend an average of 50-60 minutes with patients, and use a variety of evidence-based therapeutic interventions. To learn more about counseling and other psychological topics, please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services.

Doctor, Am I Crazy?

Posted by Dr. Becker Tuesday, May 17, 2011 2 comments

This question is often asked in a joking manner at the end of an individual’s first counseling appointment. Underneath the joking exterior, there is fear about being labeled as “crazy,” and a discomfort about needing mental health treatment.

The word “crazy” comes up a lot in counseling. Sometimes people are told by family and friends that they are acting "crazy” when they show strong emotions. Others are told that only “crazy” people see psychologists. Other times, antidepressants are referred to as “crazy pills.” This labeling creates deep feelings of shame and embarrassment, and can prevent many people from seeking mental health treatment.

When my patients express fear of being “crazy,” I ask them what that word means to them. Usually, they are unable to explain this, but have a feeling that this is a very negative label and an attack on their character. Since “crazy” has no specific definition, it is easy to use this word in a hurtful manner.

Instead of focusing on the word “crazy,” I encourage people to think about what brought them into counseling in the first place. We discuss the diversity of human emotion and behavior, and the common experiences of all people. Sadness, fear, grief, insecurity, and relationship struggles are universal experiences of all people. When individuals begin to have difficulty coping with any of these aspects of life, they may develop depression, anxiety, or another mental health illness.

Mental Health Blog Party Badge

May is Mental Health Month. The American Psychological Association is working to educate the public about mental health issues. Everyone can take part in helping reduce the stigma of seeking psychological treatment. Work to eliminate the word “crazy” from your vocabulary, and instead work to understand your emotions and the emotions of others. Developing understanding and compassion for yourself and others is the first step toward decreasing mental health stigma and breaking through the barriers that prevent individuals from seeking treatment.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

How Do You Read People?

Posted by Dr. Becker Monday, May 9, 2011 0 comments

Many people believe they know how to read people very well. They believe that they can perceive someone’s character, intentions, and attitudes from a quick meeting or observation of the person.

How accurate is this?

Because we have so much information coming in, we have to rely on cognitive shortcuts. This is because looking at all the information in a systematic, scientific way would take too much time and energy. Therefore, our brains quickly process information and take shortcuts to form a conclusion.These cognitive shortcuts are based on a person’s past experiences, their biases, and their habits of thinking. Considering this, cognitive shortcuts are often inaccurate.

What problems can cognitive shortcuts cause?

Many people who seek counseling have difficulties with relationships. They often analyze others, make conclusions based on cognitive shortcuts, and act accordingly. They believe that their conclusions are accurate, and they seldom challenge these assumptions. This can result in missed opportunities to connect to others, resentment, social anxiety, and isolation.

Counseling often helps people recognize these patterns of thinking, change their thinking, and make positive changes in the way they relate to others.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Coping with a Learning Disability

Posted by Dr. Becker Sunday, May 1, 2011 3 comments


Learning disabilities affect both adults and children. Learning disabilities can lead to low academic achievement, test anxiety, low self-esteem, and discouragement.

For Children:

If a child struggles with school, his or her teacher may recommend IQ or learning disability testing. Learning disability testing will determine whether the child has a learning disability, and what kind of learning disability the child has. Testing must be done by a psychologist or other trained professional. Once the child is diagnosed, the psychologist can make specific recommendations based on the child’s needs. Such recommendations may include:

  • Extra time on tests
  • Tutoring
  • Study skills training
  • Help with note taking

For Adults:

Sometimes adults have learning disabilities that were not diagnosed as children. They may have struggled in school as children and had to work harder than their peers to learn the same material. Once in college, a person with a learning disability may begin to have much more difficulty keeping up academically. College classes are more difficult, require more study time, and move at a faster pace than high school classes. The college student who was able to make good grades in high school may suddenly find that their learning disability is causing major problems.


What to do:

  • Before a learning disability can be diagnosed, the student must receive learning disability testing by a psychologist or other trained professional.
  • By law, colleges and universities must provide assistance to students with learning disabilities.
  • The psychologist who makes the diagnosis will offer specific recommendations. Such recommendations may include:
    • Extra time on tests
    • Tutoring
    • Study skills training
    • Help with note taking.
    • Permission to record class lectures
    • Alternative course placement

    Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Am I Bipolar?

Posted by Dr. Becker Sunday, April 17, 2011 0 comments

Catherine Zeta-Jones recently put the spotlight on bipolar disorder after seeking treatment for this diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is often misunderstood by the general public.

What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder used to be called manic-depressive disorder because individuals with this condition experienced episodes of depression and episodes of mania. A depressive episode involves several symptoms of depression, such as depressed mood, withdrawal, loss of interest, impaired concentration, and other symptoms. While it is normal to feel sadness from time to time, depressed individuals experience depression to a degree that is distinctly different than normal sadness. A manic episode is characterized by mood that is unusually happy or irritable, as well as other symptoms, such as impulsivity, racing thoughts, high energy, and pressured speech.

The diagnosis of manic-depressive disorder was later shortened to bipolar disorder to reflect that mood states appeared to be on opposite ends of a pole. There are different types of bipolar disorder and various degrees of severity among people with bipolar disorder.

