Pride Month: How to Support Someone Coming Out

Pride Month: How to Support Someone Coming Out

June is Pride Month, so let’s take this opportunity to go over some ways you can support the LGBTQ+ folks in your life if they choose to share their experience with you. Your response should vary based on your relationship dynamic, but in general, these are some rules to follow: 

 

Listen and don’t assume: Every person’s experience is different, so be careful not to assume anything about their experience, needs, or preferences based on what you’ve seen other people do or examples in media. If you don’t know what questions to ask, a simple “tell me more about this” or “what has that been like for you” is a good way to signal you are open to more information and that you want to know their experience. 

 

Ask questions, but don’t expect to be educated: Ask questions about their experience, but if you are not familiar with the LGBTQ+ issues or terminology, be prepared to do some research instead of asking satisfying your curiosity at the expense of your loved one. Have questions related to the specifics of laws, family planning, brain chemistry, etc.? There are so many resources online that you can use instead of placing that burden on a singular person.

 

Don’t center the conversation on yourself: Many people respond with a well-meaning, “you could have told me” or “why didn’t you tell me sooner?”, usually intending to confirm to the person that they would have been open and supportive. Unfortunately, this changes the focus of the conversation to the person needing to apologize or manage your relationship instead of sharing their experience. They are telling you now, and that’s all that matters. 

 

Manage your fears and expectations on your own: Many people, especially parents, immediately start to think about the future when someone comes out to them, and this often focuses on safety and future expectations. Well-meaning people will often say that they are “just worried about how the world will treat you”, or that they “hate that this will make your life harder. LGBTQ+ folks are acutely aware of the discrimination they will face and do not need to be reminded of that. Respond to them the way you wish the world would. 

 

Resist the urge to make a “big deal”: While some folks love the idea of a celebration when they come out, most are just looking to know that your feelings toward them are no different than they were before you knew this part of their identity and that you will support them. While some outward demonstrations of support can be appropriate (things like putting up a pride flag, making requested changes to displayed pictures or items personalized with names, or sending care packages), make sure you also engage in the same things, conversations, and activities you used to do before they came out, remember they are still the same person! 

 

Acknowledge your gratitude: Trusting someone with this information is a huge deal, so be sure to communicate your gratitude that they told you, even if was later than you would have wanted or expected. 

 

Respect their privacy: This information is not yours to share unless you have explicit permission from your loved one. It is theirs to tell on their own, how they want to. So if you’re chatting with extended family members or friends, don’t bring it up (even in a positive light!) unless that person has given their consent. There may be reasons they are not wanting to share this information with certain people, and it undermines their trust in you. 

 

Commit to using correct terminology: If you haven’t had much exposure to LGBTQ+ folks or the community, it might feel like you are overwhelmed with new terminology and “rules”. No one will expect you to get it right all the time at first, but they will expect you to be actively learning and trying. Commit to asking what identifiers your loved one uses, and be willing to correct yourself when you make a mistake. If you do mess up, simply correct yourself and move on. Long, belabored apologies are unnecessary and again put the focus on you and your loved one having to manage your emotions. Here is a resource of common terms to get familiar with: https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms 

 

 

 

 

 

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After School Connection: Let’s Find A Better Option Than “How Was Your Day”

After School Connection: Let’s Find A Better Option Than “How Was Your Day”

You’re with your kids at the end of the day and you want to connect with them, hear about their day, and be a resource for anything they’re struggling with. For most people, the question that slips out almost automatically is “how was your day?”. What comes next is usually some mixture of “fine” or a general shoulder shrug, then silence. Your kid is feeling unsure of how to proceed or what to say, and you’re left feeling frustrated that your connection attempt hasn’t worked. Here are some options to replace that age-old question. See which ones your kid responds to, and get ready for some authentic, connective conversation!

 

What made you laugh today?

 

Did you feel (nervous, angry, sad, etc.) at any point today?

 

Did you help anyone today? Did anyone help you?

 

How did you feel loved today?

 

What interesting questions did you ask today?

 

What does your body need for the rest of the day?

