Want to Get Closer To Your Partner? Five Tips To Make Valentine’s Day Last All Year

By Melissa Lee-Tammeus, PhD, LMHC, CCTP

It is that time of year again. Everywhere you go, red hearts, pink bows, and flowery cards make an appearance to entice us to spend money and make a grand gesture to show our partners we love them. While magnificent acts on that one day can be wonderful, the care and love we share with and for our partners the other 364 days of the year just might be even more important. The small gestures done daily don’t take money or a holiday to accomplish, either. So, how can you show your love and affection to that special person that doesn’t involve driving to a store, ordering something online, or waiting for a calendar day?

Read on for five, easy tips to show that love year round:

1) Hug each other every day. Use your whole body. Hug hard and long. Hugs are healthy and they feel good. They help us breathe easier – all while releasing those special chemicals that make us feel fine.   Breathe in those pheromones that your partner has – it will open up those long ago memories and make you nostalgic. You’ll remember not only why you fell in love in the beginning by why you love that person now.

2) Take a walk around your home turf together.  Getting outside, walking side by side and holding hands – even for just a 15 minute walk around the block – can not only refresh the mind but can give you a chance to pay attention to the world around you and to the person beside you.  Look at your neighborhood together. You will be reminded that this is the life you built together. This is your home.

3) Pick a series on your favorite media platform and watch it together. We have all heard the phrase Netflix and Chill. Well, sometimes, just Netflix and warm fuzzy slippers, sweats, and a shared bowl of popcorn with an oversized blanket you can both get under can work wonders all by itself. Take the time to find a series you both want to watch.  Really take the time to learn what your partner likes and what you can share together. Make a day in which you can binge on five episodes in a row together or plan a weeknight you can both dedicate an hour to a week. Then stick to it. You will have something to look forward to together and something you can talk about. And do not watch without the other person present! This is a couple thing only – no cheating!

4) Cook together. This takes time and effort to get just right – it may not be a perfect symbiosis the first few times. Couples who cook together often have learned the way the other person moves and what is important to the other as far as habits in the kitchen. Cooking together helps you experience all the little quirks that can both drive you mad but also endear you to your partner. When you discover these things about each other, you can move like ninjas together in the kitchen. One may like to chop, the other to clean up the mess. One may be into the managing the stove, the other has a way with salads. Cooking together can be a way to discover new things about one another. If you want to take it a step further, do it in sexy outfits (or naked!), or with music playing, or with a nice glass of whatever makes you happy – or all three. The options are endless. Challenge each other to get creative with the food, with the preparation, and with each other.

5) Kiss each other goodbye and walk your partner to the door when they leave for the day. Greet him or her at the door when they come home. Yes, this can be annoying and sometimes simply can’t happen. But when it can, make the effort. Think about your day and how difficult it can be. How nice would it be to see your partner open the door, smile, and say hello to you? Maybe grab that bag from your hands to lighten your load? Doing this for one another can be just that – a lightening of the load of the day when you get home or a cheerleader cry of “You can do it!” when you leave.

February is a time for grand gestures. But don’t forget the little ones you can add to your everyday life together – those are the ones that last a lifetime, not just a day.

Check in with Your Moral Reasoning


In these politically heated days, I don’t think anyone would argue that we are all a little bit on edge regarding our moral and ethical values and how they may be being upheld or stomped on in these trying times. Moral reasoning for some is working. For others it is definitely not. But we are all living in the same place, yes? We are all seeing the same things, aren’t we?

Hmm . . . that’s a tough one to answer.

Because we are definitely not living the same experience. And we certainly have different moral reasoning and codes that color that experience, making it incredibly unique for each person or group.

With that in mind, I wanted to explore this idea a bit more.

Defining a permanent, universal construct of moral reasoning is a tough one. To put it as simply as possible, moral reasoning is the ethics and code by which one defines his or her life. This is instilled in us as we grow and depends on our environmental and social influences. And believe it or not, it can develop, change, and take a ninety degree turn at any time. According to Santrock (2009), moral development is defined as “changes in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors regarding standards of right and wrong” (p. 476).

Wow, that is a loaded explanation!

So, let’s unpack it a bit.

There is much more to moral reasoning than a one sentence definition. Moral reasoning is a malleable construct based on such variables as culture, family, gender, and even the land in which you live. For example, Miller and Luthar (1989, as cited in Miller, Bersof & Harwood, 1990) explained that morality in India is based on a general action of right or wrong involving social duty and obligation. This is strikingly different in comparison to the American ideal in which morality is defined as a “personal choice” based on individual rights. See where we are going with this?

Kohlberg’s Moral Reasoning Theory stands out as one of the leading theories regarding how we learn about morality (Santrock, 2009; Snarey, Reimer & Kohlberg, 1985). Without noting the role of gender or culture which definitely muddies the waters, he proposed three defining stages to learning our subjective sense of right and wrong.

