Focus on the Positives!

Sometimes when we go through life, it can be easy to think of all the things that are going wrong or the things that are not working in our favor. It can be easy to resort to negative thoughts when looking at what is going on around us, giving us waves of anxiety and sadness that are not enjoyable to be in. A study from Harvard explains why we should break away from this and gives us a helpful tool to do so as well.  The study found that those that wrote about what they were grateful for compared to those that wrote about what irritated them or wrote about something that had affected them for a 10 week period were more optimistic and had a more positive outlook about their lives. This study has two implications. The first one is that it is important to remember what is good in our lives and to appreciate all the wonderful things about ourselves and others around us. In doing so, it can boost our happiness and allow us to not think so negatively. The other implication is the way we can practice this. Try to write down what you are thankful for from time to time in a journal, your notes, or a phone and see how your mood progresses as you start this exercise. Reflect on what is going well in your work, your relationships, your family, your friends, your interests, etc. Slowly we can train our minds to think more positively and be a more optimistic individual! 

 

 

 

When is Reunification Therapy Done? (And some helpful hints for success…)

Hopefully, reunification therapy (RT) is successful, and then it is obviously done. But for families who feel stuck in RT and like they are not making progress, the lament often becomes, “Are we done yet?!” Which is a fair question. Attorneys and judges also struggle with this question in cases where one or more family members are asking to stop RT.

At Lepage Associates, where we have been doing RT for over 20 years, we have found getting clients to understand up front the breadth of what entering into RT really means – what it will take from all family members, the commitment, and why do it at all – results in more success, thus now we provide clients and attorneys with written information before we even take the case, to help set the stage for success. (For a copy of our Understandings & Agreements Form and our RT Handouts, email: tlepage@lepageassociates.com.  We welcome the Handouts to be shared and used with any family, even if they do not come to us for services, because we believe the information benefits children and families). Attorneys and judges also need to realize that most RT cases take several months (a year is not uncommon), as people start very entrenched in their positions, and therapy must begin with the RT therapist having several 1-1 sessions with each parent and child before starting joint sessions, to help ensure benefit is gained from joint sessions.

So, when is reunification therapy done? Let’s look at some of the nuances and complexities that can arise. The goal of reunification therapy is, as the name implies, to repair the relationship of a parent and child who have become disconnected in some way. So, in very simple terms, RT is finished when the relationship is repaired.

1. Ideal/Success: RT is DONE when the rift is healed, and the parent and child have a healthy relationship. (Note: healthy relationships are not perfect.) Indicators of success would be the parents and child talking mostly positively about the family relationships, forgiveness of past wrongs paired with current healthy behaviors, and the child being willing and even happy to spend time with the parent they previously had the rift with. This is an ideal and is the healthiest outcome in terms of present and future mental health for the child and for the parents.

Does this above sound quick? Often it is not quick! In fact, to the opposite, it can take significant time and continued effort. This means if the family members (most notably the parents) do not have the inclination to stick with RT over many, many months, then this level of success will not be achieved in the current RT. Still, there is another form of success…

2. Solidly Better/Good Enough Success: RT CAN ALSO BE DONE when the relationship is improved enough such that it is no longer a major source of emotional pain and/or anger for the family members, and there is some connection between parent and child where previously there was little or none. Indicators of this would be the negative rhetoric between family members is tamped down quite a bit, they can see some positives in one another, and the child is willing to spend time with the parent they previously had the rift with (and sometimes enjoys that time even if also feeling neutral about that time together often).

Is this ideal? No, but lots of families exist in this space of some connection, without being truly close. Children do not have to have the same level or type of connection in their relationship with each both parents to have positive relationships with both. If the relationship where there was a negative rift now lives in the land of neutral to positive, that’s a win. And it creates a foundation for possible future growth. Clearly, Option #1 is better for long term mental health, but this option is perfectly reasonable, normal, and healthy.

If clients have the inclination to stick with RT and strive for Option #1 above, that’s great, but professionals must also recognize that many families, who have never even had a divorce or any rift, live their whole lives in this zone, making it normal. It is normal and natural for a child to be closer to one parent versus another, often a result of more similar personalities, perspectives, values, and/or shared interests. It is also normal to enjoy time with some family members more than others. It is important all family members realize this is normal and does not mean anything negative about either parent or the child. (Having said that, I can recognize the two sides of this coin: the deep love for a child and drive to get to Option #1 and the reality that this two Option #2 is a totally normal occurrence in families.)