 

What do you wish people at school knew about you?

 

Can you tell me about an adult at school you like (or don’t like)? 

 

Is there anyone at school you want to get to know better?

 

What do you hope happens tomorrow?

 

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the question “how was your day?” it can be overwhelming and some kids struggle to know where to start because of how general it is. More specific questions give them a starting place, and if you can tailor them to something specific you know about their day (ex: an assignment they were worried about, a lunch item they were excited to try, a friend they hoped to play with), those small details signal to your child how important you think their experiences are. 

 

Pick one or a few questions each day, but try not to make it feel like a pop quiz. Some kids respond well to knowing exactly what questions are coming, and others like the novelty of new ones, so experiment with switching between these two options. Timing and delivery can also be important here; imagine you came home from work and the second you opened the door, someone was requiring you to recount the details of your day. Sound stressful or overwhelming? We often do that to kids when they get off the bus or slide into the car. Try a warm greeting to let them know you’re excited to see them, but pause until they’re settled before you ask anything. Try the phrasing “I was thinking about you today and I wondered….” It’s a gentle lead-in but also clues them in that you thought their day was important enough that you thought of it while they were gone. 

 

If you’re still not getting much engagement, don’t be discouraged. You can always flip the roles and model for them by telling them about your day instead. Remember, the goal here is not to get your child to talk to you, it’s to connect with them in a way that’s engaging and comfortable for them, and some days or for some kids, that can be as simple as silence while they decompress from the day or listening to their choice of music. 

 

 

 

 

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Do We Have To Be Fighting to Be in Couples Therapy?

Do We Have To Be Fighting to Be in Couples Therapy?

When you think of couples therapy, most people conjure images of two people on a couch, angry and distant, trying to find a way to reconnect and “save” their marriage.  Sometimes that’s exactly what it looks like, but there are so many other situations where couples therapy can be beneficial. 

Below are some common reasons people seek (or should seek!) relational therapy:

 

  • Grief
    • Many people seek individual counseling when experiencing grief, but often this can be supplemented by couples therapy, especially if the grief is shared. The loss of a child, close family friend, or parent/in-law can all take a toll on the couple’s relational dynamic. 

 

  • Parenting differences
    • No two people have the exact same parenting style, and while hopefully you are generally on the same page as your co-parent, this doesn’t always happen. Even the smallest of parenting differences can cause friction and lead to disconnection or communication challenges. Some co-parents come to therapy together when they aren’t in a romantic relationship and have no plans to be. A healthy co-parenting relationship is so beneficial for the children involved, and therapy can help people seeking to repair communication, set boundaries, and heal wounds so they can be present for their children. 

 

  • Extended Family
    • Successfully navigating relationships with both sides of extended family is a common goal of couples therapy. Tension between a spouse and a family of origin can wreak havoc on a relationship, and can lead to challenging conversations with loyalties feeling pulled in all directions. 

 

  • Infertility
    • Often a grief process of its own, infertility can put a strain on a couple’s dynamic. The rollercoaster of emotions, changed expectations, and physical and financial hardships are incredibly challenging and many couples find it difficult to reconnect to one another through it all. 

 

  • Discernment 
    • Some couples come to therapy to decide if they want to put time and effort into repairing their relationship or separate, weighing all options. For those who decide they do want to remain together, more traditional couples therapy is then recommended. 

 

  • Intimacy
    • Intimacy changes for most couples as they navigate different seasons of their relationship, as well as outside influences/stressors. Identifying and expressing needs and reconnecting in this way is often a challenge, and this opportunity for connection can suffer when other communication challenges are present. 

 

  • Finances
    • When the stakes are high, tensions can be too. People approach finances in many different ways, but when there is a perceived threat to either your security (if your partner is more of a spender) or quality of life (if your partner is more of a saver), conflict and communication errors ensue. 

 

  • Acute and Chronic Illness
    • Many couples come in when navigating an acute or chronic illness. Acute illness often leads to shock, grief, and an immediate change in daily life. Chronic illnesses can bring a need for increased understanding and patience, and a change in labor division or a potential caretaking dynamic. 

