Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Tracing It Back to the Roots

I registered to be on the Psychology Today directory yesterday, wanting to solicit more clients for my practice, which has seemed to be dwindling (for all the office’s therapists) over the past few months.  In my profile, I was asked to provide a “personal statement”, which I found to be somewhat challenging.  How does a therapist encapsulate what kind of work they do, and with which type of clientele, with which kind of specialties?  It made me reflect on the clients I’ve had over the past year — most of them struggling with relationship issues, then stress and anxiety issues, then the lack of awareness of their problems and coping skills with which to deal with these obstacles.  
For a while, I was wondering if I should just specialize in marriage therapy and helping people get through the option of divorce, if it ends up being the best answer.  I worked with a couple to try and mediate conflicting opinions on parenting their difficult child.  This ended up unearthing more fundamental differences in their wants and needs, and they mutually decided to divorce, making them happier and more effective parents.  I worked with a man individually, who was also in marriage counseling with another therapist, giving him the space to vent his “real” thoughts and frustrations about the marriage, and to confront his own deep-rooted intimacy barriers that were leading to much of the marital discord.  That marriage ultimately led to divorce.  Then later, I worked with a woman who’s boyfriend had cheated on her, then they broke up, then they got back together under “new rules”, which then led to them impulsively getting married two months later.  They actually ended up developing a fairly healthy relationship with good communication skills, as she brought much of what she learned in therapy home to him to discuss.
And now I’m working with a woman, whom I’ve been seeing for over three years, who’s been married to an alcoholic, porn addict, reckless spender who is 15 years her senior, who finally came to the realization that the relationship was unfixable, that the costs far outweighed the benefits, and that they both needed to let each other go and get on with their lives.  But this took over three years of basically going over the same struggles, the same expectations that fell flat, and the same hopes that her husband would eventually “see the light” and get help for his problems.  
All of these clients had relationship problems because of underlying conflicts that sat at the core of their being.  I always use the analogy of a tree, saying that the presenting issues — be they relationship conflicts, job stress, compulsive behaviors, social anxiety, or whatever! — are just a branch on a trunk that has deep roots that we need to dig up and explore.  We can cut off the branches, but the tree will eventually grow new ones!  So, instead of specializing in just marriage therapy or relationship issues, I feel like I need to pan out to include several other “branches”, because whatever they are, it all comes back to “what is this thing that’s been bothering me and debilitating my life?”, then “where did it come from?”, then “how do I work through it in a healthier way?”.
So what I ended up saying were my top 3 specialties were:  Relationship Issues, Coping Skills, and Life Coaching.  You can see my full profile on www.psychologytoday.com when you search in the Cincinnati area (zip 45249).  My hope is that it attracts clients who want to work for a better life and are willing to excavate the roots, fertilize the soil better, then grow healthier branches and leaves.  🙂

