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10 Important Questions to Ask When Searching for an Individual Therapist

Searching for a therapist is a significant step towards improving your mental health and overall well-being. However, finding the right therapist who meets your needs can be daunting. Whether you’re considering traditional therapy services or exploring online therapy services, asking the right questions can guide you to the best possible match. Here are ten essential questions to ask when you’re searching for a therapist.

1. What is Individual Therapy and How Can It Help Me?

Before diving into specific questions, it’s important to understand what is individual therapy. Individual therapy, also known as psychotherapy or counseling, involves a one-on-one session with a trained therapist. Individual therapy can help you address personal and relationship issues, mental health conditions, and emotional challenges. It can help you develop coping strategies, improve communication skills, and gain insights into your thoughts and behaviors. Individual therapy can also help you resolve traumatic incidents from your past, so they no longer interfere with your ability to enjoy life in the present.

2. What Are Your Qualifications and Experience?

One of the first questions to ask any potential therapist is about their qualifications and experience. Inquire about their educational background, certifications, and licenses. If you are looking for a specific kind of therapy – for example, therapy to help with a fear of leaving the home – ask your potential therapist if they have done any specific training in agoraphobia treatment. A therapist with a strong educational foundation and condition-specific training can provide more effective and tailored therapy services.

3. What Is Your Approach to Therapy?

Therapists often use different approaches or modalities to guide their practice. Common approaches include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), EMDR, and more. Many therapists have training across several treatment modalities, but most have settled on one or two that they tend to use the most. Understanding a therapist’s approach can help you determine if it aligns with your preferences and needs. If you aren’t familiar with any or all of these approaches, ask your therapist about the qualities or structure you may be looking for. For instance, are you looking for a highly-structured, time-limited (e.g., 8-10 sessions) approach that includes weekly “homework”? Or are you looking for an approach that will specifically help you with past trauma?

4. Do You Offer Online Therapy Services?

With the increasing popularity of digital solutions, many therapists now offer online therapy services. If you have a busy schedule, live in a remote area, or prefer the comfort of your home, online therapy can be a convenient option. Ask potential therapists if they provide online sessions, and how comfortable they are with conducting therapy online. You also may want to inquire about the platforms they use to ensure they are secure and user-friendly. If the therapist works for a larger organization (such as LynLake Centers for Wellbeing), the telehealth platform they use must be HIPAA-compliant, and is likely determined by the organization, not the therapist.

5. What Is Your Availability?

Consistency and accessibility are key components of effective therapy. Discussing a therapist’s availability can help you determine how often you can schedule sessions and how flexible they are with appointments. Knowing if a therapist has evening or weekend hours can also be crucial if you have a tight or unconventional schedule. It’s important to remember, however, that finding an experienced therapist who works evenings and weekends is no easy task, and sometimes finding the right fit in a therapist means figuring out how to adjust your own schedule to make it work.
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6. What Are Your Fees and Do You Accept Insurance?

Therapy can be a significant financial commitment, so it’s important to discuss fees upfront. Ask about the cost per session, any sliding fee options, and whether they accept your insurance. Be sure to check with your insurance provider as well, to get the details regarding how your specific health insurance plan covers mental health services. While most therapists at LynLake Centers for Wellbeing accept insurance for individual therapy services, not all therapists accept all plans, so be sure to ask your insurance provider about whether a specific therapist is covered. Understanding the financial aspects can help you plan accordingly and avoid unexpected expenses. If they don’t accept insurance, ask if they can provide receipts for you to submit for potential reimbursement.

7. How Do You Handle Confidentiality?

Confidentiality is a cornerstone of therapy. Ensuring that your sessions are private and your information is protected is essential for building trust. Ask potential therapists about their confidentiality policies, including how they handle session notes and any digital communication. If you’re considering online therapy services, inquire about the measures they take to secure online interactions.

8. What Is Your Policy on Emergency Situations?

Mental health can sometimes involve crises or urgent situations. Understanding a therapist’s policy on handling emergencies can provide peace of mind. Ask about their policy regarding communications outside the session, whether they offer emergency sessions, and what steps to take if you experience a mental health crisis outside of regular session times.

9. Can You Describe Your Typical Client and Therapy Process?

Understanding a therapist’s typical clientele and process can help you gauge if they’re a good fit for your needs. Ask them to describe the demographic they often work with, such as age groups or specific issues like anxiety, depression, or trauma. Additionally, inquire about the typical process of therapy, including the structure of sessions and how progress is monitored.

10. What If I Don’t Think You’re the Right Fit?

An ethical, competent therapist should be comfortable talking with you about what to do if you don’t feel like they are a good match for you. They should also be willing to help you find the right fit if they are not. Some therapists might request that you let them know what doesn’t feel right, in case they can adjust their approach accordingly. In any case, a good therapist should be able to talk with you about how to have this conversation, be open to the possibility that they may not be the right fit, and have a plan for connecting you with someone who might be, so that you are not left to find someone else on your own.

