Therapy That Works...

Is Your Teen Ready For College? - By Chris Gearing

Sunday, December 26, 2010

As America’s teens are applying to college this fall, millions of parents are wondering if their children are ready for the transition to college.

So, do they have something to worry about?

Most neurophysiologists report now that the changes taking place in the teenage brain are profound. The teenage brain is like a house that’s in the process of being built—there is a steady building of neurological connections that create an often subtle but revolutionary refinement in self-control and judgment. There can be a stark difference between a 17 year old and an 18 year old. Their emotional maturity can literally take place in just a few weeks or months.

Here are a few things I would recommend for parents:

Remain Involved: The main issue is what kind of input parents will have at such a profound and intense time of maturity. Even though they’ve gone to college, you should still be involved. You’re still their parent, teacher, and advisor!

Consequences For Life: We know that kids are extremely vulnerable to experiences—good and bad—during this pivotal time. What the child experiences is encoded much more intensely in late adolescence, and parents need to be very mindful of what they allow their teenagers to do.

Caution Around Substance Abuse: Be very cautious teaching your child about drugs and alcohol. Realistically, they will encounter drugs and alcohol at college – they need to know what do. The teen years can be a devastating time for the brain to be exposed to drugs and alcohol since it is still developing. Be very careful, parents.

Now when parents in my practice ask me about their children going to college, I always ask them one question – “are they emotionally intelligent and mature?”

Emotional maturity is a central life-skill – it can literally make the difference between success and failure at college. Here are some areas of emotional intelligence that you should evaluate:

  • Risk Aversion and Impulse Control
  • The Ability to Self Sooth Appropriately (with exercise, conversation, or distractions like music or movies)
  • The Ability to Self-Correct and to Remain Self-Aware
  • Skills in Self-Regulation such as time management, organization and persistence in task completion.
  • The Capacity to Identify Emotions In Others Accurately
  • The Ability to Understand the Complexity of Emotions and Motivations

How To Survive The Holidays With Your Family - By Chris Gearing

Friday, December 24, 2010

How To Survive The Holidays With Your Family - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

With the mistletoe in place and the lights on our trees, many Americans will look forward to a warm reunion with their families in the next few weeks. But family gatherings don't always offer the good times we had anticipated.

So, why can our families be so difficult at the holidays?

The simple truth is that many of our families are just very hard to get along with. See how many of these fit your family:

Tangled History: Family relationships are some of our greatest challenges and greatest teachers. Many of us have tangled, complex histories with our siblings and parents that have never been resolved. In addition, some of us are saddled with relatives that are just plain insufferable.

Fight It Out: Most of us have a much more difficult time “letting things go” when it comes to our family. Instead of forgiving and forgetting, we hold on to painful memories and fight it out.

High Expectations: We tend to set high expectations for change and understanding with our family members, but most of them haven’t changed and may never change. Someone who was difficult twenty years ago may still be just as abrasive now.

Stressed Anyway: Two thirds of Americans are severely stressed at the holidays and function in a fog. Instead of protecting ourselves and getting enough rest and self-care, we command ourselves to participate in holiday activities that wear us out and make us grumpier.

But if the holidays can be so stressful, why do we always seem to get together and celebrate with our families?

Celebrating the holidays with family boils down to ritual. Whether it’s decorating the tree or eating Chinese take out for dinner, rituals are very powerful in making us feel connected to the past and to our family. All of our traditions, songs and holiday schedules remind us of the positive aspects of our lives today and prepare us for the new year of work and possibilities.

Everybody knows that the holidays can be stressful, and sometimes seeing our families only makes things worse. But we still force ourselves to show up. If you’re one of these sad souls, here are a few tips to help make the holidays bright:

Be Realistic: Christmas is much more deeply tied to our childhood memories than any other holiday and we are hoping that these family rituals will fuel our good feelings once again, as they did in childhood. Try to temper down those high expectations and don’t put so much pressure on the holiday! Instead, use this time to get a plan together and take control of your destiny in the new year.

You Think What You Eat: Did you know that December and January are the deadliest month of the year for heart attacks? Between the rich holiday meals, flowing alcohol, financial stress, it’s no wonder that Americans tend to drink and eat excessively. If you add in a few challenging relatives, this stress can push you over the edge. Try to watch what you eat and take it easy on the alcohol.

Stay Cool: Go into the holidays with a realistic mindset or what psychologists call, “pre-loading.” You will keep your cool in hot situations much easier if you expect them to happen. Realize and even expect that an argument may break out at the table or that your uncle may have a bit too much to drink. Pre-loading will help you keep control of your own emotional reactions and if things get too tense, just take a time out.

Private Holiday Magic: Visit with your family but leave the holiday magic to your private moments with a cherished spouse, wonderful children, or even lifelong friends. The magic of this season is always found in the special moments with our loved ones.

Grumpy Families At The Holidays - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How To Protect Yourself From Parental Alienation This Holiday - By Chris Gearing

Monday, December 20, 2010

Parental Alienation At The Holidays - By Chris Gearing

Friday, December 17, 2010

Parental Alienation During The Holidays - By Chris Gearing

Friday, December 17, 2010

During the holidays, millions of children from divorced families will be spending time with their parents separately. But what happens when one parent begins a systematic campaign to discredit the other parent and make their child hate their ex?