1) During the Preconventional Stage, we first learn about the sense of right and wrong through punishment. Whatever avoids punishment is considered to be right. We also figure out that there is an exchange. For example, if I am nice to my brother, I may just get a cookie out of the deal. It is straightforward and leaves little wiggle room.

2) In the second stage called the Conventional Stage, we understand that being “good” is “right” and we take on our parents’ or caregivers’ values as our own. We also understand that there are even more rules and laws of good or bad that are outside of our caregivers – that even they have laws they have to go by. At this juncture, we realize that we all abide by rules in order for society to function well. We start paying attention to the “other” For example we may wonder why someone else is getting away with something that we can’t – what’s that about?

3) In the third and final stage, the Postconventional Stage, which many of us may never achieve, we began to understand that those laws may not actually be for the good of all (Wood, Wood & Boyd, 2008). If we get to the final sub-stage of Postconventional stage, we may achieve a sense of moral conduct based on what we believe to be true and right, regardless of the laws set in place and we may act on those regardless of the consequences. If you have ever been arrested for standing up for what you believe in, chained yourself to a tree as the truck is coming to take it down, or been on a march lately, you know what I mean. In this stage, which many of us are pretty darn uncomfortable with, we are willing to go the extra mile to say “Hey, this is not working for all – what the heck is going on? This need to stop – we need to rethink!” Those in this stage are not really liked by those just going by the rules in the second stage. And those in this stage often wonder why those in that other stage aren’t standing up, too.

So that’s the basics. Complicated enough, yet?

As we mature, Kohlberg indicated that we have options to change our moral learning. We can exceed, embrace, or discard any or all of what we have learned to be right or wrong. Kohlberg did not address culture and gender or the influence of others, however (Miller, 2001). But you can’t have one without all the others. It’s never that easy.

For instance, the principles of collectivism versus individualism in moral reasoning as seen when comparing India and America above must be explored as well. The idea of individualism within morality is what Gillian would acknowledge as the “justice perspective” while morality based on collectivism may be seen as part of the “care perspective” (Santrock, p. 483). Caring perspectives tend to be based on stories of experience (Miller, 2001; Sunar, 2002). When comparing the culture of genders, justice perspective more often than not focuses on a male point of view, while care perspective takes a more female approach. For instance, historically, a sense of community and connectedness is much more a dominant female trait than a male’s, according to Gillian (Santrock, 2009).

Developmental patterns indicate that we often associate and learn from those who raised us. The political upheaval that many of us are feeling come from this complicated play of culture, family ideals that we may agree or disagree with, experience, and sex and gender influence that often times is still not acknowledged. When it is, there is often backlash to the status quo of that Conventional stage where so many just simply don’t want to rock the boat.

When discussing how gender may or may not play a role, one must take into account the social rules that children embrace (Miller, 2001). Children imitate what they see – both positive and negative – and internalize those rules of right and wrong (Sunar, 2002). We are kidding ourselves to think that this is not gender based on some level. Boys are raised to be tough and strong. Girls are raised to be calm and collected. Boys should not cry while girls can. Men learn to internalize their sadness which turns into a more acceptable emotion of anger. Helfritz, Stanford, Conklin, Greve, Villemarette-Pittman and Huston (2006) found that many men have little insight regarding their own anger and sadness and its overt behaviors. As it stands, research shows that girls internalize much more on a conscious level than boys and have higher scores overall on measures of moral reasoning (Sunar, 2002).

The newer generations are blurring these lines, and fantastically so, in that there are not two extremes but rather fluidity in such ideals and expectations. But that would be more in line with that third, Postconventional line of moral reasoning. Many are very happy to not rock that boat and stay in the Conventional area of reasoning with definitive lines.

Thus, some confusion all around, depending on where you are in those stages.

Why does this all matter?

Every day, we receive messages from the media which are gender bias and incongruous whether we realize it or not (Miller, 2001). Every day, we are bombarded by influences that either support our moral reasoning or go against it. Every day, we make a choice to consider something new, or keep things the way they are, or say yes or no to whatever comes along based on our moral reasoning.

So, I encourage all of you to think about your moral reasoning. Where do you fall in the stages? Why do you think the way you do? Maybe you need a tune up. Maybe not. It’s all up to you.


Helfritz, L.E., Stanford, M.S., Conklin, S.M., Greve, K.W., Villemarette-Pittman, N.R., & Houston, R. J. (2006). Usefulness of self-report instruments om assessing men accused of domestic violence. The Psychological Record, 56, 171-180.