Finding the Right Fit

Finding the right therapist is a personal journey. Here are additional tips to help you along the way:

Online Individual Therapy Services: Pros and Cons

With the rise of technology, online therapy services have become a viable option for many. Here’s a brief overview of the pros and cons:
Pros:

Cons:

Conclusion

Research over the decades has shown that the #1 predictor of how much people benefit from individual therapy is how well they connect with their therapist. This means finding a therapist you feel comfortable with is more important than treatment modality, specific credentials, or even the therapist’s years of experience. Ultimately, you will need to trust your gut as to whether a new therapist is the right fit, as there are no hard and fast rules or checklists for determining such things. But asking questions up front can help you feel a greater sense of agency and empowerment when it comes to finding the right individual therapist for you.

Ready to begin your search? LynLake Centers for Wellbeing has over 200 individual, couples and family therapists across 12 locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Contact us today so we can help find the right therapist for you.
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Summer is Here! Why Getting Outdoors is Great for your Mental Health

Summer has finally arrived in Minnesota, a welcome change from the long and dreary winter we just endured. The sun is shining, the air is warm, the breeze is fresh, the birds are making baby birds – it’s a glorious time to be outside, seasonal allergies notwithstanding. This is why Minnesotans emerge en masse as soon as the air stops hurting our faces, squinting in the sunlight, our white legs peeking out of the shorts we dug out of a box in the basement. As we soak in the sun’s blessed warmth for the first time in what seems like a bajillion years, many of us begin making a mental list of all the outdoor concerts, festivals, food trucks, sporting events and camping trips we hope to cram into this all-too-brief season. 

On some level, we know that being outdoors is good for our mental health. Why else would we feel so desperate to be outside for every. single. minute. of summer? As it turns out, there is a ton of research out there supporting what we already knew instinctively, which is that being outdoors is about more than simply getting some fresh air into our lungs. Nature has measurable and significant mental health benefits for people of all ages. But why is that and what, exactly, are those benefits? 
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What’s So Great About Outside?

For thousands of years, humans lived exclusively out in nature, co-existing with the plant and animal life around us, depending on it for survival. We learned to use cues in nature (sun, clouds, trees, plants, water, etc) to guide nearly every aspect of daily life and survival – when to wake up, what food sources might be available, what kind of weather we need to prepare for, you get the idea. It stands to reason, then, that we feel better when we are out in nature, since nature is where we historically got all the information we needed to stay alive. 

Clearly, society has changed dramatically over the past few millennia and we no longer depend on nature the way we once did. Our bodies, however, have not changed quite so much. They still yearn to interact with the natural world around us. Think about it: when you find yourself in a forest, or in the middle of a lake, or maybe just in a wooded park, have you ever noticed how your body seems to…shift? Like a head-to-toe exhale. It’s almost as if your body is saying, “Ah, I’m finally back where I belong.”  

This theory – that our bodies evolved to be in tune with nature and are therefore most at peace when in nature – is called the “biophilia hypothesis,” and there are decades of quality research studies to back it up. More recently, perhaps in response to the growing mental health crisis taking place across the globe, researchers have been honing in on the mental health benefits of being outdoors. And their findings are both fascinating and conclusive: we are happier when we go to where the wild things are. 

Ok, so let’s get into some specifics, shall we? What are these supposed mental health benefits of spending time surrounded by greenery, and just how much nature are we talking about in order to get those benefits? Here are just a few of the many ways that heading outdoors can improve your mental health (and your physical health, too!):

Being Outdoors Can Decrease Stress

Our bodies are less stressed out when we get back to our outdoorsy roots. Over 40 experimental studies have provided overwhelming evidence that being out in nature can reduce physiological markers of stress (cortisol levels, blood pressure, heart rate, etc). One study even found that merely looking at pictures of nature can decrease stress! Not only is this likely due to the whole biophilia theory I talked about earlier, but being out in nature also engages our senses in a way that modern life so often fails to do. The soothing sounds of rustling leaves, the calming greens and blues of the plants, trees and water, the scent of fresh air: all of these activate our parasympathetic nervous system, immediately calming us down and reducing the feeling of being stressed out.   

Being Outdoors Can Make You Happier

People who take a walk in nature experience a more positive mood state (translation: they feel happier) than people who go for a walk in the city. At least, that’s what researchers in Palo Alto found when they assigned 60 study participants to one or the other. While both groups reported deriving some benefit from their leisurely stroll, the nature folk reported experiencing more feel-goods than the city folk. Not only that, but the nature walkers reported less anxiety and rumination than their urban counterparts. For those of you who like numbers, it took 50 minutes for the nature walkers to experience these benefits, and they reported exactly zero negative side effects. 

Being Outdoors Can Improve Your Attention Span

I know, this one took me by surprise as well. Who knew that nature could improve your ADHD?! But sure enough, being physically active while out in nature appears to have a pretty profound impact on our executive functioning – things like attention, focus, working memory, and impulse control. And while research also shows that exercising in any setting for 20 minutes or longer can improve your executive functioning, studies that compare walking in urban areas vs. in nature have found that being in nature has more of an impact on executive functioning. Moreover, whereas it takes at least 20 minutes to receive cognitive benefits from exercising indoors, it may take as little as 15 minutes of physical activity out in nature to get those same benefits

Being Outdoors Can Improve Physical Health

The body and brain are connected, which means a happy and healthy brain relies in part on a happy and healthy body. As it just so happens, being out in nature has plenty of benefits to our physical health as well. We now have plenty of evidence to show that spending time outdoors leads to improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and improved immune function. One study even found that having a view of nature outside your hospital window may speed up recovery time after surgery. Behold the healing powers of nature!