Recalibrating Your Barometer

I’ve always been pretty good at thinking of good analogies to explain some kind of psychological concept, and I came up with this one a couple weeks ago.  I was talking with my husband about his overreaction to minor frustrations, like not being able to find something, or finding out that something is broken.  And he was explaining to me that he didn’t know how to react any other way than to explode, if he was angry about something.  Even as he was explaining this to me, he was visibly agitated and shaking, with his eyes wide open!  
I said, “So you’re barometer is broken.” 
“What?” he asked.
Now, it just so happens that I’d been doing some research online about hot flashes and night sweats, and it talked about how hormones play a role in regulating one’s body temperature, so this was typical for women going through menopause.  It was saying that, during this transition, the barometer gets off-kilter and sends incorrect signals to the brain to heat the body, thinking that the person is cold.  Okay, so I figured this might be a similar scenario — Tim’s body was sending incorrect messages to the brain to “explode” even though the situation really didn’t warrant it.
I went a step further to see how one actually fixes a broken barometer.  Most of the advice actually said to throw it out and buy a new one, since it’s hard to do (LOL), but I finally found a video of a guy who was explaining that barometers need to be recalibrated if they are moved into a different environment or altitude, so that the measurements stay relative.  Otherwise, it’s calibrating on incorrect information.  So….how would this relate to our emotional barometer?
You know how some people say that we go through major life changes about every 7 years (give or take a year)?  Well, I believe this is true — 7 year spans correlate, more or less, with developmental stages.  And I think that it’s during those transitions that one needs to figure out if their emotional barometer needs to be readjusted.  I’ll give an example:
Say there’s a 16 year old kid who has an alcoholic father, and this father is very unpredictable with his behaviors — sometimes he’s sweet and nurturing, other times he could rip your head off with his fury.  This kid must constantly be on guard and prepared for possible “outbursts” so that he can defend himself and stay safe.  This instinct is serving him very well, and it works for him at that time.  Now…fast forward 7 years to when he’s 23.  He’s now graduated college and is living with a roommate, maybe dating a nice girl and has an entry-level job at a good company.  He’s learning some independent living skills and doesn’t rely nearly as much on his parents for their support.  However, he’s still got a very guarded, suspicious, and somewhat hypervigilant personality, which causes him a lot of anxiety and keeps him from having very close relationships.  Consequently, he may overreact to anyone who shows anger or uses alcohol excessively, he may mistrust his girlfriend, or he may never want to get his hopes up for something good to happen, because he’s wired to believe that Life is incredibly unpredictable and people can turn on a dime.
This instinct isn’t working as well, at this stage in his life.  And chances are, if he doesn’t recalibrate this instinct, he will live an anxious, limited, and lonely life.
My husband Tim used to be in law enforcement, and so he dealt with a lot of knuckleheads who confronted him or defied rules, broke laws, or just acted ignorant and did stupid, dangerous things.  His job was very busy and fast-paced, so he didn’t have much patience for people who couldn’t keep up with him, or who dropped the ball somewhere.  He was also married to a woman who’s job kept her away from home a lot, and they didn’t have any children, so no one was really there to get the backlash of his frustrations when he came home.  
His angry reactions might have a little more justified back then (even though I could debate that too, but for all intensive purposes…), but it certainly needs to be recalibrated now.  He’s no longer in a position of authority like that, he’s not responsible for as much as he used to be, and he has a wife and two stepchildren who bear the brunt of his anger when it comes out now.
This hadn’t even dawned on him.
Tim admitted to me that he needed to learn how to react in varying degrees of anger, not only because it’s no longer fitting his surroundings, but it’s damaging things within him — namely his physical health, his mood, and his ability to connect well with others.  This will take time, as the instinct is so ingrained in him, but at least I’ve brought his awareness to the problem, and he is recognizing when he might be overreacting more.
Going back to the frequent advice to just “throw it out and get a new one”, recalibration may be too difficult to do on your own and may need to take place in individual therapy.  I can think of several clients I’m working with now, who are going through major transitions in their lives and yet they’re still trying to adapt with old patterns, instincts, and beliefs.  When old coping mechanisms don’t work anymore (or if they are actually causing more problems than they fix), then it’s time to ditch them and develop new ones.  THAT is the process of recalibration.  Pick yourself up and put yourself back down into a different position — a different perspective, different tools, and maybe with different people, to react to what Life is throwing at you.
I think there really is something to that 7-year theory.  Take stock of where you might be right now in that cycle and see if your emotional barometer is still working in the various areas of your life — family, work/school, relationships, friendships, financial, spiritual, health, etc.  

Might be time for a tune-up. 🙂

Is our satisfaction with our lives correlated with how much advice we allow into our lives?

One way that I can tell that I’m becoming more content with myself and the way I live my life is that I’m flipping through magazines more quickly.  Whether they’re ones that I’ve subscribed to, ones I’ve received as gifts, or ones I find in a waiting room or bookstore, they all want to give me advice on make-up, fashion, parenting, home decorating, health issues, money management, career strategies, and relationships – and that doesn’t include the overdose of ads that are screaming for my attention with gorgeous models, alluring colors and insane promises for wrinkle reduction or other youthful miracles.  They even have tear-out coupons and perfume cards to tempt me to buy their product sometimes!  It reminds me of the overstimulation of a Mexican shopping district, where everyone is insidiously vying for your attention (Hey, mi amiga!  Come!  Look at these beautiful necklaces – I make good price for you!), practically cramming their wares down your pockets.  It’s pure madness.
There was a time when it would take me the full month to get through each magazine:  I had stacked-up issues of Self, Real Simple, O Magazine, Yoga Journal, Eating Well, etc.  and my luxury was to find some Sunday morning to sit in bed with a cup of coffee on my side table and soak up the articles, photos, recipes, product descriptions, and how-to, step-by-step directions on how to make my marriage more exciting, my body more fit, my appearance more beautiful, our breakfasts more healthy, my household more efficient, and my kids smarter and more creative!  By the time I was finished, I was as motivated as if to climb Mt. Everest, wanting to implement change and give facelifts to all kinds of things! 
But I’ve realized that that process continually makes you look at your self and your life as deficient.  Have you ever gone to a department store and tried on all these beautiful new outfits, but for whatever reason, you don’t buy them, so you have to put your old outfit back on and walk out of the store feeling like your current wardrobe may as well be rags?  Same thing with looking at new houses or cars – you’re left going back to your old one, feeling like what you have just flat-out sucks!
I think we all get overwhelmed by the media, at some point or another.  There is so much to take in on TV, the Internet, and in magazines (fortunately I don’t subscribe to any newspapers). We tend to just go numb and are left feeling like our choices have been wrong and we haven’t been doing a good enough job managing our lives.  So here’s my personal solution – I’ve gotten better at simply scanning the magazines more quickly, allowing myself no more than 10 things to cut out and file away as reference — a couple of pictures, articles or recipes.  I just zero in on specific areas where I do want advice and ignore the rest.  Those magazines now get tossed into the recycling bin within a week of getting them in my mailbox, rather than sitting stacked up by my bed, as a dreaded reminder of how much work I have to do to completely renovate my life.
Therapy should NOT feel like a load of work to do to completely renovate your life, either.  In fact, it should first be about taking inventory of what’s already working for you – what choices have you made that are good ones?  What do you already like about your self, your marriage, your parenting skills, or your career?  Then it’s an exercise in locating the few things that do need changing in order to enhance what’s already good.  It’s amazing how many clients of mine will struggle when I ask them in the first session “What are your strengths?  What’s already going well?”  They sit there with a blank expression because their brain has been wired to be flaw-focused instead.  And I honestly believe this has a LOT to do with the media.
So next time you’re watching TV commercials, or turning the pages of a fashion or home magazine, try to view them from a more confident standpoint in knowing what parts of your life are already good enough for you (and your family).  In the end…you have absolutely NO obligation to complicate your life with any more advice or new products than what’s  necessary.  Be more content with what you’ve got and ignore the rest. 🙂