Miller, J.G. (2001). Culture and Moral Development. In D. Matsumoto (Ed.), The handbook of culture and psychology (pp. 151-194). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Miller, J. G., Bersoff, M. D., & Harwood, R. L. (1990). Perceptions of social responsibilities in India and in the U.S.: Moral imperatives or personal decisions? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(1), 33–47. Retrieved November 7, 2010 from the PsycARTICLES database. (AN psp-58-1-33)

Santrock, J. W. (2009). A topical approach to life-span development (custom ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Sunar, D. (2002). The psychology of morality. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (Unit 2, Chapter 11). Retrieved fromhttp://www.wwu.edu/culture/Sunar.htm

What I Learned From Three Foster Kittens

I am an avid animal lover. A few months ago, I took in three, five week old kittens that needed some extra care from a local shelter before they could be put up for adoption. Our family already has three cats and two dogs, so to add more to the family was a bit of a handful. But, the whole family ended up falling in love with them and when they were old enough to be officially adopted, I just couldn’t do it. I could not hand those fur babies to someone else. After a family conference, it was decided we would adopt them ourselves.

Crazy? Most definitely!

Regretful? Not for a minute.

Having three, tiny kittens helped me to remember some very important lessons in life. So, with the permission of Prince, Hobbes, and Bear – our three newest family members – I share their wisdom with you:

1) Try everything once. If it doesn’t work the first time and you really want it to work, try again. You never know where it may lead you. For instance, if that counter is a bit too high, just keep trying to reach it every day. Jump at it a hundred times if you have to. One day, you will be just a little bit bigger and a little bit better at jumping, and lo and behold, you will reach the counter. And there might be cheese. Or a leftover tuna sandwich. Or you may find a box that is awesome for hiding. You won’t know until you try.


2) Learn the ropes by watching others you admire. You know the old saying: Imitation is the best form of flattery. Would you like to be braver? Learn a new hobby? Get better at a work skill? Being humble enough to watch, listen, and learn from those who have been there can reap some big rewards. For instance, watch that bigger cat steal that Halloween decoration right off the wall and traipse off with it. The next day, when it miraculously is back on the wall after the human stole it from the big cat and the big cat is asleep, try it yourself. Do it exactly like the big cat did. Enjoy that homemade skeleton with the ribbon wrapped around it that you can spend hours taking apart in the closet. It will be totally worth it.

3) Be a part of something bigger than yourself. This will not only make you feel good about yourself, but you will be helping others as well. For instance, when your sister and brother find a cockroach they are circling, join in on the fun. You can bat it around for a while and have some laughs. This will inevitably help your human find it faster and she will proceed to frantically scream and throw a shoe at it. Then, she will hug you and be very happy.

4) Always show others in your life you care. This helps keep the lines of communication open and lets them know they are loved. You can do this in numerous ways. You can bring them small gifts, send an email, hug them, do favors for them, or simply tell them that you love them. For instance, while your loved one is calming cleaning their face, they always appreciate a sneak attack from the side that turns into a fun wrestling match, ending with a sprint down the hallway and up the curtain. Or maybe just save him or her a left over piece of asparagus you found on that counter you finally reached that you put in the dog bowl for safe keeping. That may be just the ticket to help put a smile on his or her face.


5) Find time to relax. The world is a busy place and can create a ton of stress. Be sure to find moments to let the world go and just be free. Don’t let others judge you in taking time for yourself. For instance, take a nap during the day. Or sleep in. Call in to work for a mental health day to rejuvenate. And if it happens to be on top of your owner’s computer keyboard while they are typing, or on his/her lap just when they were going to get up, or right in the middle of the busiest hallway in the house, so be it. Or, I don’t know, in a basket otherwise known as the “place the chips go.” Take it where you can get it.


I am sure that these little ones will continue to teach me a lot. If nothing else, they are super soft and help to soothe me when I am a bit down or stressed. Pets are truly a source of strength for many. I advocate pet therapy often for my clients. I have had numerous clients go to their local shelter and then bring their pet to a session to introduce their new family member to me. I am happy to say that I have had everything from dogs to chickens in my office. I have also brought foster kittens to the office for clients who approve beforehand so they can hold them while they work through difficult issues. Many clients with depression and anxiety find that getting a small fur baby to care for can help calm many symptoms they struggle with. So, if you have not incorporated this into your coping skills for clients, I encourage you to do so. That relaxation that animals so naturally exude can actually calm our brains and our minds. And who doesn’t want a little bit of that once in a while?


The Force of Nature


I am in Jacksonville, Florida. Today is the day after Hurricane Matthew blew through our beloved town and we have awakened to slight wind and sunshine. For some, there were only a few limbs and an occasional fallen mailbox or tree to clean up. For others, their homes and businesses are flooded and they are still trying to get back into their neighborhoods after being evacuated.

