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!

Things You Might Feel Shame For, That Are Actually Very Common!

Things You Might Feel Shame For, That Are Actually Very Common!

As therapists, we hear from people in all walks of life. Every client is different and comes to therapy with varied experiences, but one thing remains true; most people hold shame for things they don’t need to. When we feel shame, our brains will often make us think that we’re the only one who could think or feel this way, or that only terrible people would be. Aside from being a horrifically uncomfortable emotion, intense shame is detrimental to our overall mental health, relationships, and long-term self-esteem. 

 

While this is nowhere near a comprehensive list, below is a list of things I often hear in therapy, that are entirely normal. If you’ve ever had these thoughts, you are far from alone!

 

“When ____ died, I felt relieved”

 

What shame tells you this means: I must be a terrible person to feel a positive emotion after a death. Did I wish this upon them? 

 

What it actually means: You’re a human capable of compassion fatigue, empathy for an end to suffering, potential safety benefits to yourself or others, awareness of resource strain, etc. Grief is always complex and there are typically many conflicting emotions that can include relief. 

 

“I lied/cheated/stole in my past”

What shame tells you this means: “I am a liar, cheater, criminal.”

 

What it actually means: Many people hold shame for very minor mistakes or choices from their past. Barring violent or aggressive actions, most of the time there is a reason for these choices, that once understood, lets in compassion instead of shame. 

 

 

“I _____ to cope”

 

What shame thinks this means: I can’t deal with the stress of my life. 

 

What it actually means: Substances, “nervous habits”, and impulse spending are just some of the behaviors people often feel significant shame for engaging in when they are feeling difficult emotions. If your behaviors are causing you harm or aren’t working to reduce your distress as you hoped, all that means is that they aren’t quite the right option for you. There is never shame in trying to feel better, there are only things that serve you and things that don’t. 

 

“I have intrusive thoughts about ________”

 

What shame tells you this means: “My brain is out of control, I’m disgusting/disturbed for thinking that way”

 

What it actually means: You have a normal brain, working exactly how a normal brain should. Intrusive thoughts are so common, that it’s more uncommon to be someone who hasn’t experienced an intrusive thought. To be frank, I’ve never met someone who hasn’t experienced intrusive thoughts, only people who felt strong emotion after them, and people who brushed them off and forgot about them. Having intrusive thoughts (even ones that feel totally out of character!) says nothing about who you are. If these thoughts are causing you intense distress it is certainly worth discussing with a mental health provider, but even then, there is no shame in experiencing them. 

 

 

 

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Life Hacks For When Everything Feels Hard

Life Hacks For When Everything Feels Hard

Mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, and ADHD can make for difficult days. Ideally, with the right combination of therapy, coping skills, or medication, there won’t be so many hard days. But sometimes we hit a rough patch or experience a stressor or change in our functioning that leaves us feeling like even the smallest of tasks are impossible. If you’ve ever been there, you probably know the compounding effect and how hard it can feel to care for yourself and your space. There are many resources about how to manage these things from a longer-term perspective, but what do we do when we’re in the thick of it? Below you’ll find some specific examples, but the idea here is to tailor this general framework to what feels manageable in the moment. 

 

  • Release the expectation of what you “should” be doing
  • Do something even if you can’t do everything
  • Get creative with how it gets done
  • Ask for help 

 

Hygiene

For a lot of folks, showering can feel like a monumental task, so let’s go through some other options. Some people prefer to take a bath, or just turn on the shower and sit to conserve energy. For some, it’s the idea of getting out of the warm water that feels overwhelming, so picking out comfortable clothes or putting a heating pad on a towel to minimize discomfort does the trick. If all else fails, move to dry shampoo and baby wipes. Is it ideal? No. But you’ll feel better than you did before and that’s an accomplishment. 

