Meet Your Therapist: Alyx Aiello

Meet Your Therapist: Alyx Aiello

I had the pleasure of talking with one of Star Meadow’s newest therapists, Alyx Aiello, who focuses her work on the impact of trauma, especially the intersection between religious trauma and marginalized groups.

Alyx was born and raised in Portland and received her bachelor’s degree from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and her master’s in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern State University of Louisiana. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and sees adult clients with a wide range of concerns including her specialty areas of religious trauma, those with experiences with cults and high-control groups, LGBTQ+ clients, and more general concerns like depression, anxiety, and self-esteem challenges. Keep reading for a Q&A with Alyx, and if she sounds like a good fit for your needs, reach out to schedule an appointment!

 

Q: Tell me a little about your clinical specialties or particular areas of interest?

A:  I think depression and anxiety are really common for marginalized groups and that’s something I’m very comfortable working with. Figuring out their comfort of presentation, whether that’s just presenting themselves as someone with a sexual orientation that isn’t straight or a specific gender presentation, whatever that means for them. I’m interested in helping people achieve their gender euphoria.

 As far as modalities, I’m very eclectic, but generally gestalt and existential.

 

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about what you mean by religious trauma?

 A: There’s a lot of folks who come into my office who struggle to have positive beliefs about themselves based on the harmful experiences they’ve had with religion. Fear of doing something wrong and fear of being bad or that you are a bad person because of XYZ. Doubting every choice and decision and even sometimes not trusting yourself.

It feels like a highly gendered trauma to me. What is religious trauma and what presents as religious trauma in different people I think probably has to do with the gender that either they are or they presented at the time of the trauma.

One of the things that I want to stress to future or present clients is that I am not anti-religion. I’m just not. I believe that each person has to make their own choice and if that choice for them is to stay within or even just believe some of the things that they were taught or believed from the religion that hurt them- that’s okay! We can work with that too! You don’t have to be an atheist or even an agnostic, you can come from anywhere and still deal with the trauma and move forward. I want to make it so it doesn’t feel like they have to completely divorce themselves. Especially if it’s a cultural experience because I know for a lot of people it really is, so I want to be culturally sensitive. I’m so excited to help them figure out what that looks like, but above all, help them believe that they are good inherently and that there’s nothing wrong with them just the way they are.

 

Q: What’s a typical session with you look like?

A: I use humor a lot, I’ve noticed it helps people feel more comfortable and it’s just part of who I am as a person. As far as formality, I don’t use a ton of self-disclosure, and I really encourage clients to speak the way that they speak. So, if they swear, that’s great, I don’t mind at all. However they communicate is what I want!

Some clients like a week-to-week check-in, that’s what they come in for and I appreciate the benefits in that. Other clients have long-term, overarching treatment goals that they want to work on, and getting lost in the week-to-week stuff can be challenging. I try to have clients talk about their week for 10 minutes or so, then recap the last session to learn how it went for them. Then we dive into the meat of the treatment goals and end with a 5-minute cooldown, thinking about “how are you going to take care of yourself after this session?”, especially if it’s really intense. I try to respect each client’s preferred structure and work with that, but I if I had to suggest something to a client the structured approach would be my preference

 

Q: Are you conducting sessions in person or by tele-health?

A: Both!

 

Q: What do you believe about therapy?

A: Therapy is work. It can be really hard work, but also has the potential to be tremendously rewarding, in my experience. I believe my job is to help clients in that work with pacing, taking on a manageable amount, and overall making things as easy and fluid as possible. Therapy is also safe. This is your time. Oftentimes, therapy is some of the only time and space just for the client, and I want to honor that as much as possible with a safe and validating atmosphere.

 

Q: A phrase or quote clients will likely hear me use is _____. 

A: I actually have it on my wall- Kristen Neff “self-compassion wants well-being”, and so when my clients are really like resisting and saying “I don’t deserve nice things” I’ll say “do you want to be well?”.

 

Q: When you come into my office I hope you feel _____. 

A: I hope you feel safe! I strive to provide a safe, warm, and validating space for each client who comes my way. I want you to feel that you’re able to fully express yourself in session and be received with warmth and empathy.

 

Q: Can you tell me about you as a person outside of the therapy room?

A: l love animals, exploring the PNW, and bouldering. I like traveling and I come from a big family!

 

Alyx is now scheduling new client appointments!

Schedule an appointment with Alyx Aiello today!

Seasonal Depression and The PNW Rainy Season

Seasonal Depression and The PNW Rainy Season

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often called seasonal depression, is estimated to affect roughly 5% of the population at any given time. Although it can occur with any seasonal change, the predominant timeframe is depressive symptoms starting with a fall to winter onset, and a spring to summer remission.