As a whole, all Floridians are mourning the changing of our landscape and beaches, and our beloved haunts that have been affected drastically by the storms. I am especially saddened by the videos of St. Augustine and the flooding of the historic campus, Flagler College. My son went there this summer for two weeks to learn about film production. We visited him at the end of his time there and all the parents and families of the students watched the films they had created. I can’t help but wonder how it all looks now. At the time, it was such an honor to roam those halls – it is full of such history and beauty. It is hard to think about those halls being filled with rain and sea water today.

We all watch with hope to make sure the storm continues to lessen as it blows into our adjacent states and breathe a sigh of relief as the hours tick by and we know it will be gone for good soon.

Today, neighbors came out of their houses to chat, to assess, to commiserate. One neighbor, anonymously, laid down a new piece of lumber in our yard, right next to our fallen mailbox, to save us a trip to the hardware store.

It is times like these that we are reminded that hope reigns eternal and we really do care about one another. It seems even more noteworthy with the presidential parties seemingly tearing our nation into two separate sidelines. All you have to do is check social media and see the lines drawn in the sand, the anger, the confusion. It is a difficult time to remember to try and understand one another, especially if we discover we are on one side of an issue while our neighbor is on the other. It is hard to remember that we are all in this together.

One thing I can say about Hurricane Matthew, it helped us remember.

It brought our thoughts back to what is truly important. All of us want the same things – a place to call home, people who care about us, and a bit of help and support along the way to keep us going.

I would have preferred that Hurricane Matthew had never made an appearance. But I have to admit that since it has, it has helped many of us to lay down our differences and work together. My neighbor has political views that our totally different than my husband’s and my own. But, today, we talked in our front yards together, talked about cleanup and roadblocks and how fortunate our street was to go unscathed. And I know, all around the states affected, and in the Bahamas and Haiti, neighbors are helping neighbors.

Frederick Douglass once said, “It is not light we need, but fire; it is not gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”

So, Hurricane Matthew, we heard you. And we remember what is truly important.

Today I Cried in Yoga


Today I cried during yoga.

This is not an unusual occurrence for me.

After a strenuous 50 minute session of being totally in the moment, pushing muscles into movements I don’t usually find myself in normally, my fellow yogis and I lay on our mats for about five minutes, being completely still. Yogis call this Shavasana. It is also known as the corpse pose. It is a few moments in time when you completely come back to your body and give a silent shout out to how it has gotten you through – a bit of mindfulness and thankfulness, if you will.

It takes practice to do this, believe it or not.

When I first begin tried yoga, way back in high school, I would actually fall asleep during this timeout. Mindfulness was not I word I knew. I just knew laying down meant sleep. Later, when marriage, and kid, and life crashed in fully, I would be tense and frustrated and often get up and leave before Shavasana was over, secretly cursing that I didn’t have time to “lay around.”

Now, I cannot wait for these moments – the time in which I force myself to stay still and listen to me.

Sometimes, in these moments, I am just thankful I am still alive after working out so hard and just concentrate on getting my breath back. But, sometimes, like today, I get emotional and the tears fall. I don’t sob, I don’t ugly cry, I just notice this feeling of being overwhelmed, of a need to release. Thus, the tears streak down the side of my face as I lay there, not moving. I used to worry that people would see or that I was being ridiculous. I no longer think those things. I welcome the release – it means that throughout the week, I have just been holding together and that I have not gotten in tune with what is going on with me.

Shavasana gets me in tune. In that time, I can reflect on clients that have affected me and emotions I have taken on that are not mine to keep. I can reflect on how I feel about my family and how appreciative I am. I can thank myself for taking the time even though I almost didn’t. I can release and be ready to come back for more.

Often clients, in the throes of their own emotions, ask me how I do what I do. Most of the people in my personal life really don’t know what I do, so they don’t ask. If they do, I keep the details to myself. Sometimes, some days are harder than others. Clients bring their lives to me like an open gift and I carefully hold that gift as best I can. Yoga and yes, crying, helps me lay that gift down and let it float on the wind. It also helps me pick up other gifts the world is offering me that I tend to not notice without intent.

When I cry during yoga, I often think of those clients who apologize for crying in session, or refuse to cry, or want to cry but something holds them back. I tell them that tears wash the soul. That tears – or any uncomfortable emotions – are worthy of one’s time. They are gifts that the body is giving. Go ahead and open them.

So, today I cried in yoga. My soul has been cleaned.

What is Family and How Can a Counselor Help?


The truth is, every family is different. Even the semantics of what “family” is for each person and group is diverse. For instance, my family consists of me and my husband,  and one male 16 year old that we conceived together. I have been married before, but am widowed. This is my second husband’s first marriage, but he was in a long term common law relationship with another woman for three years before meeting me.


Take a friend of mine. She is on her second marriage to a wonderful woman. She has a 15 year old son from her first marriage with a man, 2 stepchildren from her wife’s past relationship, and then they have a young child they adopted together.

