August 28, 2017

Psychological Health in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey has caused enormous damage and suffering. My heart goes out to all of you have flooded, were evacuated, faced loss and fear. It has been devastating on so many levels for so many in our city.
If you or home sustained damage or flooded, you have a long road ahead. Remember it is a marathon and not a sprint. Please take care of your psychological health along the way. Your body, mind and spirit will all suffer if you do not.

Going through disasters is traumatic

There is a trauma that come from going through this kind of disaster. Give yourself time to get used to the changes that come with it. Give yourself compassion to experience and feel what you need to. There is a sense of loss in all of it. That is normal.

You may go through the stages of grief

You may find you go through the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Accept it for what it is and don't judge yourself as you cope.

Let people help you

Allow people to help when they offer. You will need your village in this. It is not a sign of weakness. It is the whole purpose of having a village.
I wanted to pass along this article with practical tips about psychological first aid. If you know someone who needs this, please pass it along.

This is how you can ask for help

A lot of people want to help their friends and neighbors who are flooded. I recommend instead of just asking generally, "What can I do to help?", you volunteer specifically to do someone's laundry or something else on this list and see if that is helpful. A lot of people don't like asking for help but if you get in there and start helping it will be a big relief. Houston is an amazing city full of big hearted people. We will need all hands on deck to rebuild.
I did not write this list, but found it helpful. If you did flood, show this list to your friends and family who ask how they can help.

Easy Things People Can Do To Help:

Wonderful people will be asking what they can do. Of course clean up and packing are helpful, but not everyone can work at the flooded house. Here are a few things that saved me from going insane …

1. Laundry - even if your clothes did not get wet, they will smell like nasty flood water. Everything in the house that is being saved will need to be washed. My laundry was all over Houston at friend’s houses. People came in and took all clothes. Friends even took items to the dry cleaners.
2. Washing kitchen items - Dishes can be saved but everything will need to be washed!
3. Store important items - friends kept my valuables: grandmother’s jewelry, silver, hunting rifle, china/crystal, wine and even my dog until we were settled in a rental. This was a huge stress reliever so I would not have to keep track of everything as we had to move items several times.
4. Help research storage units, movers and rentals. Storage units and rentals are going to be hard to come by so this needs to happen as soon as possible.
5. Dry out pictures/ artwork - if anything can be saved, have people take items to their homes to dry out. It was so special to get back some of my kid’s artwork.
NOTE: since I could not remember who took what from my house, ask them to send you an email for future reference of what items they have. We were literally collecting items a year after the flood.
Of course childcare, housing, food and donations are always helpful!

August 3, 2017

Helping Your Child Thrive In a Fat Phobic World

I get a lot of questions about parenting. One of the categories of questions I get is about how to help kids become healthy eaters and avoid disordered eating and poor body image. One of my most read blog posts is entitled "How to Not Screw Up Your Kid's Body Image." I also have another more recent post entitled "Children and Eating - Developing Non-Disordered Eating Habits" and one entitled "How to Not Screw Up Your Kid's Body Image - Developing Healthy Eating Habits in Children."

One of the resources I have enjoyed recently is Julie Duffy Dillon's LOVE, FOOD Podcast.  It is a good listen for those of you who need helping making peace with food and learning to be more intuitive eaters. Dillon is a nutrition therapist and an eating disorder specialist.

She wrote a helpful article called "Helping your large child thrive in a fat phobic world." I recommend it for all parents, not just parents who have children with larger bodies. In the article she addresses some commonly asked questions such as

  • How do I talk to my kids about food, dieting, and overeating?
  • How can I encourage my kids to exercise?
  • How can I help my children learn to love and accept their bodies?
If you are struggling with parenting, disordered eating, or other pain in your life, professional counseling can help.  Please call our Houston therapists at 713- 591 - 3612 or visit the Wilson Counseling website at www. wilsoncounseling. org to find out more.

July 11, 2017

Dealing With Adult Children Living At Home

You are only as happy as your saddest child

There is an expression, "You are only as happy as your saddest child." Oh how true that is. As parents, our lot in life is intrinsically tied to our children, even when they become adults. 