How To Bring More Nature Into Your Life

Now that we have established at least some of the mental health benefits that can be found in nature, let’s talk about how you can incorporate this information into your daily life. If you are like most people, you already feel like your days are pretty full, and if you live in an urban jungle, the idea of routinely heading over to a nature-filled oasis might sound improbable at best. Fortunately, there are plenty of urban-friendly options to get at least some of the mental health benefits nature has to offer. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of taking care of your mental and physical health right now, even as it may seem more difficult than ever to do so. The good news is that with the arrival of summer, one of the most enjoyable ways to feel better immediately may be only minutes away. 

Feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of spending more time outdoors? Talk with your therapist about creating a plan for addressing whatever obstacles are in your path, to see if there are ways you can incorporate nature into your daily life. Don’t have a therapist but think you might benefit from having one? Contact us today to begin your journey to better mental health. 
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Five Tips for a Successful Medication Management Appointment

We’ve all been there: you show up at your doctor’s appointment and suddenly you can’t remember much more than the initial problem that brought you in. Weren’t there some questions you wanted to ask? A side effect or symptom you thought was maybe related to the new medication you’re taking? Was there some information you were supposed to bring this time? In other words, showing up to a medical appointment feeling prepared can be harder than one might anticipate. So how can you make sure you show up as prepared as possible for your medication management appointment? 

Fortunately, our medication management team has come up with 5 tips to help you get the most out of your medication management appointment at LynLake Centers for Wellbeing.  
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1. Make sure you do your paperwork.

At risk of sounding like Roz from Monsters Inc., it is really important that you complete all of the intake paperwork in your LynLake portal account prior to your first medication management visit. This allows your provider the chance to read over your history, diagnoses, symptoms, medications, and any other background information they need to guide their decision-making. Be sure to include all medications you currently take, including dosage and how frequently you take them, as well as supplements. Also, make sure you know which medications you have taken in the past, and at which dosages, even if they didn’t work well for you. 

2. Identify your main goals beforehand (and consider writing them down).

As mentioned earlier, sometimes the mind goes blank once a medical visit has started, so perhaps give some thought beforehand as to what your goals are for the appointment, then write those down to have on hand for your visit. You might even want to talk with your therapist about possible goals for your med management consultation. Are you hoping for relief from depressive symptoms like low energy, no motivation, sleeping too much or too little, and so forth? Or maybe you experience panic attacks and you are hoping to find something that might reduce how often they happen or how long they last. If you aren’t able to be that specific about your goals, that’s ok too. Your med management provider will be able to ask questions to help them hone in on what it is you’re hoping to achieve with medication. 

3. Come with an open mind.

While the TV might be encouraging you to try a certain pharmaceutical for your depression, or you have a friend whose anxiety practically disappeared after they began taking a specific medication, your med management provider may determine that you would more likely benefit from something you have never heard of before. So while you may have a specific medication in mind, try to keep an open mind when it comes to the actual medication you may end up trying. Your provider looks at a number of factors in order to determine which medication may be right for you, and those factors may point to a different solution for you than for your friend. Your med management provider may even recommend that you hold off on medication for now, until some other issue has been resolved, or because they believe a non-medication solution might be more effective. If you go into your session focused on your overarching goals, rather than on a specific pharmaceutical solution, you are more likely to be receptive to your provider’s recommendations. 

4. Ask questions to determine the right plan for you.

Even though your medication management provider will do their best to identify the best solution for your symptoms and concerns, you can always ask questions to better understand their recommendations. It is your mental and physical health that will be affected by their decisions, after all, so speak up if you have questions about their decision, any potential side effects, safety concerns, what to expect from the medication, how long it will take before you notice any improvements, and so on. It’s even ok to decide, after meeting with your provider, that you don’t want to take the medication they prescribed! Plenty of people decide to take some time after their appointment to determine whether they want to take the medication that was prescribed or try an alternative approach. You can also ask questions after your appointment by messaging your provider through your LynLake portal account – you don’t need to wait until your next appointment.

5. Be patient and keep reasonable expectations.

Rarely do medications work immediately. In fact, most medications for depression and anxiety can take up to a month before you see any benefits at all. Likewise, some of the initial side effects you may experience might subside over time. It’s also important to keep in mind that medications tend to work slowly over time.  You may not even notice they are working until one day you realize you haven’t had a panic attack in a few weeks, or you have been getting up with your alarm most mornings lately and have felt more motivated to spend time with friends.

It’s also important to remember that medications target symptoms, not your overall personality. For example, medication cannot turn an introvert into an extrovert, nor can it transform you into someone who is organized and on time for everything. So be sure to talk with your medication management provider about the results you can reasonably expect from the medication they have prescribed for you, and when you can reasonably expect to start experiencing those results. 

At LynLake, we want you to feel empowered to advocate for yourself and your mental health. Medication management can be a beneficial part of that plan, so if you would like to meet with one of our medication management providers, be sure to talk with your therapist or contact our referrals team directly to schedule your appointment. 

Understanding Trauma and PTSD – Part I: What is Trauma?