Any family can be a bit confusing if you don’t know the background and understand the “reconstitution” of a family unit (Ferguson, 1979, para. 3); however,  family units of numerous configurations are much more “normal” than ever before (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008).

Really, there is no “normal.” Every family is normal in their own way. What is truly important is the story of the family and what they understand to be normal. Understanding the expectations, dynamics, and stressors of that particular family unit is another important factor. Never make assumptions about what a family is or should be.

As a counselor, my job is to pay attention to the interaction between the family members and between the counselor and the family (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). Flexibility, neutrality, putting biases aside with complete acceptance is always at the forefront (Thomlison, 2007).

When working with families, an understanding of the family life cycle approach is helpful. Ferguson (1979) explained this concept as a looking at each family as a “product of overlapping individual life cycles of the members of two or more generations” (para. 6). A counselor must take into account the different cultural foundations, ethnicity, habits and expectations, and the ever-changing form of each family through the ages. Ferguson (1979) explained crises that families go through as merely “exaggerations or distortions of normal transitional phenomena that occur when families must negotiate shifts from one phase of the life cycle to the next” (para. 2), so awareness of the systematic functioning and changing dynamics of a family are vital.  Putting a name to the experiences of the family and recognizing the stress it can cause, while also providing techniques to help maneuver through the various stages, is pertinent. Giving families tools to use to respond to such events and attached feelings can be empowering even when the stressor is still present.

For instance, when a woman finds herself pregnant at 15 years of age versus 32 years of age, you are still talking about the same stressor (being pregnant), however reactions to that stressor are likely to be incredibly different. Depending on the family and one’s immediate situation, either occasion could be a cause for alarm or happiness. As a counselor, we cannot assume to know which one is which. We simply cannot know how this event will be interpreted until we comprehend the dynamics of the family itself. We can use the life cycle pattern as a kind of normative backdrop, but most of a counselor’s skills will come from observing the interaction between family members in order to learn how to help (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). There is simply no right answer for each event that a counselor and family come across. Is being 15 and pregnant an acceptable practice in this family? Is it a welcome event or is it not? Is being 32 and not married or being married or being single or living together or being in separate homes okay with this particular family? Does sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, or life circumstances have anything to do with the possible outcomes or attitudes? Is this pregnancy something that was planned and hoped for or came at an unexpected and unplanned time? Does that make a difference in the feelings about the pregnancy? What are the thoughts from the family regarding what should happen next versus what IS happening next? Getting these types of questions out in the open – all asked, answered, and discussed by the family members themselves – will guide the family in knowing what goals and avenues to solidify.

This requires a re-examining of a counselor’s own views of what he or she feels about the situation and remaining neutral regarding his or her own morals. By remaining both flexible and nonjudgmental while taking into account the family’s structure, life cycle pattern, and the importance of the family in relation to their issues and requirements for success – only then can a counselor help a family in need.


Ferguson, L. R. (1979). The family life cycle: Orientation for interdisciplinary training. Professional Psychology, 10(6), 863–867. Retrieved from the PsycARTICLES database. (AN pro-10-6-863)

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2008). Introduction to couples and family counseling. Couples and Family Counseling. [DVD]. Baltimore: Author.

Thomlison, B. (2007). Family Assessment Handbook: An Introductory Practice Guide to Family Assessment (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.



Therapy is Collaborative



Collaborative Language-Based Therapies are umbrella terms for numerous types of therapies such as reflexive, solution-oriented, narrative, and experiential therapies (Rambo, 2003). The overall thought process behind these types of therapies is that through talking and walking with a client, anything can be understood and resolved. Because through talking and being there with a person, we can understand another’s reality.


Check that last statement out. We can understand another’s reality. Not take on. Not disagree. Not change. Just understand.


The idea of “multiple realities” (Rambo, 2003, p. 150) came about when Goolishan, one of the founders of said therapies, realized that, depending on what family member you were speaking to, there really could and would be various interpretations of the same event. That in order to understand the family, one had to do it collaboratively with all the family members through listening, empathy, and reflective listening.


Reflexive therapy is simply reflecting on a time that has already past. Solution focused, or what is now termed possibility therapy, focuses the attention of the family on not the problem at hand but on the time when that particular problem was not there at all (Rambo, 2003). Narrative therapy, on the other hand, is the most multicultural of these therapies. It takes into account the history of oppression, race, and cultural identity and is much more client directed. A counselor becomes an active listener and asks questions that are geared toward understanding the family members as cultural and ethnic identities first and foremost.


What’s appealing about these therapies is that the role of the counselor is to simply listen. The client’s story is the most important part and diagnosis of any kind is considered negative. By listening, there can be a collaborative solution through positive discussion and support. The client knows best and the counselor is there as an inquisitive team player only.