I sometimes work with parents who are trying their best to parent adult children. Increasingly those adult children are living in the home with them. In fact, living with parents is the most common living situation for adult children ages 18 to 34. Fifty three percent of 18 to 24-year-olds live with their parents. 

Most of these parents agree to allow their adult children to live with them without a plan or any discussion of expectations. As a parent, you help because you have always helped. You help because there is a need. Because that is what parents do.  But without a plan and good boundaries, the best intentions often lead to broken relationships.  

Stuck in a cycle of resentment and dread

I had clients, Daniel and Christy, who came in for couples counseling. Their marriage was pretty rocky for reasons I don't have time to go into in this post, but the relationship was further complicated by their two children who lived at home. 

One of these kids was a 21-year-old college student. He did not pay rent, contribute by doing chores or watching his younger sister, and what's worse, he was often up late drinking with friends and skipping classes. His parents were paying for virtually all of his expenses. When they confronted their son, he would push back, become angry, and curse at them. They dreaded these interactions so much that they started avoiding any confrontation. Not surprisingly, the parents grew increasingly resentful. They felt they were being taken advantage of,  which of course they were, but they did not know how to turn things around. 

I get a lot of questions about how to deal with adult children living at home. Fortunately, there are some simple things that you as a parent can do if you have an adult child living with you that will smooth the transition, enable instead of disable your child, and keep you from becoming resentful. 

Develop a living agreement

The website Empowering Parents has a series of articles on  about how to effectively deal with the adult children that live with you. I highly recommend you read the articles and then develop a plan and some ground rules for your adult child.

As the article points out, "What happens when there isn’t a plan? Frustration and resentment build when you hear your child says things like, 'I’m looking for a job, but I can’t find anything’—but you’ve seen him sleeping late every day and staying out partying at night. This resentment only adds to the stress of living together."

Empowering Parents has also created a free living agreement for that you can download and use with your adult children. Open communication will help you avoid unnecessary conflict. 

It will also be helpful to differentiate what you can do as a parent that is helpful and what is enabling or even disabling for your adult kids. In this Empowering Parents article they make an important distinction between helping and what they call over-functioning:
There’s an important difference between helping and over–functioning. Helping your older child means doing something for him he can’t do himself, such as driving him somewhere when he has a broken leg. Over–functioning means you’re taking responsibility for things he can do for himself, like doing his laundry and cleaning up his messes after he’s had friends over. Perhaps that pattern started years ago or maybe it began when he moved back home. The bad news is that when you over–function you’re allowing the negative behaviors to continue; the good news is that it’s in your control to change the situation.

You get to set the rules, but you also have to enforce them

Parenting is hard. Parenting adult children is especially confusing because the traditional roles of adult and child that made sense before no longer apply.  It is important to remember that in your house, you get to set the rules and expectations. You have that authority. But it also means you need to have the fortitude to enforce those rules and to hold your adult child accountable if they do not live up to their end of the bargain. It's not easy, but you are respecting yourself and your sanity in the process, and you are modeling that respect to your kids. 

You can do this!


If you are having trouble dealing with adult children, professional counseling can help. You can contact our Houston counselors at 713 - 591- 3612 or via email at www. wilsoncouseling. org to learn more about how to deal with your adult children. 

June 8, 2017

The 15 Minutes That Can Change Your Day

When you sit up in bed in the morning, what are the first things you do? If you're like most of us, you reach for you phone and check emails, social media alerts, or the news. It's habitual, but it's not an optimal way to start the day.

Feelings of Scarcity Create Stress

What happens when you start off by checking your electronic device is that you start your day feeling anxious about everything you have to do that day, every email you have to answer, and every problem you have to solve. You start off with a sense of deficit and scarcity. There just aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done. 

Your morning routine is the foundation for the rest of your day, and if you start off with stress, you take this posture with you throughout the day. 