Throughout our lives, most of us experience a wide range of events – some good, some neutral, some bad, and some that are truly horrific. While all of these events have the potential to affect how we understand ourselves and the world around us, our brains are wired in such a way that negative events have a greater impact on our perceptions and reactions than their positive counterparts. It’s a survival mechanism, to ensure that we don’t have to learn twice that fire is hot and a growling dog can bite. In other words, our brains are designed to learn from traumatic experiences, as painful as some of those lessons might be.

Sometimes, but not all of the time, traumatic events can lead to the development of a mental health condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. We will talk about PTSD in Part II of this mini-series. In this first blog post, we will discuss the different types of trauma that can lead to the development of PTSD and related conditions.  

Acute Trauma

Acute trauma occurs when a person experiences a single event that is profoundly distressing, harmful, or has the potential to be harmful (or fatal), such as a car accident, a mass shooting, a natural disaster, or a house fire. Merely witnessing one of these events can be distressing enough to be traumatic. It’s also important to note that an event that is hurtful, but not harmful, is not considered acute trauma. To be regarded as acute trauma, the brain needs to register the event as a serious threat to one’s safety and wellbeing.

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma can develop when a person experiences prolonged and/or repeated harmful or extremely distressing events over an extended period of time. Examples of complex trauma include domestic abuse, repeated sexual abuse, severe childhood neglect, and growing up in a war zone or violent neighborhood. Even bullying can be considered complex trauma if the person experiencing it believes they are in danger with no means of escape. 

Generational Trauma

Research on how trauma affects the children of those who experienced it has shown that the effects of trauma can last for generations. While some of the impact appears linked to how trauma shapes the way trauma survivors parent their children, there is also emerging evidence suggesting that trauma (especially complex trauma) can actually change our DNA, which then gets passed down to our children genetically. 

Vicarious Trauma

People in certain professions – for example, medical professionals and therapists who specialize in working with trauma survivors – can end up feeling as though they have absorbed some of the pain and emotional impact of the trauma others have described to them. While this may not lead to PTSD, it can have other emotional and physical consequences, and can negatively impact how the person thinks about themselves and the world. 

Chronic Stressors

Sometimes referred to as chronic trauma, chronic stressors refer to stressful life events that occur repeatedly and over an extended period of time. Whereas complex trauma involves a series of events that cause serious harm (or the threat of serious harm), chronic stressors are events or situations that create ongoing pain and/or uncertainty but do not pose a serious threat to the person’s life or safety. In this category, we might place things like prolonged financial stress, growing up with parents who fight all the time, or being in a toxic work environment for months or years. While there is still some controversy as to whether these kinds of situations should be considered traumatic, most therapists will tell you that people who have experienced a chronic stressor such as those I just mentioned can end up with similar physical and psychological symptoms as people who have experienced complex trauma, albeit perhaps to a lesser degree. Moreover, the same interventions therapists use to treat PTSD often seem to be effective at treating symptoms resulting from chronic stress. 

Little ‘t’ Trauma

You may hear therapists refer to certain life events or situations as “little ‘t’ traumas,” not because they are insignificant, but because they typically don’t make the same neurological impact as the “big ‘T’ trauma” (which is the same thing as acute trauma). While they may not come with a risk of death or bodily harm, these events can be quite painful. Examples of little ‘t’ traumas might include things like the ending of a long-term relationship, the death of an elderly parent, the loss of a pet, or sustaining a concussion while playing a sport. The list of little ‘t’ traumas is a long one, and literally all of us will experience multiple little ‘t’ traumas over the course of our lives. How we come to understand these negative experiences can make a big impact on how we think of ourselves and the world in which we live, but they do not typically lead to the development of PTSD. 

Healing From Trauma

It is important to remember that suffering is an unavoidable part of the human experience and we are born with the innate capacity to heal and learn from these painful experiences. One of the best ways to start the healing process is to talk about your traumatic experience with someone you trust. While this someone certainly doesn’t have to be a therapist, mental health professionals are trained to help you process the negative events in your life in a way that allows you to grow from them, becoming more resilient and able to face painful experiences in the future. 

If you are suffering from the after-effects of trauma and would like to speak with one of our qualified mental health professionals at LynLake Centers for Wellbeing, please contact us today. We are here to help. 

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What Is Medication Management (and is it the right choice for you)?

Scene: You’re in a therapy session, and your therapist asks if you’ve ever considered trying medication to help with your anxiety, depression, ADHD, or [insert diagnosis here]. And sure, you’ve thought about it, but you haven’t done much more than that because you aren’t really sure how, when or why medication might help. Should you consider taking medication for your mental health symptoms? How would it help? 

These are just a couple of the many questions people ask when deciding whether to add medication management to their mental health treatment plan. Taking medication can feel like a big decision, and for good reason: psychiatric medications (or any medication, for that matter) can have unpredictable side effects, and it’s often impossible to know how well they will work, or if they will work at all, until you’ve been taking them for several weeks. 

For many people, however, adding medication management to their mental health treatment plan can be a game-changer. So let’s unpack the what, why, and when of medication management, to help you determine whether it might be worth considering. 

What is medication management?