The biggest and most appealing strengths of Collaborative Language-Based Therapy approaches are the initial affirmation the client gets. From the very beginning, he or she is 100% supported and there is unconditional positive regard from the counselor. This therapy sets the stage for a client to feel confident and strong in resolve. The weaknesses of such an approach lies only in the counselor’s ability to have an open mind and an all accepting outlook into any client’s worldview and life overall. There is no room for judgment. This requires a counselor to be sure in his or her own ideals and the ability to put them on the backburner indefinitely for the good of the client.


Virginia Satir was the founder of experiential approaches therapy and, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be the ethereal mother of love and goodness and she promoted her therapy as such as well. I say this with the deepest respect. Experiential therapy is considered a “theory free” therapy and is based on the idea that all of us are here to grow. However, we are often stifled in that growth through communication breakdowns, emotional misunderstandings, and self esteem issues (Thomas, 2003). We must be reminded of our potential and our strength to move past whatever is holding us down and recognize how we are contributing to that wall. We do this by having a nonjudgmental soundboard to reflect on our lives and our stories.


Whitaker explained that change will only come from drive and worry that transfers into a usable energy (Keith & Whitaker, 182 as cited in Thomas, 2003). That energy and worry can make change, which is flexible and adaptable. Dysfunction is interpreted as simply no growth through a cyclical lack of viable communication, secure attachments, and self esteem issues (Thomas, 2003). Experiential therapy can be very free form and the counselor does not have techniques and tasks, per say. There are some ground rules and basic stages, such as noting body language, the use of metaphor and reframing, using “I” statements, and using touch (Satir & Baldwin, 1983 as cited in Thomas, 2003). However, many techniques are simply taken from a counselor’s creativity and a client’s desire.


For instance, both Whitaker and Satir were well known for following a client’s lead through experiential therapy – therapy may entail wrestling with angry boys on the floor, sitting at the feet of a grandmother telling a story, or holding hands with an angry couple. They are off the cuff and client directed (Thomas, 2003). My greatest moments of experiential therapy? They are too numerous to count and I never expected them to happen. Those have been turning points in therapy for many a client. And if truth be told, for me as well.


Collaborative language based therapy means understanding a client’s language. Even if they aren’t talking.


Which means you have to pay attention.


You have to understand their path of reality.


And then you walk down the path. Together.





Rambo, A. (2003). Chapter 6: The collaborative language-based models of family therapy: When Less Is More. In Hecker, L. L., & Wetchler, J. L., (eds.). An Introduction to Marriage and Family Therapy (1st ed.). Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Clinical Practice Press


Thomas, V. (2003). Chapter 7: Experiential approaches to family therapy. In Hecker, L. L., & Wetchler, J. L., (eds.). An Introduction to Marriage and Family Therapy (1st ed.). Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Clinical Practice Press

If You Wish that Politician You Don’t Like Would Shut Up, Think Again


In the United States, we take for granted our right to free speech. We can say whatever we like, however we like. Granted, at times, it may be distasteful, brutal, or lack sincerity and truth, but never the less, we are granted the right to say it. We can work and then come home and complain about work. And yes, again, it may get us fired based on rules of our employment, but it will certainly, in most circumstances, not get us arrested or put in jail. We can come home and then complain about our government’s policies with no thought of concern if we will have a job the next day. If that does indeed occur, we are within our legal rights to fight for justice. According to Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (n.d.), we are all entitled to “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (Article 19). In case there was any confusion regarding what this right entails, the document clarifies by explaining “this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (Universal Declaration, n.d., Article 19).  As wonderful as this sounds and as much as we would like to believe it is true, not everyone has the advantage of being granted such a right.


A quick search on the internet with “human rights violation” as key words brings up a surplus of articles in which this right Americans take for granted is seen as both an immoral and illegal practice in other countries. One such article from the Associated Press in The New York Times (2012) is a prime example. A man in Vietnam named Le Quoc Quan was recently detained for what, on the surface, is a charge of tax evasion. But upon further inspection, the Vietnamese government may have detained him for another reason – to hinder the gentleman’s writing. Le Quoc Quan posts an online blog that has negative opinions against his authoritarian government, making the public aware of human rights violations in the country. This he does, as the media is not allowed to (Associated Press, 2012). Two other Vietnamese bloggers, both highly respected by the community, were arrested in 2011 and denied their appeals. They have received 10 and 12 years in jail, respectively, for being “found guilty of posting political articles on a banned website” and “posting articles critical of the government on their own blogs” (BBC News, 2012). Further investigation indicated that Le Quoc Quan has had numerous run-ins with the government and been harassed repeatedly. He was arrested once before, was brutally beaten in August by unknown assailants, and was detained from reentering his country after a trip to the United States.