People with depression often experience irritable mood and mood swings. They may appear to be in a good mood one moment, and then burst into tears the next moment. This can be confusing for friends and family, as well as for the person experiencing these mood shifts. Sometimes friends and family members may be quick to suggest bipolar disorder as an explanation for these mood changes, but that is only one possible explanation. There are other reasons why someone may experience mood swings. Such reasons include:

  • Improper nutrition or extreme dieting
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A medical condition affecting mood, such as a thyroid disorder.

A medical professional such as a psychologist can determine whether an individual has bipolar disorder, and can work with the individual to figure out other reasons for the mood swings.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Stressed Out College Students

Posted by Dr. Becker Sunday, April 10, 2011 0 comments

College is a time of major change, and often a time of major stress. College students deal with a number of stressors, including academics, choosing a major, separating from parents, and making new friends.

Many students report feeling the most stressed about academics. However, students reporting academic stress often have significant stress in other areas of life as well. When students are experiencing a lot of general stress, they often experience impaired concentration, lower energy levels, and decreased motivation. These changes often lead to impaired academic performance. As academic performance worsens, students become even more stressed, which can lead to further decreases in concentration, energy, and motivation. This is a cycle that can repeat over the course of a semester as students’ grades continue to go down while stress levels continue to rise. Breaking this cycle sometimes requires professional help from a counselor.

How to cope with academic stress:

  • Determine if you are experiencing stress in other areas of life, as this stress may be affecting academic performance.
  • If you are experiencing stress in other areas of life, work on finding methods to reduce this stress, or consider getting help from a counselor.
  • Think about when this stress developed. Try to determine if there were changes you made that led to increased stress.
  • Recognize the role of procrastination in increasing your stress level. Decrease procrastination by:
    • Having a friend keep you accountable
    • Setting small goals and celebrating your accomplishment of these goals
    • Minimizing distractions in the environment, such as Facebook, computer games, and friends coming and going in your apartment or dorm. Consider going to the library to study.
  • Recognize negative thoughts that lead to increased stress, and work on replacing those with positive thoughts.
  • Take time to relax daily. Yoga, deep breathing, medication, and muscle relaxation are all proven ways to reduce feelings of stress. Taking at least 15 minutes a day to relax is a worthwhile investment that will pay off in reduced stress levels.
  • Surround yourself by friends who support and encourage you. Social support has been proven to be a buffer against stress.
  • Consider getting professional help from a psychologist if stress becomes unmanageable.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Severe Anxiety and Depression in College Students

Posted by Dr. Becker Sunday, April 3, 2011 0 comments

A 2010 survey of college counseling centers shows that there is an increase in college students with severe psychological problems, especially anxiety and depression. This information was obtained from an annual report by the Association for University and Counseling Center Directors. This trend is not surprising, considering that college students experience a number of life stressors and internal struggles, which can lead to anxiety and depression.


In addition to experiencing anxiety and depression, many college students feel the burden of guilt and shame for having these mental health problems. Some students feel that they should be happy because they have many advantages, such as friends, family support, and an education. These student often struggle to understand why they develop depression, and may blame themselves. Students who feel guilt or shame often withdraw from friends and family so that others will not discover their depression or anxiety. They may also work hard to present a cheerful attitude around others. This behavior is exhausting, and often increases symptoms of anxiety and depression.


Students often come to college with high expectations for their academic success, friendships, and social life. Many students have heard that college will be the “best years of your life.” When reality does not match up with expectations, students can develop anxiety or depression.


College is a time of great change. Moving away from one’s family, choosing a major and career path, leaving old friends behind, making new friends, living with roommates, and coping with adult responsibilities are just a few of the major changes that college students face. Difficulty coping with these changes can result in anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder. Additionally, students begin to develop their sense of identity and independence around age 18. Struggles with this can also intensify anxiety and depression.


College counseling centers are a great resource for students struggling with anxiety, depression, difficulties with adjustment, or other concerns. Counseling centers offer individual therapy for students as well as group therapy. Because counseling centers are struggling to keep up with the growing needs of students, many centers also refer students to psychologists off campus.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

Is Self-Help Harmful? Lessons from the sweat lodge deaths…

Posted by Dr. Becker Tuesday, March 15, 2011 0 comments


In 2010, James Arthur Ray, author of several self-help books, was charged with the deaths of three participants of his 2009 self-help retreat. Ray had participants of his retreat take part in a sweat lodge ritual, which he claimed would allow them to experience positive change and be “reborn.” After participating in this ritual, three participants died from the heat.

There are many self-help books and programs claiming to help individuals overcome a variety of problems. Some of these methods are helpful. Other methods are ineffective, and can even be harmful to a person’s mental or physical health.


When choosing a self-help book or program, consider the following:

  • Check the credentials of the expert. Was the book written by a psychologist or mental health counselor? Be cautious when considering a book or program developed by a person without formal training in the mental health field. Psychologists have extensive training treating individuals with various mental health and emotional problems, and their advice is based on sound clinical principles.

  • Beware of a one-size-fits-all approach. There are many books on treating anxiety disorders, but there is no single book that is effective for ALL individuals with anxiety. Differences in personality, background, and culture are always considered when a psychologist is treating a person. Self-help authors cannot consider all of these individual differences when offering advice. Although a particular book may have worked great for your friend, this book may not be the best fit for you.

  • Be cautious when considering books that promise a quick cure or guarantee success. Personal change takes time and effort. The most effective way to overcome personal obstacles and emotional problems is to seek counseling from a psychologist.

  • If you have doubts about the physical or mental safety of a self-help exercise, consult a physician or psychologist.

Please visit Becker Counseling and Psychological Services for more information.

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