Because the vast majority of therapists are not able to prescribe medications, they have to refer their clients elsewhere for the medication aspect of their mental health treatment. That other provider – typically a psychiatric nurse practitioner or psychiatrist, but physician’s assistants, family medical doctors and pediatricians can also prescribe these medications – is then responsible for determining which medications to prescribe, ensuring the medications are working as they are supposed to, and checking to make sure there are no intolerable negative side effects. This is what we refer to as medication management. 

At LynLake, we have a team of medication management providers, all of whom specialize in psychiatric medications. Your LynLake therapist may refer you to one of these providers, or you can reach out to our referrals team to schedule an appointment with one of our medication management providers, even if you are not currently seeing a LynLake therapist. The provider will ask about your symptoms, your overall health, your treatment goals, and gather any additional background information they feel is important in order to determine which medications to prescribe. If you also see a therapist, your medication management provider may ask to communicate with the therapist, to get their impression as to which medications might be most beneficial, and to check in later on to see if the therapist is noticing any improvements or, conversely, any side effects.

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Why should I consider medication management?

Deciding whether to take psychiatric medication is a personal decision and one you should weigh carefully, just like you would for any medication. That said, many people find that medication improves their daily functioning by reducing the intensity of their symptoms. For example, for people suffering from depression characterized by difficulty getting out of bed, low energy and no motivation, medication has the potential to reduce or even eliminate these symptoms, giving people the ability to get through each day more easily. For people struggling with agoraphobia, as another example, medication can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack or other anxiety symptoms, so they aren’t paralyzed with fear every time they think about leaving the house. 

Of course, no medication works for everyone, and some people struggle to find any medication that works well for them. But with ongoing advances in medicine, even if you haven’t had success with psychiatric medication in the past, it may be worth asking your provider if any new treatment options exist. 

Many people also find that adding medications to regular therapy seems to make therapy more effective. One way to think of medication is like water wings: if you’re having trouble just keeping your head above water, learning how to swim might seem impossible. Water wings keep you afloat so that you can practice your strokes without having to worry about drowning. Medication can help keep you afloat while your therapist helps you learn how to swim. This also means that some people (though not everyone) are able to stop taking medication after making some necessary changes and implementing the skills they learned in therapy. 

When should I consider medication management?

There is probably no single answer to the question of when you should consider medication management. Some people much prefer taking medication over going to therapy, which means the answer for them might be different than for someone who views medication management as a last resort sort of thing. Generally speaking, however, medication management is probably something to consider if your mental health symptoms are so debilitating that you are not able to function as you need to in your everyday life, if they are creating problems in your job, at school, in your relationships, with your finances, if they are negative affecting your physical health, if you are having thoughts of harming yourself, or if you are already engaging in self-harm behaviors.  

Another reason to consider medication management is if you have been in therapy for several months or longer, and you aren’t seeing improvements in your symptoms or functioning. You are doing the work, engaging in the therapy sessions, making the recommended changes in your sleep, diet and exercise, but you still feel depressed, anxious, etc. Or maybe you simply don’t have the energy, motivation, or clear-headedness that you would need in order to make those changes. If that is your situation, taking medication – even if just for a brief period of time – might give you the boost you need to implement those changes you’ve been talking about with your therapist. 

What if I really don’t want to – or I can’t – take medications? 

There are plenty of people who are unwilling or unable to take psychiatric medications, and maybe you are one of those people. Some people belong to religious faiths that prohibit taking medications. Some people want to pursue more natural interventions (e.g., supplements, cannabis, acupuncture, etc). And for some people, their bodies seem dead set against pharmaceuticals, reacting to all of them with significant side effects and little or no benefits. 

If you are someone who is unwilling or unable to take pharmaceutical medications for your mental health symptoms, there are alternatives you may want to consider. Functional medicine is an approach to physical and mental health that focuses on identifying the underlying cause(s) of your symptom(s) and then tailoring interventions to address that root cause. Acupuncture, Reiki, Craniosacral Therapy, Yoga Therapy, and Therapeutic Massage are also non-pharmaceutical approaches to mental health that can boost the effects of psychotherapy, which is why we offer those services at LynLake, in addition to medication management. These are just a few of the non-pharmaceutical options available for people who do not want to take medications, who are unable to, or who have had little to no success with them. 

If you are interested in learning more about medication management and whether it can help you, be sure to speak with your therapist. Or you can contact our referrals team directly to ask about setting up an appointment with one of your medication management providers. 

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Written by: Terri Bly, PsyD, LP, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

8 Reasons to Start Couples Therapy That May Surprise You

Most of us know that couples therapy is a resource to consider if you and your partner find yourselves arguing all the time and don’t know what to do about it. Most people also think about seeking professional help if there’s been an affair. But these are far from the only reasons to see a couples therapist. In fact, most couples therapists would probably prefer that couples seek out their services before things get to the breaking point. Relationship therapy can be a wonderful way to strengthen an already healthy and loving partnership, because let’s face it: no relationship is perfect, seeing as none of us in relationships are perfect. A skilled couples therapist can go a long way to helping you and your partner work through these issues and come out the other side with newfound energy and desire to invest in the relationship. 