Another human right listed within the Universal Declaration is: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (n.d., Article 9). Those initially arrested were also charged with tax evasion and have had numerous dalliances with the government. The female blogger sent to prison for twelve years had a mother who was so distraught over the lost appeal that she set herself on fire in front of a government building in protest and died on the way to the hospital. The Vietnam media never reported the incident (Associated Press, 2012). This particular blogger was a police officer. BBC News indicated that she was “praised by campaigning groups for her work in exposing official corruption.” Article 23 in the Universal Declaration (n.d.) states: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment” (Section 1) and indicates that “[e]veryone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.” It is quite clear that the company and government for whom this woman worked was not taking these rights into consideration upon her arrest and subsequent twelve year sentence for writing a blog about the injustices she saw. Here, in the United States, we may expect to get fired, but certainly we could still continue our blog with no threat to our freedom. The Seattle Times indicated that both President Obama and Hillary Clinton had brought forth pleas regarding the initial bloggers’ cases to have them all set free (Associated Press, 2012).


Why am I talking about this? Well, we are in rough political waters these days. And people are saying all sorts of things – some we agree with and some we do not. Some we chose to listen to and some we do not. Sometimes, we wish the person who was saying those things would just shut up. But, they don’t have to. And neither do you. It’s their right to speak and lo’ and behold, you get to say you agree or disagree and say stuff right back. I think it’s often times a good thing to remind ourselves that we have this right. That we all have this right. Even when maybe we wish the “other” person didn’t.


We must remember the battles that people are fighting every day to gain this right in which we all should be entitled. And be thankful that we, as a country, do have this right. So next time a politician, or your mother, or your boss says something you don’t like, well, it is their right. And you have every right to say something, too. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, isn’t it?





Associated Press. (2012, January 3). Vietnam blogger’s mom self-immolates before trial. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from http://seattletimes.com

Associated Press. (2012, December 28). Vietnamese Dissident Lawyer Arrested. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com

BBC News. (2012, December 28). Court appeal of dissident Vietnam bloggers is rejected. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20856696

Postema, G. J. (2006). Interests, universal and particular: Bentham’s utilitarian theory of value. Utilitas, 18(2), 109-133. Retrieved from

Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Does Your Child Have a Reading Disability? Don’t Assume Until You Exhaust All Possibilities


Pinpointing specifics about reading difficulties can be challenging and there are numerous things to consider before diagnosing a child with a reading disorder. For instance, could it be a focus issue, a recognition difficulty, a memory problem, grammar misunderstandings, or a hearing problem?  Is it a cultural issue? A medical condition gone unnoticed?  How long has it been going on? Many questions must be answered and involving the caregivers, the teachers, and the child is conducive to getting the answers needed before making a determination.


In assessing anyone with a concern surrounding a possible reading disability diagnosis, there may be a need to begin with intelligence testing. It is an easy thing to get out of the way and can help determine if there is an intelligence factor within the problem a child is experiencing. It is important to note that most children with learning disabilities are just as intelligent as any other child that does not have a learning disability (Mash & Wolfe, 2005). Along with a WISC-III assessment, a Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale can be added as well – they both measure general intelligence with a focus on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, abstract/visual reasoning, and short term memory.


Assuming that these tests are within normal range, the next recommendation would be to add a few tests that are specifically geared to reading problems. There are a million assessments that test reading skills and it can become overwhelming. One test to be considered is the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-R) which uses picture recognition as a means to measure vocabulary and non-verbal reception.  A few tests geared more toward specific age groups are the Formal Reading Inventory (FRI) which tests silent reading comprehension and oral reading accuracy and the Gray Oral Reading Test-Diagnostic (GORT-D) which measures reading comprehension, decoding, cipher knowledge, and syntax. A talk with teachers and caregivers would give a better insight into what precise reading tests would give the best measures.


Depending on these results, and maybe even despite them, a Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), which specifically evaluates behaviors associated with learning disabilities could also help with insight into what may be more (or less) than a reading disability. This would help involve parents and teachers, as there is a checklist for them, amplifying the interaction they have with the child. Low self-esteem, shortages in social skills, and embarrassment can be large factors in children that have been struggling with reading.  The older the child, the more suffering she or he has likely been dealing with, possibly since the beginning of his or her school career and consequently, the child may have many more issues that have arisen and reading difficulties may be a symptom of something else altogether. The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (VABS) is another test that can be used if this is suspected and assesses social competence such as communication, daily living, socialization, and motor skills.


After adequate talks with all parties involved and a chance to look at numerous factors such as the interaction of the family (how is their verbal and non-verbal communication?) and the family history (is this child in a stable home or has he been uprooted numerous times?), decisions can be made about how to best serve the child.  With so many tests available, it is hard to determine which ones to choose without taking every avenue into account first. So, if you are being told your child has a reading disorder after one, simple assessment, please know there is more there to be discovered. One test may not say it all.