 

  • Division of Labor
    • A major tenant of relationship well-being for many couples boils down to the basics of living in harmony, without either partner feeling they are taking on an unfair share of the domestic labor– things like laundry, dishes, keeping track of family events, even keeping toilet paper stocked in the house. These might seem inconsequential, but we all take cues about how we’re viewed and valued through these day-to-day experiences. 

 

While plenty of couples do come into therapy at a time of intense conflict and anger, there are many other reasons for seeking therapy with a partner (past or current). If you find yourself feeling disconnected, unsure of how to proceed or communicate successfully with your partner, now is the time to seek couples counseling! A skilled clinician can help you and your partner navigate the situations listed above (and so many others!) in a way that helps both people feel heard and secure as you work toward your goals.

 

 

 

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Be a Better Mental Health Ally: 7 Stigmatizing Phrases and What To Say Instead

Be a Better Mental Health Ally: 7 Stigmatizing Phrases and What To Say Instead

Chances are, you’ve either said or heard each of these phrases. While not typically used with ill-intent, imagine for a moment being someone who experiences the mental health challenges described, and how you might interpret these statements. Small, intentional changes to the words we use can have a huge impact on others, so let’s go through some common phrases, why they might be harmful or contribute to stigma, and an easy alternative for each. 

 

  1. I’m so OCD about _____.

 

We all have things we like a particular way, or feel some level of discomfort with if they are not done “properly”. However, OCD is a debilitating disorder that goes way beyond preferences or a bit of discomfort. While some people with OCD have obsessions and compulsions related to cleanliness and organization, there are many different themes, and reducing OCD to fixations on cleanliness dismisses these. 

 

Instead try: It’s really important to me that the kitchen be clean, I feel uncomfortable when it’s messy!

 

  1. Everyone is a little ADD/ADHD.

 

Everyone is forgetful sometimes, struggles to focus on tasks sometimes, and struggles to find motivation sometimes. However, people with ADHD experience symptoms like these (along with many others) every single day, to a level that interferes with their functioning. Again, saying that “we all” have some level of this downplays the challenges people with ADHD face.  

 

Instead try: Wow, I am so forgetful today!

 

  1. They’re so crazy/psycho!

 

People often use these terms to refer to someone displaying erratic or concerning behavior, whether or not it is related to a mental health diagnosis. It’s even used to refer to behavior we just don’t like, or to discredit someone. It is rarely, if ever, used with compassion, and if we are referring to people who are experiencing psychosis, delusions, mania, etc. it’s dismissive of the very real and terrifying experiences these people are going through. 

Instead try: They seem to be struggling to stay connected to reality, I wonder if we can connect them to support?

 

  1. I also experienced ______ and I’m fine!

Trauma affects everyone differently, and we do not get to decide what is traumatic to someone. Research has shown that two people experiencing the same event (car crash, natural disaster, etc.) can have wildly different responses. Your brain’s response does not negate another brain’s different response.

 

Instead try: That sounds like it was terrifying for you, how can I support you?

 

  1. It’s been _____ months/years, you’re not over that yet?

 

Trauma also has no timeline, and isn’t something we “get over”.  With help from tools like therapy, medication, and peer support many people can make incredible strides in healing from what happened to them, but trauma has lasting effects on the brain and nervous system. 

 

This also applies to knowing someone has been managing a mental health diagnosis (OCD, Depression, Anxiety, etc.) long-term. Many people do experience significant improvements to a level where they no longer meet diagnostic criteria or identify previous challenges as a concern, but many people experience chronic mental health challenges that require lifelong management. 

 

Instead try: I know this has been hard, let’s talk about how we continue supporting you. 

 

  1. That person/the weather here is so bipolar!

 

While there are scientific uses for the term bipolar, most people more commonly use this term to casually refer to something/someone that changes rapidly and without warning. Again, speaking this way is dismissive of the intense and terrifying experience of shifting between manic and depressive episodes. 

 

Instead try: The weather changes so quickly here!