Short Circuit Your Stress

There's a way to short circuit this stress inducing habit, and it's a pretty simple concept. What you have to do is to create a new habit to replace the old one. Instead of immediately jumping into everything that causes anxiety, like emails and the news, spend the first 15  minutes of your day doing something that recharges or relaxes you.

But whatever you do, stay off the phone.

Instead of going straight for the phone, get up and give yourself permission to

  • Relax when you take your morning coffee
  • Do a breathing exercise
  • Meditate
  • Play with your dog
  • Snuggle with your kid or your partner
  • Sit outside and watch the birds in the trees
  • Read from your favorite book or magazine 

You may even want to use an app like Calm or HeadSpace, which have some great meditations, breathing techniques, and other relaxation techniques. What you do depends on what is relaxing to you. Yes, I know you have to get on your electronic device to use an app, but as long as you avoid the anxiety-producing side of it, there's nothing wrong with using your phone to meditate.

So commit to spending the first 15-30 minutes of your day in moments of relaxation before you get on your phone and start getting busy with life. With this small commitment of time,  I have seen my clients start to decrease their stress level throughout the day. If your day is already busy, I recommend getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier so you can do this. It is worth it!

I would love to hear about your experiences with starting your day with relaxation. Just leave me a comment and let me know how it works for you!

June 3, 2017

Ask A Therapist!

You can ask a licensed therapist questions about things you are struggling with (at no cost to you) on the Wilson Counseling website. All questions remain anonymous, so click this link, and fire away with your questions! If it is a question that is likely to be of interest to other readers, I will try to answer it on my blog.

May 19, 2017

Children and Eating - Developing Non-Disordered Eating Habits

As an eating disorder therapist, I get a lot of questions from parents about how to feed children and how to prevent eating disorders. A great resource for answering some of these questions is the Ellyn Satyr Institute. Ellyn Satyr is a Dietitian and Family Therapist and is recognized as a leading expert when it comes to issues related to eating and food.

I strongly recommend her website if you want answers to questions like these:

How do you handle a picky eater?
What feeding errors can make your child too thin?
Should you worry about your child's weight?
How do you raise a child who is a joy to feed?
What can you do about a child who does not eat fruits and vegetable?
How can you raise children who trust themselves and their bodies?
What is the role of the parent/child in terms of aiding feeding and exercise?

If you are concerned that your child's eating issues are more serious and might indicate an eating disorder, I recommend talking to an eating disorder specialist. At Wilson Counseling, we can help you determine the best course of treatment for your children if they are struggling with disordered eating or body image issues.

You can call our Houston Counselors at 713 - 591 - 3612, email at nancy @ wilsoncounseling. org or visit our website at www. wilsoncounseling. org to find out more.

April 21, 2017

Men, Sex, Rejection & Shame

Sometimes sex is about more than sex

One of my favorite songs to belt out in Karaoke is Radiohead's "Creep." It is a song I reserve for moments when I feel low, because singing sad songs when I'm sad seems to make some of the angst dissipate. 

The song came to mind when I was thinking about writing this blog post about what sex means to men. There are many misconceptions about what sex means for men. One of the biggest ones is that men seek sex primarily to satisfy their own physical pleasure. Therefore, when men are rebuffed, it can't really hurt that much because they have just missed out on physical pleasure. Nope. 

I have found this to be a harmful misconception because it minimizes the importance of sex for men's identity and self-esteem. Look at the lyrics to "Creep" to illustrate in song what I have found that men can actually gain in a loving sexual encounter with their partner - identity, acceptance, self-worth and a sense of belonging. This may be a little bit dramatic, but, at its best, in the sexual union, there is a sense of the wander coming home. When you accept me sexually, I matter, I belong, I'm so very special.  

When you were here before
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry

You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I don't care if it hurts
I wanna have control
I wanna perfect body
I wanna perfect soul

I want you to notice
When I'm not around
You're so f****n' special
I wish I was special

But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here.

"Creep" also illustrates what happens when men don't feel accepted by their partners. There is a sense of rejection, of being a creep, a weirdo, and overwhelmingly, I think this leads to feelings of shame. Initiating sex is inherently a vulnerable act for anyone. 