How to Motivate Others: It Starts with You.


As a mental health counselor, a college professor, and a team lead for the psychology department for a university, I am fortunate enough to see the correlation and interaction between motivation and change on a daily basis within my clients, my students, and my team members. There are a plethora of examples in how these two variables can work both positively and negatively together. However, focusing on the positive correlation is way cooler, so let’s do that, shall we?

Whether you are a parent, a manager, a leader, a mentor, or simply anyone anywhere where someone may be watching you to look to how it’s done, focusing on your own behavior and how it affects others is a biggie.

Now, I am not a saint. Not by a long shot. However, I do pride myself on being a pretty good teacher and I’m actually not too bad at supporting other teachers in being their best as well. This came with some hard work and a lot of mistakes. But I have learned a lot in the process and would like to share it with you.

As McCombs & Pope (1994) explained, “almost everything [a teacher does] in the classroom has a motivational influence on students” and these can include the information that is given, the activities used to reiterate the information, the interactions that are encouraged or not, as well as the way the teacher comes across to the students (p. 10). The one area that I find incredibly useful in the positive correlations between motivation and change is in my role as a teacher. I have been teaching for over eight years in various college settings and I am known as the dorky teacher who loves her subject and loves to share it. There is no doubt I have a passion for the subject I teach and I love to get others excited about it as well. I will do just about anything it takes to make my subject relatable to my students. The more I can relate the material to my students lives the more they can use it and make it a tangible thing.

To an extent, I am responsible for motivating my students through modeling. As a parent, you are responsible for motivating your child through modeling. As a leader, you are responsible for motivating those you lead through modeling. You get the point. So, what does this really mean?

I want my students to be on time – I make sure I am always on time. I want my students to be prepared – I better be prepared. I want them to be excited about the subject – I have to find the things that excite them and show my own excitement. It is a running joke that whatever the chapter is that we are on is “my favorite chapter.” Students make fun of me because of my excitement and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

McCombs and Pope (1994) explained that newer theories of motivation involve metacognition and ways in which we can become more self-aware. You have to know what makes your child, your team, your students click.

I recently asked a group of new students why they chose my class and two students’ answers stood out above all others: one explained that she heard you talk about sex a lot and another said that he heard we get to talk about our opinion and there are big debates about cool stuff.

Students want to talk about sex, explain their thoughts, and debate stuff. Count me in. That excites me, too. Let’s do it!

As McCombs and Pope (1994) expounded, I want to “access higher level processes such as insight, creativity, wisdom, and common sense” (p. 13). I want my students to “operate outside the cognitive system” that they are used to. A teacher that talks about sex? A teacher that encourages talking? That appeals to my students and I see the change in motivational levels week by week, when they find that that is exactly how I operate.

I learned this from those teachers who inspired me. I remember also the ones who did not. I remember feeling incredibly unmotivated by certain classes simply because the teacher was not excited, did not appear to care, showed up late, was not prepared, or just had us sit as he or she droned on. Many times, the students were never given an opportunity to even open their mouths, let alone voice an opinion. I was miserable in those classes. Some, I even hated and dropped.

The outcome was simply unsuccessful for me. They didn’t care, so I didn’t care. Even more so, they didn’t care about what I cared about. No one was motivated to even find out.

And parents, managers, and other mentors? This works for you too – not just teachers. Are you excited? Do you appear to care? Do you show up on time? Are you prepared? Do you hear those who are reaching out for excitement, for motivation, even when they are silent?

Sniehotta (2009) discussed the role of the “if-then” plan and I agree wholeheartedly with this idea. When used, this plan can create behavioral changes. I never realized how much I use them as a teacher: If I am on time, then the students will see I care and maybe they will be on time; If I act like a dork and say whatever comes to mind and laugh at myself, then maybe my students will see that it is okay to do so as well. Does it work all the time. Nope. But when it does, it is magic. You just keep trying.

What I’m looking for is the “strong cue response” (Sniehotta, 2009, p. 265). Parents, sometimes, this one is hard to see. Believe it or not, even an eye roll can be enough to get the ball rolling. It means they’re watching – they’re paying attention. That’s the first step.

So, think about it. How are you motivating those in your life? How are you motivating you? What excites you? But better yet, what excites them? What can you get on board with them to create some awesome change? Got an answer? Then go out and do it.


McCombs, B. L., & Pope, J. E. (1994). Goal one: Understanding the nature of motivation. In B. L. McCombs, & J. E. Pope (Eds.), Motivating hard to reach students (pp. 9–25). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sniehotta, F. F. (2009). Towards a theory of intentional behaviour change: Plans, planning, and self-regulation. British Journal of Health Psychology, 14(2),261–273.