Here are 8 great reasons to consider relationship or couples therapy*:

1. You want to learn how to argue better.

For whatever reason, few of us grew up with positive role models for conflict resolution. Maybe we learned that fighting often leads to harm or rejection, or our parents never argued in front of us, preferring to either stuff down their disagreements or save them for when the kids weren’t around. Maybe we grew up with only one parent who didn’t have many relationships while we were living at home. Whatever the reasons, many of us enter into our own relationships feeling ill-equipped to resolve arguments in a healthy and constructive way. Moreover, we tend to partner with people whose experiences with conflict are different from our own. A couples therapist can help you and your partner understand how your early experiences of conflict inform your approaches to it now, and then help you replace those unhelpful early learning experiences with constructive, effective strategies that will not only strengthen your relationship, but will help you model healthy conflict resolution for your own kids (should you have any). 

2. You are stuck on a specific issue or decision.

Oftentimes in a long-term relationship, situations arise in which you and your partner need to make a joint decision, but you are struggling to get on the same page. The stakes feel high and neither of you believes compromise is the way to go. Examples that come to mind are things like having kids (or more kids), moving to a different part of the country for a job opportunity, or buying a bigger house. When situations like these come up, and you and your partner are far from reaching an agreement, it may be a good idea to bring a professional in to help you talk through what’s at stake, your respective reasons behind your position on the issue, and what you each need from each other in order to come to a decision you both feel good about. 

3. You don’t know how to stay emotionally regulated when talking about certain topics.

Certain topics – for example, money, sex, and parenting – seem to bring out bigger feelings than others, which means that even a couple that typically can stay calm while working through differences may suddenly find themselves entangled in an out-of-control fight, or shutting down completely, and nothing ever gets resolved. A couples therapist can help you lower the emotional temperature in the room by teaching both of you skills for regulating your emotions, as well as the communication skills you need when venturing into hot button topics. They can also help you figure out what it is about these topics that is so triggering for each of you, so that you can work through it (possibly in individual therapy) and be able to separate your own past trauma and painful experiences from those in your current relationship. 

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4. It feels like your partner has changed and you’re not sure you like it (and maybe they say the same thing about you).

People change. Values, goals, health (physical and mental), desires, needs, all of these can – and often do – change over time. This means the person you met 5, 10, or 20 years ago has likely changed in ways you didn’t predict and may not necessarily appreciate. Conversely, one person might feel like they have changed while their partner seemingly hasn’t changed at all, which can leave them feeling like they have “outgrown” the relationship. This can be a particularly scary thought process to navigate, since your partner hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong, and yet, you find yourself wondering if it’s still a good match. Couples therapy is a great way to approach this difficult phase of the relationship by helping you and your partner understand the ways in which each of you has (or has not) changed, and then figuring out if there are ways to approach these differences that don’t necessitate calling it quits. 

5. The relationship feels stuck in a rut.

No relationship is unicorns and rainbows all day, every day. Add jobs, kids, money stress, a pandemic, or just the mundaneness of daily life to the mix, and a couple can end up feeling more like roommates than lovers. Couples therapy is a great space for identifying how the spark you once had got snuffed out, and then help you reignite it. 

6. There’s been a breach of trust (and we’re not just talking about infidelity).

Affairs aren’t the only way a person can betray their partner. Gambling, hidden substance use issues, secret purchases, or simply lying to your partner repeatedly: all of these can create serious breaches of trust in a partnership. If left unaddressed, resentment and contempt can foment within the relationship, making it increasingly difficult to repair the damage as time goes on. Couples therapy, especially if the therapist is brought in soon after the betrayal is discovered, can help mitigate the damage by getting to the underlying causes of the betrayal, and then helping the couple create a plan for healing and rebuilding trust. 

7. Your differences are becoming a problem.

It has often been observed that the traits we are drawn to in a partner are the very same aspects of the person that drive us crazy later on. You fell in love with your partner because they were calm and stable, and now it just feels like they’re boring and predictable. Or you were drawn to their intensity and creative spirit, but now they just seem emotionally unstable and impractical. You enjoyed being the “planner” at the beginning of the relationship, but now you wish your partner would step up and make things happen once in a while. While this relationship phenomenon is about as normal as it gets, that doesn’t make it less frustrating, nor is it always clear what to do about your grievances. A couples therapist can help each of you figure out what it is about these differences that is getting under your skin, then help each of you determine which of your partner’s traits are truly damaging to the relationship, and which ones may require a reframe on your part so that they don’t bother you so much.

8. You want help navigating a non-traditional relationship structure.

Not everyone is in a “traditional” two-person, monogamous relationship. And yet, most of the information and services out there are geared toward couples who identify as monogamous, which can make it difficult to know what to do when you want help addressing issues in your non-traditional relationship. You may worry (with good reason) that the therapist will judge the relationship structure as the problem, and thus won’t be able to help you and your partner(s) get to the root of the actual issues you want to address. Fortunately, more and more therapists are getting trained in how to provide competent, non-judgmental therapy for people in these kinds of relationship structures (including therapists here at LynLake). 

Couples therapy is about investing in your relationship. Like anything we value and want to last, a relationship requires time and attention, and sometimes that means overcoming the discomfort you may feel at the idea of letting a 3rd party in on your relationship struggles. But the right relationship therapist can be a true game-changer, so if you think you and your partner(s) may benefit from relationship therapy, we would encourage you to complete our intake form at LynLake Centers for Wellbeing today, to get started on the path to a stronger relationship. We offer relationship and couples therapy at both our Minneapolis and St. Paul locations. 