Author, professor, and shame researcher, Brene Brown, talks about the concept of shame and sex for men in her book, Daring Greatly.  Here is an excerpt from the book. Apologies for the length, but it is well worth the read. 

It's Not About The Back Fat: Men, Women, Sex and Body Image

"In 2006 I met with twenty-two community college students, male and female, to talk about shame. It was my first coed large group interview. At some point, a young man in his early twenties explained how he had recently divorced his wife after coming back from serving in the military and finding out that she was having an affair. He said he wasn’t surprised because he never felt “good enough for her.” He explained that he constantly asked her what she needed and wanted, and that every time he got close to meeting her needs, she “moved the goalpost another ten feet.”
A young woman in the class spoke up and said, “Guys are the same way. They’re never satisfied either. We’re never pretty, sexy, or skinny enough.” Within seconds a conversation broke out about body image and sex. The discussion was mostly about how it’s so scary to have sex with someone you care about when you’re worried about how your body looks. The young women who started the conversation said, “It’s not easy to have sex and keep your stomach sucked in. How can we get into it when we’re worried about our back fat?”
The young man who had shared the story of his divorce slammed his hand down on his desk and shouted, “It’s not about the back fat! You’re worried about it. We’re not. We don’t give a s**t!” The class fell completely quiet. He took a couple of deep breaths and said, “Stop making up all of this stuff about what we’re thinking! What we’re really thinking is ‘Do you love me? Do you care about me? Do you want me? Am I important to you? Am I good enough?’ That’s what we’re thinking. When it comes to sex, it feels like our life is on the line, and you’re worried about that crap?”
At that point, half of the young men in the room were so emotional that they had their faces in their hands. A few girls were in tears, and I couldn’t breathe. The young woman who had brought up the body image issue said, “I don’t understand. My last boyfriend was always criticizing my body.”
 The young vet who had just brought us all to our knees replied, “That’s because he’s an a**hole. It’s not because he’s a guy. Some of us are just guys. Give us a break. Please.” 
A middle-aged man in the group joined in, staring straight down at his desk. “It’s true. When you want to be with us…in that way…it makes us feel more worthy. We stand a little taller. Believe in ourselves more. I don’t know why, but it’s true. And I’ve been married since I was eighteen. It still feels that way with my wife.”

I read those passages to my husband and asked him if it resonated for him. Without hesitation, he said, "yes, of course." It seems so obvious now, but I had not really made the connection between sex and shame for men in that way. I figured that men could feel sad, bummed out, angry, or rejected when their partner turned them down, but shame goes much deeper. Shame is a pretty heady emotion based on the idea that there is something inherently bad or wrong about me.

Why deny your husband something that takes so little, but means so much?

I had a friend one time who said something to the effect of "Why do we deny our husbands something that takes so little time, but means so much?" That stuck with me. 

Take a chance on your partner

A note about initiating sex. In many relationships, there is one partner who almost always initiates sex. If that is working in your relationship, great, but I recommend having a conversation about this before assuming all is well.  The act of initiating can be a power symbol of your sense of desire for your partner, and we all want to feel wanted. If you are not normally the initiator, I recommend you try initiating more often. I realize this opens you up to rejection, but there is no intimacy without vulnerability. Take a chance on your partner. 

There are times when we just don't have it in us to have sex. We may genuinely be tired, or depressed, or dealing with issues of past abuse or pain. I get that. Some of you may read this post and feel that it is shaming you if you ever say no to your partner's sexual initiation, but please know that is not the intention of the post. Your body is your own and your choice to share it is your own. 

I have found, however, that sometimes, over time in our relationships, we get lazy and take each other for granted. I hope this post will encourage more discussion about sex and and an understanding of the power we hold over each other of acceptance and rejection. I hope it will encourage us to pursue each other's mutual pleasure and edification. And don't forget to have fun! 

If sex is a source of conflict, shame, or pain in your relationship, professional counseling can help. 
You can call our Houston counselors at 713 - 591- 3612, email at nancy @ wilsoncounseling. org or visit our website at to find out more.