This is one of the worst developments in American families of the past 30 years. Psychologists are calling it “Parental Alienation” and it literally rips families apart. Here’s what it looks like:

Systematic Campaign of Alienation: Parental alienation is a systematic campaign of character assassination. One parent is determined to alienate the child’s affections toward the other parent or toward a grandparent. It is most prevalent in child custody cases and it is worst at the holidays as parents tend to compete for the affection of their children.

Spans the Range: Parental Alienation spans the range from outright malicious intent, legal battles and reckless accusations to careless, self serving comments that undermine the child’s view of their parent.

Emotional Abuse of Children: Parental alienation not only hurts the ex, it’s a form of emotional abuse of the child. Beyond the confusion and pain of divorce and losing a parent, children take their parent’s qualities and characteristics as their own. As one expert says, “ Bad mouth your ex and you simultaneously bad mouth your child.”

Legitimized by Self Absorbed Culture: Most divorces involve pain and suffering and parental alienation flourishes in a family culture of conflict. However, the epidemic of narcissism that has defined our country in recent years legitimizes winning at any cost. Savage and unethical behavior is justified even if it involves waging war against an innocent person.

So if parental alienation is so damaging to so many people, why would someone do it?

Revenge: There are complex reasons to explain this behavior but all explanations boil down to one principle reason -- Revenge. Some people feel pleasure from inflicting pain on people they believe have wronged them. The mind of the child becomes the battlefield for hurting their ex.

Child Is Perceived As A Possession: For some parents, adequate boundaries with their children are absent. The child is perceived as an extension of themselves. They inflict parental alienation on the other parent to banish him or her so that they can have the child to themselves.

Compensating for Inadequacy and Guilt: Parents may try to resolve their low self-esteem and sense of failure by reinforcing their belief that they are the better parent. Posturing as the superior parent makes them feel better even if it is at the expense of their child. They have no conscience about the suffering of the child or the other parent – it’s really all about themselves.

Parental alienation runs rampant at the holidays with children traveling between the homes of divorced parents. But how are children affected by parental alienation?

Brainwashed by Lies: These kids are basically brainwashed and now regard their targeted parent as the enemy or as a worthless afterthought. This kind of betrayal can poison even in the most tender and loving relationships.

Rehearsed Answers: Divorce is very scary for children. Often they feel unstable and they may be worried about the approval of the parent that they are living with. In an effort to feel safe, they orient to the controlling needs of the alienating parent at all costs. They are often unable to specify why they dislike the targeted parent or they exaggerate faults of the parent to justify their rejection. Their comments parrot the alienator’s words and feelings.

Long Term Damage: There is minimal data on the long-term effects of such alienation on kids. However, we do know that the earlier the separation from a parent, the more traumatic it is for the child. The basic tenants of loving relationships—trust, loyalty, and forgiveness--are never learned and the child may struggle for a lifetime because of these experiences.

Now, if you or someone you know is the victim of parental alienation – here’s what you can do to protect yourself and reclaim the love of your child:

Remain Calm: Understand that you have been systematically undermined and that you are taking every step to remediate the situation. Focus on what you can control and don’t stress about other factors. Do not lose your temper, reject your child or insult your ex in front of your child.

Educate Yourself: Parental alienation can be an elusive phenomenon to prove especially in a highly intense forum such as child custody. There are several books with great resources that are “must reads” for parents. Please see the sources for this story for some suggestions.

Work with Great Experts: Hire a psychologist and a lawyer who are proven experts in parental alienation. The therapist must acknowledge the massive psychological impact such alienation has on the child and the targeted parent. Your attorney needs to possess a solid understanding of this type of emotional abuse and they must have the substantial legal skills to protect your child and your interests.

It won’t be easy – but with a great deal of patience, help, and prayer, you can protect yourself and your child from the devastating effects of parental alienation.


"Divorce Poison," Dr. Richard Warshak

"The Custody Revolution" by Dr. Richard Warshak

"Divorce Casualties: Understanding Parental Alienation," Dr. Douglas Darnall

O Sleepless Nights - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Money worries got you down during the holidays? Ninety percent of Americans report insomnia during the holidays. But tired people are also depressed, angry, and hopeless people. If you’re looking for how to make your holidays happy – start with getting back to sleep.

Now, most people turn to the medicine cabinet next for one of a slew of sleeping pills and aids. Not so fast.

Prescription sleeping medications are fine to get us through a difficult day or two, but if there are more serious issues -- like stress, anger, and depression -- pills do not address the underlying problems. It’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound.

However, a combination of prescription sleep aids and cognitive behavioral therapy for sleeping issues cures over 80% of sleeping problems. Cognitive therapy addresses false beliefs about sleep, teaches techniques for lowering anxiety, helps people not to worry all night long, and relax long enough to drift off to sleep.