*While this blog often mentions “partner” in the singular, please note that we recognize some people have more than one partner, and while the issues that arise in polyamorous relationships may overlap in many areas with two-person partnerships, they also present their own unique dynamics. We plan to address some of these in a future post, so stay tuned!

Beyond “Just Do It”: 8 Tips from a Health and Wellness Coach for Reaching your Goals

Have you ever met anyone who says, “Once I decide to do something, I just do it”? Nike’s “just do it” attitude pervades our culture.  But if we all could “just do it”, many people in the helping profession would be out of a job. Wouldn’t we all like to be that person, since we would be doing all the things that we know we “should” be doing to maximize our health?

It’s just that simple… Not!  

In the U.S., less than a third of Americans meet both aerobic and strength-building guidelines, and that number goes down with age and in certain regions of the country. Only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables. Many of us don’t get enough sleep or take enough time to unplug. And the thing is, most of us know we don’t do enough of these things, but we aren’t sure how to change. Or we try to change, but it just doesn’t stick. 

As a therapist and Board Certified and Wellness Coach at LynLake Centers for Wellbeing, I love helping people make changes that improve their health and quality of life. To help you succeed with your goals, here are 8 of my favorite tips for making lasting change: 

1. Find Your Why

Without a powerful reason as to why you want to attain a particular goal, you will not have the stamina to take the daily steps you need to overcome obstacles.  You will be more likely to give in to your impulses and revert to those old behaviors that keep you from achieving your goal. 

Some questions to get at your Why:

Create reminders of your Why

How will you remember your “why” when life gets hard and you get off track?  For some, keeping on hand  symbols such as photos, words, or phrases that encapsulate why you are making these changes can help bolster your motivation when you are struggling. 

Many of my clients have photos of their kids and grandkids as motivation to stay on top of their health so they can play on the playground with them and live to see their families grow.

2. SMART Goals are Smart

SMART goals are actions that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Based.  Let’s say your overarching goal is to lower blood pressure and bring down cholesterol.  One way to do this is to get more physically active.  A SMART Goal approach might be to exercise by going for walks at least 2 times a week for 30 minutes each time within a month.  You might start at once a week for 20 minutes and work your way up to twice a week in steps within that month. 

3. Plan for Obstacles

Life happens. You get busy, you don’t sleep well for a couple of nights, you forget, you get bored or you simply don’t feel motivated that day. In other words, you are human. To make sure you don’t get derailed by unexpected bumps in the road, try the following: 

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4. Create Structure

5. Find an Accountability Buddy

Most of us are more motivated when we can do things with others.  Find someone who has a similar goal as you, and see if you can work towards it together . If that isn’t possible, ask a friend or your partner to be your check-in to let them know that you were successful or not each week.  

6. Mix it Up. Make it Fun

Some of us don’t like to get on a treadmill.  How can you make attaining your goal fun?  Maybe walking isn’t your thing.  What sounds fun?  Is it taking a barre class or doing yoga?  Could walking be fun if you take different routes or listen to music or an audiobook while walking?  Doing the same thing day after day can get boring.  How might you mix it up so you don’t get bored?

7. Focus on Actions Rather than Outcomes

Many people have the goal of losing weight as an example. Even getting to a specific blood pressure or cholesterol number is not something we necessarily have complete control over.  Getting healthier can include feeling better about yourself and feeling more vital, energetic, and embodied.  What you do have control over are the actions you can take to get to a more healthy self such as getting more physical activity, more sleep, and a more plant-based diet.  So ask yourself, what are other measures of success–ones you do have more control over?

8. Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Shame is the enemy of change. Shame can make you feel unworthy or unable to make the changes in your life to feel better. Instead of beating yourself up, try this instead: 

Making changes in your life is a process. Expect to experience ruts, missteps, obstacles, and disappointments, because change is hard!  If you can hold the attitude that change is growth–no one stays the same–you will begin to understand how rewarding this process will be.

LynLake Centers for WellBeing provides therapy and counseling services. Begin your journey to healing and wellness by scheduling an appointment with us today

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db443.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/division-information/media-tools/adults-fruits-vegetables.html

https://www.apa.org/topics/personality/willpower#:~:text=The%20subjects%20also%20reported%20smoking,all%20areas%20of%20their%20lives.

https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html

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Written by: Sharon Burris-Brown, LICSW, National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, and Certified Parent Coach

The Two-Part Secret to Unlocking Your Libido

My favorite self-help book of the century so far is Emily Nagoske’s “Come As You Are,” a guide to understanding the female body and the mechanisms of sexuality, I personally think this book should be required reading in every high school across America (although I’m also certain it never will be), as it is by far the best book I have ever read when it comes to helping us understand the complicated relationship between our bodies, our lived experiences, and our desire for intimacy.

One of the central themes in Nagoski’s book, and the one I use most often when working with couples, is that our sex drive has both a “brake” and an “accelerator.” Whereas most of us tend to think of desire for sex as more of a single on or off switch (you’re either in the mood or you’re not), Nagoski makes the compelling case for a two-part system, with both parts requiring attention if igniting a desire for sexual intimacy is the end goal.