Against the Grain

So I’ve had blogging on the brain for these past few days.  I’ll be doing something benign like vacuuming or taking a shower and some idea for a blog will pop into my head.  This morning, for example, I got up with my husband, Tim, at 6:30 and made him lunch and sent him off to work, then I usually stay up and do some yoga, meditation, or writing.  But today, I crawled right back into bed to sneak in another hour of sleep.  I didn’t sleep well last night, so I was craving a bit more, if possible.  But I couldn’t fall back asleep.  My mind kept racing about all the things I should be doing instead.  Simply put, I felt guilty about being lazy and indulgent — a chronic trigger for me for self blame and inadequacy.  So, today’s blog is about going against your natural grain for a greater good.  Yes, I’m fully aware that sometimes it’s NOT a good thing to go against a gut reaction or impulse, but I think it’s worth talking about those times when it actually is.
In 2003, I had a total hip replacement.  Apparently, I was born with hip dysplasia and it was  the reason for lots of knee problems during my childhood and then excruciating hip degeneration after having both my children, in the late 90’s.  Anyway, I was quite young and fairly active back then, but nothing prepared me for the physical therapy that I had to endure to strengthen my new, bionic hip.  My therapist, Joe, made me do exercises that were sometimes awful and almost always painful.  I was purposely hurting myself in order to build muscles and then strengthen them.  He taught me how to breathe into and then release the pain, but I absolutely hated it.  Fortunately, once I’d developed a layer of muscle around the hip, the process became easier.  Eventually, I learned to lift my leg all on its own and put full weight on it, allowing it to do its thing.  I got better and faster at walking, climbing stairs, squatting down to pick things up — you know, all the daily activities necessary when you have young children!
I think we all have some form of behavioral and/or emotional “dysplasia” in our lives, where a natural or learned tendency is unhealthy and actually causing pain.  As a therapist, I gently challenge clients, like Joe challenged me, to breathe into the initial discomfort of developing and strengthening new beliefs and behaviors, until eventually they can do it on their own.  
Once the client and I have identified their weak “joint”, so to speak, they’re often taken aback, with the proverbial light bulb going off in recognition of the source of their pain.  That’s huge right there!  But then the real work begins.  I have a client who came in with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  She has always looked at life from the “glass half empty” perspective, which has caused tremendous fear around the belief that she’s never in the driver’s seat of her life — that she’s constantly in the passenger’s seat, at the mercy of outside influences.  She’s the Debbie Downer character on SNL, seeing the negative or dangerous side in all situations.  I asked her to look at her perspectives as muscles.  I explained that her Negative Muscle was waaaaay overdeveloped, and that she really needed to work exclusively on building up her Positive Muscle.  I assigned her the traditional homework of listing at least 5 positive things that she noticed each day, and asked her to bring the lists in to me each week.  This was very hard for her, as it went against her natural grain.  In fact, it was almost like she was a cat having to tolerate being petted in the opposite direction!  For every positive thing she listed, she felt compelled to add the “but” or “even though” at the end (“I had lunch with a friend today….but the food really wasn’t that good”  “I helped my sister put up curtains today…even though I had to take Ibuprofen for my back pain”).  I’ve tried to be comical about this, teasing her about her knee-jerk response to cling to that Negative Muscle workout, and she laughs at herself in recognition of it now.  But I praise the hell out of her when she’s able to state something positive and leave it alone.  This praise has been reinforcing and is slowly empowering her to shift from the dark to the rose-colored lenses she needs to feel better about and safer in her world.  I anticipate she’ll be in the driver’s seat before too long.
As for my own weak joint of feeling too guilty to rest, I try to make a conscious effort to relax into it, being kind and compassionate with myself, rationalizing that I do need some “down time” in order to fuel my otherwise busy life.  It’s a work in progress, of course, but the grain is slowly morphing into a different direction.
Until next time!