Here are a few suggestions from sleep experts combining behavioral and cognitive cues to get you back to sleep:

Regular Schedule: Become disciplined and keep a regular bedtime and avoid naps like the plague. Bedtimes aren’t just for children, a regular bedtime cues your brain and body that it is time to rest and sleep. Naps disrupt your body’s schedule and can really mess up your natural sleep/wake cycle.

Watch What You Drink: Do not drink anything with caffeine within four to six hours before bedtime. Also, an alcoholic nightcap will actually keeps you awake.

Don't Remain in Bed: Restrict the amount of time spend in bed waiting for sleep. If you are unable to sleep, don’t toss and turn all night! Get out of bed and go to another room, do something relaxing, and return to bed when sleep is imminent.

Bedroom for Sleeping: Reserve the bedroom for sleep. If you read, watch TV, or work in bed, your body will become confused and will have trouble shutting down at bedtime.

The Secrets of Holiday Gift Giving - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Americans spend up to $40 billion annually for holiday presents and while holiday gifts can be a terrific way to show your love for your partner, psychologists now report that holiday gifts can often be a relationship report card. Research shows that four billion dollars is spent each holiday season on unappreciated gifts so it’s important to know what you’re doing. Here to give us some advice on all that gift giving is psychologist, Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Why do gifts have so much meaning for us, especially in a relationship?

Perception is Central: A gift is never just a gift. It is a fundamental way we communicate how important the relationship is. Americans, in particular, are really stressed about gift giving because of this relationship rule. Giving the perfect gift can be seen as a true measure of how much we care about our partner-- or not. The more thoughtful or romantic we are perceived as being, the more emotional money in the bank.

Avoid Misfires: But even when you love your partner, holiday gifts can also get you into a lot of trouble if you misfire. Since they really do leave us vulnerable to judgment, they are a form of risk taking in the relationship and they can go very badly. We are using gifts to take basic measurements of our partner’s commitment, affection, and understanding of who we are.

Relationships Ending: The ugly truth is that gifts often signal the end of things. For example, a gift left on the kitchen counter in the plastic bag is not a good sign.

What are the chief pitfalls we should look out for in giving gifts?

Buy for Them Only: Avoid giving them something you would like irrespective of their tastes. Buying for yourself—with your preferences and interests—will not be endearing. You will be viewed as insensitive and selfish.

Keep It Equal According to Status: Remember that in families, the comparative value of the gifts will always be measured. It is just fine to give your wife a piece of nice jewelry while giving your sister a robe. Be careful not to “over gift” relatives of equal status—it will be noted.

Avoid Lavish Gifts to Relatives: Also, avoid lavish gifts that are going to make everyone feel inadequate. You can look like a show off and the gift just misfires.

Avoid Token, Last Minute Gifts: Low expense and minimal efforts in gift giving are recipes for disaster, especially with a woman. Also, the last minute gift can be cute once in a while (like when you’re fifteen!) but please don’t purchase in a rush at the holidays, especially for a woman. I guarantee she will feel like an afterthought.

Avoid Gender Specific and Bland Gifts: Please do not buy an appliance for her unless she specially requests that. Anything with a cord is off limits and on off switch items—unless it’s new car—are to be avoided. Also, gifts that you would give anybody you know don’t belong under the tree for your spouse.

No Motivational Gifts: Do not give a gift that screams self-improvement like weight loss, better parenting or finding a job. A year’s membership at the gym or a box of diet drinks can really hurt the relationship.

Avoid Re-Gifting: Almost one third of Americans pass on gifts they don’t like. Be careful with this since it can hurt the relationship if they figure it out.

What are the differences between men and women in gift giving?

Money Counts with Men: Men tend to be much more aware of how much they’re spending to buy her present. They use their money to signal affection, interest and commitment. They also like practicality and personalization in their own gifts—golf clubs, new grilling utensils, etc.

Women and Meaning: On the other hand, women love to investigate what the present means emotionally—that relationship report card mentality. We love hidden meanings and delight in building drama around the moment of the gift—the candlelight at the table, the Christmas tree glow. We will often spend hours devising the perfect gift for him, thinking, dreaming and scheming. She hopes (expects) that he will do the same for her but research shows that men rarely do. They are more likely to think about it for a minute, buy it at the very last minute on Christmas Eve and deliver it the next morning.

What are the best gifts to give?

Research shows that gift giving must include three elements—wonderful surprise, familiarity with her tastes and the cost must reflect the perceived emotional value of the relationship.

Savor the Experience: Gifts that are personal and experiential are huge. Give your partner the gift of a romantic evening, a massage, a sports event, duo cooking classes, making a gingerbread house together, a horse and buggy ride in Dallas or a weekend getaway. Generally, people do not remember the way you dressed or even specifically what you did. They remember how you made them feel.

Selfless Giving: Remember to be gracious even if you receive a less desirable gift. The real gift in holiday presents lies in your delight in giving and in receiving kindly. Every study about happiness, without exception, argues that our chief happiness comes from selfless giving. Holiday presents are an excellent place to create happiness for you and your partner.

When Is It Time To Break Up? - By Chris Gearing

Friday, November 26, 2010

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