For areas of the country that experience harsh fall and winter weather, SAD can be especially prominent or severe. For example, research shows that the estimated prevalence in Florida is only 1%, but that number rises to 9% in Alaska. With the Portland-Vancouver metro area receiving an average of 140-160 days of rain a year and especially limited sunlight in the late fall and winter, it’s no wonder we experience some of the highest rates of depression (and seasonally related depression) in the country. Many people who live in the Pacific Northwest find comfort and peace in the gloomy, rainy days, but for others, the seasonal change can bring dread for the impending shift in mood and overall happiness.

If you notice you struggle significantly during the fall to winter months, you are not alone. Some people struggle with a less severe version of the same symptom profile, often called the “winter blues”. If these symptoms start to become intense enough to impact your daily life, it’s worth checking in with a mental health professional and/or primary care provider to help you find the right support.

 

What does SAD look like?

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can look very similar to other forms of depression, but they markedly follow a seasonal pattern. AFAB (assigned female at birth) people appear to be affected at a great rate, though the reason for this difference is unknown. The average age of onset of symptoms is around 20 years old, but it can affect people of all ages. Some symptoms to look out for as we move into fall and winter include:

  • General feelings of sadness
  • Fatigue despite increased sleep
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Carbohydrate cravings and increased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Changes in libido
  • Feelings of hopelessness

 

What causes SAD?

While it is unknown what specifically causes SAD, research shows that sunshine certainly plays a factor, and circadian rhythm, hormonal factors, serotonin levels, genetic factors, and preexisting depression symptoms may all play a role. Some theories speculate that reduced sunlight exposure causes the body to produce and release more melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that induces sleepiness and helps regulate circadian rhythms.

We may not know the exact biological mechanisms or reasoning for seasonal affective disorder, but because so many people experience similar symptoms, we do have some options can be done to reduce their severity.

 

What helps?
  • Light therapy and more time outside

Because we know that SAD is at least partially due to reduced sunlight exposure and changing daylight patterns, it stands to reason that increased sunlight can help manage symptoms. In places where natural sunlight is difficult to come by during the fall-winter months, devices called lightboxes can be a great option to try. Check out this guide to picking an appropriate light therapy box.

  • Therapy

Support from a mental health professional is important any time you’re experiencing depressive symptoms that are interfering with your daily activities or quality of life. A variety of therapy modalities can be effective in managing seasonal depression, but cognitive-behavioral therapy has specifically been shown to reduce symptoms. There is strong evidence that the impact of CBT is even greater than that of light therapy and has the power to provide protective benefits in seasonal changes even in future years after initial treatment.

  • Medical Assessment

If you notice symptoms of SAD, it’s important to see a medical provider to rule out other causes (things like anemia, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid issues and other health conditions can present in symptoms that look like depression). If they conclude that SAD is the presenting concern, they may be able to suggest lifestyle or medication changes to support you through this time. They may also refer you to a mental health prescriber (like a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner). In some cases, psychotropic medication can be a helpful supplement, and a prescriber with a specialty in this area can help you weigh your options.

If you or someone you care about seems to be experiencing depressive symptoms, (seasonally or otherwise) don’t delay in reaching out for help. There are treatment options available, and people ready to help you get back to feeling well – even during rainy season!

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Teen Mental Health: Post-Pandemic Edition

Teen Mental Health: Post-Pandemic Edition

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had profound effects on the mental and emotional well-being of our society. Rates of mental health struggles have skyrocketed in response to experiences of isolation, grief and loss, economic hardship, safety fears, and increasing uncertainty about how the future will unfold.

 

Prior to the pandemic, it was clear we were facing a youth mental health crisis, but the experiences of a pandemic have proved to amplify this already concerning situation. For teenagers, experiencing a pandemic has caused an uptick in mental health concerns during a developmental period that in the best of times is already fraught with stress, self-esteem concerns, and constant change.

 

These youth have missed out on normative and expected experiences of high school like after-school clubs, dances, sporting events, and graduations.  They’ve received substantially less in-person support from teachers and support staff, clubs and support groups for marginalized identities, and for some kids, tangible support like food assistance and access to supplies.  Without regular contact from professionals trained to notice early signs and symptoms of mental health concerns, many children went without care for significantly longer than they would otherwise, leading to more severe symptoms and potential safety concerns.

 

The effects of the pandemic disproportionately affected communities of color, amplifying stress for those teenagers. Experiences of racism and discrimination, both those related to and co-occurring with the pandemic, have continued to erode youth mental health.