3. A Little Better/But Probably Not Good Enough Success: RT is PROBABLY NOT DONE YET when things are a little better, but not by much. Indicators of this would be slightly less negativity between family members, and a begrudging willingness (resignation to) on the child’s part to spend time with the other parent. On one hand, if RT ends here, this little shuffle forward is still a win, because any improvement in the disenfranchised parent-child relationship is positive. But there is more likelihood for regression, and on the upside, there is evidence this family can make shifts forward. Some sustained time and effort in this realm might get move the family into the ‘Solidly Better/Good Enough Success’ realm. However, that is the perspective of a therapist. Some judges might move the family into the ‘Solidly Better/Good Enough Success’ realm. However, that is the perspective of a therapist. Some judges might decide if the child is now willing to spend time with the parent, that the family should not be ordered to spend time and money on more therapy, and these practical realities need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

4. No Improvement! /So Do We Stop?!: The two ends of this success-failure continuum are where one most clearly sees a hard stop. In above, RT ends because the relationship is truly repaired. But here in the land of no movement and seeming failure, one wonders how long family members should engage in therapy.

5. Give me a quantitative answer in time/months/sessions, not the qualitative descriptions above! As a practical matter, attorneys and judges often want to know how much time one should linger in the realm of ‘A Little Better/But Probably Not Good Enough Success’ or ‘No Improvement’ before ending the RT effort all together. This topic is emotional because the complex and seemingly heart wrenching question is not really about when RT ends, but is – “When do we give up on this parent-child relationship? At least for now?”

Therapists are remiss to provide a timeline because research shows children do best when they have a relationship with both parents, even if the parents are separated, and even if the relationships are imperfect. In contrast, no relationship or a highly poor one affects social-emotional development and can have an adverse impact through adolescence and into adulthood, negatively impacting education outcomes, childhood social-emotional adjustment, and mental health in adulthood. RT can help prevent these outcomes by restoring relationships and helping children (and their parents) learn lifetime skills about conflict resolution, forgiveness, and boundary setting. Therapists are also remiss to place a timeline on RT because people, and families, all progress at different paces in therapy. If you had 10 people with anxiety or depression (or trauma or relationship issues, etc.) who all entered therapy at the same time, their symptoms would abate at differing rates; there would not be one timeframe that ‘worked’ for all. Thus, we hope these qualitative descriptions above help provide some useful framework for instances where you are trying to decide if RT is ‘done’ or should continue.

 

Phone for Thought!

If anyone is thinking of any great new year resolution ideas, limiting social media usage could be a great one! A study on social media use and mental health had found that more time on social media was significantly associated with greater symptoms of anxiety. Furthermore, the same study revealed that more daily usage of social media was significantly associated with higher levels of clinically severe anxiety symptoms. As this study suggests, social media could be the source of some of our anxiety we face on a daily basis. Although social media can seem like an easy and harmless way of catching up with friends and seeing what everyone is up to, this may have more adverse effects on our mental health than we thought if we abuse this ability in unhealthy ways. Try to limit your social media use through engaging in phone calls or meeting for a coffee instead with friends. By doing so, you may feel more connected to those you love and it may also be a great way to limit some unnecessary stress and anxiety as we go through the new year! 

 

 

Think About the Now!

As we start embarking on a new year, it is important to set goals and think about all the wonderful things the new year may have in store for us. With this being said, however, sometimes we let our minds wander a little too much, and find ourselves not being in the present moment as we are too busy thinking about the future or the past. In fact, a Harvard study shows that about 47% of our waking hours are spent thinking about what isn’t going on in the present moment. What is even more of a surprise is that this study also shows that the activity we are actually doing accounts for less toward our happiness than our mind wandering. This means that our unhappiness can be a result of not thinking about the present and not being engaged with our current surroundings. With this in mind, although it is important to think about your values and goals in a futuristic context, this can quickly turn into something that is unhealthy and detrimental to our mental health. Find happiness in the present, and really try to engage your mind into what you do one day at a time this year! You may find that without as much mind wandering, your happiness may even increase!

 

 

The Art of Play

Play is not just for kids; it’s for everyone! Getting in touch with that young fun can have numerous benefits: reduced stress, improved creativity, and a better work-life balance. Here are some ways to incorporate play into your life: 

  1. Revisit Old Hobbies: Revisit hobbies from your past. Take up painting, coloring, dancing, a sport, or an instrument!
  2. Explore Nature: Go outside! Hike on a trail, go to a park, or have a picnic. There are so many ways to get yourself in nature. You’ll be surprised how good you feel!
  3. Mindfulness: Take up mindfulness activities like coloring, going on walks, meditation, or mindful eating. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can really change your outlook on life!
  4. Adventure: Go to a new restaurant for dinner. Go to a new shop in your city. Or, even more daring, go to a new city on a whim! Explore your surroundings and see new places! 
  5. Creativity: Try some kind of creative expression. Whether it’s painting in your bedroom or joining a weekend improv group, encouraging your creativity to flow can really engage your brain!

Remember, play is not something that you outgrow or become too old for. It’s a timeless activity essential for a life of happiness and well-being!

 

It’s That Time of the Year Again!