Part 1: The Accelerator

When it comes to ramping up our desire for sexual intimacy, most of us have some idea of what gets us going. Whether it’s certain music, specific types of touch, playful text messages, imagery, or even laughter and just being silly, each of us develops a menu, if you will, of what takes us from neutral to ready-to-go. That is our accelerator. And since your list of what revs your engine is unlikely to be the same as your partner’s, it’s important to let them know what kinds of actions or activities get your accelerator going, and to ask your partner what does the same for them.

We also need to understand that each accelerator is uniquely sensitive. Just like with cars, some accelerators need just the slightest touch to get going, whereas others require a more concerted effort. Similarly, some people can go from 0 to 100 in under a minute, whereas other people take a lot longer to get there. This means that even if you and your partner happen to have the same activities on your lists of accelerators, that doesn’t necessarily mean you both rev up in the same amount of time.

I always encourage my couples clients to have an open and honest conversation about their accelerators. Not only can it be an extremely fun conversation to have, but it also can have a positive impact on each partner’s sexual satisfaction within the relationship. Some of the questions to consider discussing with your partner: What kinds of things can they do to get your accelerator going? And vice versa? How much time do you need to get revved up? What else should they know about your unique accelerator? What else should you know about theirs?

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Part 2: The Brake

Some of you, when reading the questions above, might be thinking to yourself, “I can’t answer those because it completely depends on how I’m feeling!” Maybe you are thinking about the times when your partner was doing all the right things to get your accelerator going, but you were having none of it. That is what Nagoski refers to as your brake.

Going back to the car metaphor: you can have the pedal to the metal, but if the brake is on, that car ain’t goin’ nowhere.

As with the accelerator, we each have our own unique set of brake-pushers, and what activates one person’s brake may have no impact whatsoever on another person’s brake – it might even rev their accelerator! Nor is there a “right” or “wrong” when it comes to our brakes (or our accelerators). Our unique histories, temperaments and chemistry all come together to determine how our bodies respond to our environment. That said, some common brake activators include various stressors (work, financial, family, household, etc), sleep deprivation, illness, pain, a messy environment, and hormones. Not surprisingly, if you happen to be upset with your partner for whatever reason, that alone may slam on your brakes.

One common misconception is that people who have a frequent desire for sexual intimacy and a rapid accelerator also have no brakes. That’s because, in comparison to their partner, it may in fact appear that way. Consequently, on the rare occasion when their brake is activated, their partner may take it personally and interpret the brake to mean that their partner is no longer interested in them. But while some people have a very short list of stressors that activate their brake, pretty much all of us have one – the differences are in how many things activate the brake, how long the brake stays engaged once activated, and what it takes to disengage it.

Whatever the cause, when our brake is on, we are unable to access our sexual desire, no matter what else is going on that would typically rev our accelerator. We aren’t interested in that kind of intimacy, even if we still want touch, snuggles or kisses. What this means is that if you are hoping for sexual intimacy with your partner, your first task is to see if their brake is engaged. If the answer is yes, step 2 is to see if there is anything you can do to help alleviate the pressure on it. Is your partner stressed out because they have too much to do? Then see if there is anything you can take on to reduce their load. Is a messy space on their list of brake-pushers? Consider proactively cleaning up around the place before they get home. If it turns out there’s nothing you can do to relieve the pressure on your partner’s brake, your best bet is probably to wait it out, rather than add to their stress by complaining about it or trying to push the issue.

I have seen some amazing conversations take place between couples with regard to their brakes. So consider talking with your partner about what activates your brake, and ask them to think through what activates theirs. Then talk about what each of you would like your partner to do when they notice your brake is on. While this conversation may not be quite as fun as talking about your accelerators, it can go a long way towards building a mutual sense of trust and understanding in the relationship – which, for many people, can be a pretty effective accelerator all on its own.

LynLake Centers for WellBeing provides therapy and counseling services. Begin your journey to healing and wellness by scheduling an appointment with us today.

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Written by: Terri Bly, PsyD, LP, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Lyn-Lake introduces Acupuncture services with Andrea Cyr, Licensed Acupuncturist, MAOM

Healing experiences emerge from the context of so many details.   I believe in our innate ability to find meaning and heal.

My training and clinical experience of nearly 20 years with Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture guides the process of learning together, what is out of balance for you and exploring what works to connect you to a greater sense of clarity and health.

Chinese medicine offers a unique filter for looking at the details of your physical and emotional health.  I treat all ages and a broad range of symptoms including pain, internal imbalances with digestion, respiration, the nervous system and reproduction.   These imbalances can affect your quality of life, sleep, ability to connect with others and to pursue what is important to you.

At your initial visit you can expect careful listening and a few questions from me to get the clearest picture for how to move ahead with a plan of treatment.   Most people find acupuncture relaxing and some nap.  I will give you a sense of how long I think a course of treatment would be for you and some thoughts on what to look for as you track your unique response to the work.  Wherever you are in your life process, I will meet you there, and let’s see where you can go with it!

I am licensed through the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, certified through the National Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and have master’s degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from Northwestern Health Sciences University.