Getting Started With Anything

For about five years now, I’ve been dreaming of having my own private counseling practice. I could envision the office and how I’d want it set up and decorated.  I also had ideas of what types of clientele and therapy in which I’d want to specialize, as well as various creative methods I’d use to help them grow.  But the logistics always seemed to evade me (Where the heck do I start?  Do I get a loan first or write a business proposal?  What are the legal aspects?  What name would I give it?  How do I rent office space?) Then there was the money excuse (I can’t afford the start-up costs. I couldn’t deal with the loss of income before a profit shows up.  How would I pay for health insurance and other benefits I’d lose?).  Then I’d just get scared of how big and unmanageable it might get (Would I be able to keep up with all the paperwork and scheduling? What if someone asks me to be a speaker somewhere?  Would I be able to juggle the practice with all my other responsibilities?).  But year after year, with each Christmas card I wrote, I’d get more embarrassed to tell my family and friends that I was still in the same job as the year(s) prior, and still wanting to move forward with my private practice.  What I wanted to tell them was that I had finally started the practice, that it was very successful, and it was the light of my life!

But now, something has lit a fire under my butt.  Earlier this year, I planned my second wedding.  It was about a six month process, but I designed, coordinated, assembled and financed all the details of what turned out to be a spectacular event for over 50 guests.  I received more compliments about how beautiful, classy, meaningful, and joyous the day had been for everyone.  And these compliments meant a lot, coming from the classy, intelligent, and fun people who gave them!  My parents, for example, came from the era of giving elaborate dinner and holiday parties.  They were very well-versed at being creative with various themes, providing lovely atmospheres, and serving delicious food and drink to all their guests.  Let me tell ya — I was damn proud when they both gushed over the homemade invitations, the customized Buddhist ceremony, the way I decorated a horribly plain looking park shelter, the quaint reception site, the French food served, and all the other details that went into the day.  This, my friends, gave me the resolve I needed to believe that I could ALSO create a private practice and make THAT happen!
So I guess the first thing to say about getting started on anything new, is that it helps if you have at least one big success in your back pocket.  Think back on all the accomplishments you’ve had in your life.  What qualities of yours went into making those happen?  Who patted you on the back and said “Attaboy” (or girl)?  It doesn’t matter how large or small the event was.  The point is that it should help build your confidence.  This leads to my ultimate advice for starting something new or changing some kind of behavior.
The two biggest things I talk about with my clients are Positive Belief and Small Bites.  First, believe you can do the thing you’re setting out to do.  It doesn’t matter if you secretly think “Pffft…yeah, right!  Whatever!” because that will eventually change if you believe it for long enough.  I’m a firm believer in the Law of Attraction, and if you haven’t seen or read anything about that, seek it out now!  “The Secret” was a big hit a few years ago, and introduced this concept beautifully, but there are other books written on it, too.  Positive thoughts strengthen your efforts, because it creates the energy needed to move forward.
Okay, second — you can’t look at these big projects as a whole because they’ll just overwhelm you.  You have to break it down into smaller, little tasks so you can take baby steps until the whole project is completed.  There’s a cool analogy that was used on “The Secret” that said it’s like driving in the dark with your headlights on: You can usually only see about 200 ft in front of you, but you can go from one end of the country to the other, just seeing 200 ft in front of you, the whole time.  I love that!  Too many of us want to put on the high beams and see the entire route to our end goal, but most of the time that’s just not possible.  Plus, it leaves no room for “adventure” to come in.  I’ll talk about adventures later, but you should always leave enough room for something outside of your realm to happen, because it usually helps you along — in some way.
So, for my own big goal of the private practice, my first step is to passionately believe that I can do this, evidenced by my past experience and successes.  My second step is starting this blog.  I’ve always loved to write.  In fact, I’ve kept a journal since I was 12 years old (and still have most of them, believe it or not!), so this medium has always been therapeutic and creative for me.  From here, we’ll see what happens.  Right now, I’m in my 200 ft. headlight zone.  The rest will unfold as more blogs get posted, new inspirations wake me up in the middle of the night, and as I open myself to opportunities (which I’ll call gifts) that may lead me to the next step.
One disclaimer I will note is that I’m not well versed in HTML, but I’m learning!  So changes to the design and arrangement of this blog will be made as I get better. 🙂
Thanks for reading and contributing to this energy.  I hope you’ll find a few helpful thoughts and give me feedback on your various experiences.