3….2….1….HAPPY NEW YEAR! Filled with endless possibilities of where the new year will take us, this time of the year can feel exciting and sort of like a reset for us all. The New Year also calls for many of us to create a new set of New Year Resolutions that reflect our values and where we want the New Year to go. With this being said, I think it is important to review how to build SMART goals so that we can be as successful as possible in attempting to achieve them.

The S stands for specific. Make sure you are not too broad in your resolutions, and focus on the specifics of what you want to achieve and how you plan on achieving it. The M stands for measurable. Numbers will be your best friend. Quantify aspects of your goal so that it will make the overall resolution more clear on what you want to do and how you are going to know when you are showing success. The A stands for achievable. This aspect requires mindfulness and self-honesty to uncover whether or not a resolution you create is plausible. Reflect on your skills, your mindset, and what is happening around you in order to make the most achievable goal you can. When we make goals more achievable, we tend to be happier that we are making progress and feel more motivated to tackle others. The R stands for relevant. This also requires mindfulness and self-honesty, and is one of the most important steps in goal building. Create resolutions that match with your values, interests, and desires. It should be something that means something to you and not something you feel others want for you. This will help motivation levels and overall enjoyment of your progress. The last letter stands for time. Having a “deadline” is crucial because it keeps you honest and motivated to know how much time you have left. Otherwise, you will find it is easy to blow off your resolution farther and farther into the New Year. 

Building SMART goals are a great tool to be on top of your New Year Resolutions, however, remember that mistakes and failure are a part of them too! Do not feel bad if you feel you are slacking, but be proud of yourself for trying. Don’t give up when it gets hard, yet, don’t strain yourself too much! Goals should be a fun way to better yourself mentally or physically, so if you find your goal is doing the adverse, reflect on how you can tweak it to make it more obtainable. 

How Chocolate Can Brighten Your Day

As we are deep into the holiday season, nothing feels better than a warm cup of hot cocoa. Along with tasting incredibly delicious, it is an excellent mood booster! When you eat chocolate, your brain releases feel-good chemicals, including serotonin and endorphins, making you happy and content. High-quality dark chocolate is also high in antioxidants, meaning there are also health benefits to eating chocolate. Here are some chocolate recipes to brighten your day:

  1. Homemade Hot Cocoa
  2. Chocolate Covered Strawberries
  3. Chocolate Peppermint Bark
  4. Homemade Brownies
  5. Chocolate Chip Cookies

Indulging in this decadent treat will not only make your tastebuds happy but is scientifically proven to make eat yourself to some chocolate this holiday season!  

The Power of Reading

Along with being a leisurely pastime, reading has many therapeutic benefits: stress reduction, improved empathy, improved sleep, and cognitive stimulation. Here are some feel-good book recommendations: 

  1. “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  2. “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
  3. “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  4. “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert
  5. “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin

These books cover many topics, but all share a theme of motivation and inspiration. Reading can be a great tool in your therapeutic journey. So, next time you want a fun activity, pick up a book!

It’s the Holiday Season!

The holiday season, a time typically filled with joy and celebration, can sometimes leave us overwhelmed and stressed. From the never-ending to-do lists to the pressure to create picture-perfect moments, it’s easy to lose sight of what truly matters during this time. Many of us expect that the holiday season should be a non-stop parade of joy and contentment. We often set high expectations for ourselves and our loved ones, thinking that the perfect holiday exists somewhere beyond the horizon. That’s why it’s essential to reflect on the concept of happiness during this season!

It’s important to remember that happiness is not a destination; it’s a journey. Instead of chasing a vision of what the holidays should be, consider redefining your perspective on happiness. Embrace the idea that happiness can be found in the present moment amidst the imperfections and unpredictability of life. One way to find happiness during the holiday season is through mindfulness. Instead of dwelling on what’s missing or what could be better, focus on appreciating the now. Take a moment to savor the laughter of loved ones, the warmth of your surroundings, and the simple joys of the season.

The holiday season is an excellent time to practice gratitude. Reflect on the things you’re grateful for, both big and small. It can be as simple as the warmth of a cozy blanket or the taste of a delicious meal. Practicing gratitude can shift your focus from what’s lacking to what’s abundant in your life. Additionally, don’t forget to prioritize self-care during the holidays. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the season’s demands, so take time for yourself. Whether it’s reading a book, taking a relaxing bath, or simply going for a walk, self-care is an essential part of staying balanced and happy during this busy time.

As you navigate the holiday season, remember that true happiness isn’t about perfection or extravagant gifts. It’s about embracing the imperfections, finding joy in the present moment, and cultivating meaningful connections with loved ones. By practicing mindfulness, expressing gratitude, and caring for yourself, you can make this holiday season truly special and full of happiness. So, as you ponder your own holiday experience, consider how these ideas can help you find the happiness you deserve during this festive time of year.

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