 

Ask any teenager or teacher, parent, or mental health therapist who regularly interacts with teens, and they’ll have anecdotal evidence of these increases. Now, nearly 3 years after the pandemic began, we are finally able to collect and analyze data on how teenagers have been affected. Here are a few key points:

 

37% of high school-aged students reported they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic1.

 

44% reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless during this time1.

 

Emergency room visits for suicide attempts were 51% higher for female identifying-youth, and 4% higher for male-identifying youth when compared to the same time period prior to the pandemic in 2019 2.

 

What can we do?

Seeing these statistics can be frightening, especially when they are the result of something beyond our control and related to responses that were critical to maintaining physical safety within our communities, but it does also give us insight into how to begin improving this crisis.

 

  • School

The data, combined with years of anecdotal experience from school staff, has spurred many school districts into action to increase support programs and access to mental and emotional well-being resources. In the same study, school connectedness, defined as “a sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging at school” was a clear protective factor. High school students who felt connected to support at school were 20% less likely to report persistent sadness and hopelessness, 12% less likely to consider suicide, and 6% less likely to attempt. Working to create a safe supportive school environment is a crucial step for all communities.

 

  • Home

Treat your teens with care. The pandemic has affected us all, but teens have experienced a version of difficulty that is nearly impossible for adults to fully comprehend. Make space regularly to talk about how they’ve been affected, and acknowledge how challenging this has been for them without diminishing it in relation to others’ struggles. Support their efforts to maintain relationships and be a safe place to process uncertainty, fear, and sadness.

 

 

  • Professional Supports

If they aren’t already, now is the time to get your teen connected to a therapist. While the role of a supportive family is paramount, having a specific, private space to process their emotions and fears is vital in helping improve their mental health. A trained professional can offer tailored coping skills, referrals to other providers as needed, and above all, the feeling that their emotional struggle has been seen and heard. Even if your teen has not been showing obvious signs of a mental health struggle, ask them. Many teens cope by keeping things bottled up, and they may not know how to ask for help. Offer to connect them to a therapist regularly, and if or when they say yes, follow through until they find a match.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Young Adult’s Guide To Navigating Family Boundaries

The Young Adult’s Guide To Navigating Family Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are the building blocks of healthy, successful relationships, but they can be a challenge to navigate, especially as relationship dynamics change and evolve. In many families, children grow up with a clear sense of the family hierarchy and an understanding that the parents set the expectations and family “rules”. It can be a struggle then, when that child grows into an adult, to know how to navigate a new relationship dynamic. Even in loving and healthy families, many young adults struggle with feeling pressure to conform to their family’s expectations from earlier years, but stifling their own needs and wants for the sake of keeping the status quo can quickly lead to resentment and relationship issues. 

 

Let’s explore a few scenarios. You’ll notice in each one of these that the example of a boundary that could be set is more focused on what you will do in response to their choices. We cannot force other people to change their behaviors to be in alignment with our needs, but we can express our needs, and inform them what we will do if those are not respected.  

 

1.  Your family dresses modestly and chooses to not express themselves through clothing, hair, etc.  You have recently found joy expressing yourself in this way, but find yourself dyeing your hair back to your natural color, covering tattoos with makeup, and dressing in clothing that you don’t like when you visit them because they make harsh comments or quietly shake their head when they see you.

The intention: “I tone my self expression down so I don’t make anyone uncomfortable and I don’t draw negative attention to myself. 

What you’re reinforcing: “I can’t be myself with these people, they won’t understand me”

A boundary that might need to be set: “This is how I have chosen to express myself, and as long as my appearance is appropriate for the event and the weather, this is how I will look. 

The outcome of that boundary: Powerful authenticity, showing up as yourself regardless of what others think. 

 

2. Your family is very extroverted and enjoys large gatherings that go late into the evening. You are an introvert and find that after a few hours, you are wanting to leave, but tell yourself you have to stay. 

The intention:  “This is what our family does, I need to stay so I don’t offend anyone”

What you’re reinforcing: “Everyone else’s needs are more important than my own.”

A boundary that might need to be set: “I love you all and have had fun, just letting you know I’ll be heading out at 10”. 

The outcome of that boundary: Signaling that your needs are important and that you do not need to explain yourself. 

 

3.  You are parenting your children in a different way than you were parented. When your child refuses to eat dinner or has a meltdown after a conflict with a cousin, other family members jump in and attempt to discipline them. You are uncomfortable, but don’t want to speak up. 