 

  1. Kill me/I wanted to die!

 

For people who have experienced suicidal ideation or attempts, hearing other people casually or jokingly say things like this can contribute to the stigma that often stops people from seeking help. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts (even passive ones!) it’s important to mention them so you can find help, but if you’re trying to find an impactful way to describe frustration, embarrassment, or shame, there are better options. Suicidal thoughts are more prevalent than you might think, and shouldn’t be the punchline in a joke. 

 

 Instead try: That was so embarrassing I wanted to run out of the room!

Now that you’re aware of the potentially harmful effects of these phrases, you might be surprised to notice how often you hear them used. To be a better mental health ally, first start but just noticing when you use them or when they come up for you, then try to consciously replace or correct yourself with something like the alternatives listed. Small changes make a big impact!

 

 

 

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What to Expect in Your First Counseling Session

What to Expect in Your First Counseling Session

So you made the decision to start therapy. You sorted through lists of available therapists, found Star Meadow, and made an appointment. Congratulations! This is the hardest step, and we’re so proud of you for taking it. For most people who have never been to therapy there is some anxiety about what happens next, so let’s walk through what you can expect.

 

  • Paperwork

Before your appointment, you’ll be sent electronic intake paperwork through a secure platform called Simple Practice. You’ll receive information about informed consent for treatment, your therapist’s privacy policy, financial disclosures, etc. While it might be tempting to breeze through these kinds of documents, please slow down and read them thoroughly! Many of the questions you might have will be answered here, and your therapist will provide space to go over anything you want to discuss further. 

 

You’ll also receive some questionnaires and survey forms. Just like when you go to the doctor’s office, these forms are standardized for everyone so there may be questions that don’t seem relevant to you or why you’re coming in.  There is so much more to you than what we can fit on these intake documents, but they are a good starting place so your therapist knows what things might be important to talk about in your intake session.

 

  • Arriving For Your Appointment

If your appointment is in-person, you will make your way to our office (10000 NE 7th Ave. Suite 403, Vancouver, WA 98685). We have free parking, and you’ll take either the stairs or elevator to the 4th floor. Inside our waiting room, you’ll take a seat until your therapist comes to call you back to their room. 

 

If your appointment is via telehealth, you’ll receive a link from Simple Practice letting you know it’s time to join your appointment. Make sure you’re in a private, comfortable space with your ID handy. Your therapist will ask you to confirm your identity and that no one else is present in the room, and then you’ll get started!

 

  • The Intake Appointment

You made it! If meeting in person, your therapist’s office will have several different seating options; please sit where you feel most comfortable! The beginning of every intake session includes a few more administrative tasks like confirming your insurance details and signing any remaining consent or release forms. The intake process varies between clinicians, but generally, you can expect an introduction and orientation to how they structure their intake sessions, and then an open invitation to let them know what brings you to therapy. If you don’t feel like you know how to sum things up, that’s ok! We’re trained to help guide you, and we will go at your pace. Many therapists ask a series of questions to explore things that might be contributing to how you’re feeling like your family/relationship dynamics, medical history, work or school history, and past experiences. Please know that at any point if you are not comfortable discussing something, it is absolutely appropriate to let your therapist know this. Their goal is to understand what’s happening for you to help you feel better as quickly as possible, but always at your pace. 

 

  • What Happens Next

Some therapists start planning structured goals and identifying a treatment plan right away, while others prefer to set broad goals for now with the idea of defining them as they get to know you more. If you are using insurance, your therapist is required to list a diagnosis. This is what tells insurance to authorize covering your sessions.  Sometimes that is clear in a first session, and sometimes they need to list a more general diagnosis, to be more clearly defined once they work with you more. Please remember that your medical information (which includes mental health documents) is confidential and covered by HIPAA. For more information on this please visit: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/hipaa-privacy-rule-and-sharing-info-related-to-mental-health.pdf

 

The intake session can feel like a lot of information, but most folks find the second session to be more representative of what therapy with your provider will look like. If at any point you are feeling uncomfortable, want to slow down, or need something different please say so! Therapy is intended to be a collaborative process, and your therapist will be open to feedback about what you need. 

 

 

 

 

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