 

Nutrition

Mental health challenges often directly impact appetite and nutrition; the type, frequency, and scheduling of eating and drinking can feel like a never-ending task. If this is you, think about foods that combine convenience and nutrition. Stock a bedside cart with non-perishable items that fuel your body so there’s no planning or preparing needed when you’re having a harder time. Throw out the rules of what’s expected if it sounds good to you and will give you energy. Lasagna for breakfast? Sure! Ham, cheese, and bread eaten separately but not put together into a sandwich? Why not! Keep a list of low-effort meal ideas on your fridge so that if seeing too many options feels overwhelming you can remove the burden of decision-making. Getting enough water can also be a challenge, so try adding flavor, sucking on ice cubes, stocking up on hydration aids/drinks, filling up one large water bottle for the day, or even bringing a water dispenser into your space.  If you find yourself struggling with nutrition long-term or feel like it is tied to other factors, please reach out to a therapist and/or dietician for help. 

 

Environment 

Many people find their home environment starts to reflect how they are feeling, and can sometimes begin to exacerbate the original difficulty. Again, we’re throwing out the rules that your space needs to look “perfect”, and instead focusing on the word “functional”. Your definition of functional will be individual, but in general, all it means is that you are physically safe and comfortable and can find the things you need with relative ease. Does it matter if your sheets match? Nope, but having sheets would likely feel better. Does it matter if you fold your clothes? No. But it would probably help to sort them into bins so you can find what you need. Does every surface need to be clutter-free? No. But make sure you can comfortably spend time in your home and have space to do other tasks will help them feel more manageable. 

 

Outsourcing

There is inherent privilege in being able to outsource certain care tasks (laundry, cleaning, meal prep, etc.) If you have the means to be able to do those by hiring someone, now may be the time to consider lowering your burden. That being said, for many people this is where asking for help from your supports must come into play. When you’re struggling, asking for assistance can feel embarrassing and shameful, but most people understand the struggle more than you might think. Ask for help in a way that feels manageable, but that would make an immediate improvement in your functioning. Ask your supports if they can grab a few grocery items on their next trip or run an errand for you, if they can take your dog for a walk or cover school pick-up. Some people find it easier to complete tasks for other people, so see if you and and a friend can swap tasks to benefit you both. 

 

These are small changes, and while it may not seem like much at first, showing up for yourself in these incremental ways helps to both provide the energy your brain and body need to move through, but also to signal to your brain that you’re worthy of care. It doesn’t matter how you show up for yourself, only that you do. 

 

 

 

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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 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers to 3 Questions about Boundaries in Counseling

Answers to 3 Questions about Boundaries in Counseling

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Embody Boldness: Overcome Your Fear of Failure

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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 Is An Extroverted-Introvert – And Are YOU One?

What Is An Extroverted-Introvert – And Are YOU One?

Are you one of those people who has never quite felt like an introvert but are definitely not an extrovert? Have you read descriptions of either personality and thought, “Mmmm, close, but not quite?” If so, you might be what is called an extroverted introvert (EI).

Extroverted introverts, also called “outgoing introverts”, “ambiverts,” or “social introverts” have qualities of both personalities. They are not entirely loners but don’t necessarily enjoy spending time with large groups of people.

Most people are, in fact, somewhere in the middle of the extrovert/introvert spectrum, sharing qualities of both introversion and extroversion. Let’s take a look at some of the characteristics of an extroverted introvert.

You are Sensitive to Your Surroundings

How you feel can be directly linked to your environment. What kind of music is playing, how many people are there, and the overall noise level can affect you greatly. If you’re an EI, you will either feel energized or drained depending on your surroundings.

You Have a Love/Hate Relationship with People in General

There is a part of you that truly enjoys meeting new people and hearing their personal stories. Then there is the other part of you that loathes the idea of spending every second of the day with other people. You like people, but you can only take them in small doses.

You’re Both Outgoing and Introspective

You’ve been known to hold your own in witty small talk and can make a room full of people chuckle. But when alone, you are generally thinking about the meaning of life and other huge topics. You like to have fun, but if you’re honest, you prefer to be left alone to think things through.

You take A While to Warm Up Around Others

You’re more like a cat than a dog. While you can be outgoing and find other’s company enjoyable on occasion, you’re not going to feel comfortable around strangers right off the bat. It takes you awhile to warm up to new people and situations before you are truly comfortable enough to let loose and be yourself.

No One Believes You’re an Introvert

Whenever the topic comes up and you tell your friends and relatives that you’re actually an introvert, no one believes you.

If this sounds like you, welcome to the club. Many artists, writers and other creative types often identify as extroverted introverts so you are in good company!