The intention: “If I jump in, I’ll offend them because they’re disciplining exactly how I was raised. I’ll seem ungrateful or like I think I’m better than them”. 

What you’re reinforcing: “They don’t see me as a capable parent. My child is seeing me not step up even though I”m teaching them something different at home.” 

A boundary that might need to be set: “I am their parent, so any discipline or behavior management is my job, even if it looks different than how you would do it. If you continue to try to discipline him, we will need to head home early. ”

The outcome of that boundary: Confirmation that you get to make the parenting choices with your own children, and your child sees a healthy boundary being modeled. 

 

4.  When you spend time with your extended family, they routinely make rude comments about your weight and eating habits. In the past, if you ask them not to, you’re met with comments like “learn to take a compliment!” or  “we’re just worried about your health”. You eventually fake a smile or laugh and go along with it. 

The intention: “They don’t mean any harm, so I’ll just be quiet when they do it.” 

What you’re reinforcing: “I’m forcing myself to be ok with these comments so I don’t upset anyone else.”

A boundary that might need to be set: “Regardless of your intention, I’m not comfortable with you commenting on my weight or eating habits. If you continue to make those comments, I’ll have to excuse myself from the event”. 

The outcome of that boundary: An act of self-love, creating an environment for yourself that does not include shaming from family members. 

 

 

Boundaries, especially those that are disrupting long-standing patterns, are almost always met with some level of shock or surprise, some level of pushback, as well as some awkwardness. Managing the discomfort that comes with setting the boundary and staying firm in what you need, is usually worth what’s on the other side; authenticity, confidence, peace, and healthier relationships.  So, if no one has offered you this before, here is your official permission to redefine your boundaries, to say no, and to value your own needs and wants. 

 

 

 

 

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Contamination Fears In a Contaminated World: What’s Appropriate And What’s Compulsive?

Contamination Fears In a Contaminated World: What’s Appropriate And What’s Compulsive?

Covid, Measles outbreaks, Mokeypox- it can feel overwhelming to manage the constant barrage of new threats. For most people, a significant behavioral change is needed to ensure safety, but for people with OCD or health anxiety, where do you draw the line? What are appropriate safety precautions, and what are compulsive safety-seeking or attempts to manage anxiety? Years ago, it would have been seen as obviously excessive for most people to wear a mask in public spaces, sanitize everything before bringing it into your home, and refuse people in your home, but now that may be exactly what’s needed to remain safe. An added component to this difficulty are the differences in how folks view these threats, complicating factors like having young children or being immunocompromised, and individual tolerance for risk. What might be excessive for one person may be necessary for another.  

 

There is no one right answer to what is an “appropriate” level of safety precaution, again because each person will have a different set of circumstances to consider. The simplest way to explore if your safety precautions are appropriate, or potentially causing you more anxiety/distress, can be boiled down to three questions: 

 

Is this in line with expert recommendations?

The more obvious way to assess your safety precautions is to find experts whose opinions and recommendations you trust. This could be medical doctors, scientists, government agencies, or ideally, a combination of several so you can ensure your information is reliable. For example, both the CDC and the Mayo Clinic advise washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if that is not available, using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. With this in mind, some folks may prefer to go a little beyond these recommendations, but it gives a good barometer for what is considered adequate for safety. 

 

Is this safety precaution causing you harm in an effort to keep you safe? 

This is truly the most important assessment. If washing your hands for 60 seconds feels more comfortable, there’s likely little harm and it could be appropriate to continue. However, if you begin using scalding water, harmful chemicals like bleach, or begin to experience peeling, cracking, or bleeding, it warrants an assessment of whether the safety precaution is appropriate. 

 

Is this causing me to be unable to engage in necessary or preferred activities?

This is a slightly more challenging assessment because nearly everyone has experienced a decrease in their ability to engage in preferred tasks, or are having to engage in them in different ways than we used to. You might have to say no to a large gathering, or only meet with friends outside and masked when you would prefer not to. If you find yourself isolating, or feeling unable to engage in activities even when risk could be mitigated, it might warrant a closer look. Another major component to this question is how much time is being spent on the safety precaution. For example, there’s a major difference between a quick wipe-down on the groceries, and a 5 hour sanitizing deep clean. If you find yourself spending considerable time on safety precautions that you would normally spend on leisure activities, it may be worth exploring. 

 

If you are noticing that your attempts to maintain safety are starting to become detrimental in other ways, please reach out, a trained therapist can help you find a balance between safety and anxiety that opens the door to joy and hope. 

 

For more information, go to https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/expert-opinion-contamination/ 

 

 

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