App Review: MindShift

MindShift advertises itself as a free anxiety resource. It offers a wealth of coping skills and supports that anyone can use.

Home Screen

When you sign on to your account, you can track your feeling that day: Awful, Bad, Ok, Good, or Great. This is a bit vague, but this can be helpful for people who might not always have a feeling word for how they are doing.

When you have tracked your feelings for several days, you can review the data to find patterns. You can also learn about different kinds of anxiety, including General Worry, Social Anxiety, Perfectionism, Panic, and Phobias. The app also has tools for changing thought patterns, calming down, and changing behaviors.

Welcome to MindShift!

The app lets you set goals for yourself and helps you create measurable, attainable goals with specific steps for how you will achieve them. It even prompts you to decide when you think you can reasonable reach your goals!

Home Screen

The blue smiling face at the bottom of the app offers “quick relief” for your anxiety symptoms: Take a breath, Shift your thinking, Ground yourself, Take a small step, and Get help. These quick coping skills can help in a pinch to de-escalate yourself, as well as resources for immediate crisis if you are in the United States or Canada.

If you are dealing with anxiety and need another app in your toolbox, this is a great one to check out.

Petition: Tell the ACLU to Fight Mandatory Autism Databases!

Sign the petition today!!

(Hello new friends! If it’s your first time joining me, I have been trying to repeal a North Dakota law mandating that providers register autistic clients with the government. Information on the law is available here. More information about these kinds of databases is available here, and my journey raging against these databases is here.)

File:Pastel Neurodiversity Symbol.png by MissLunaRose12

Just a quick update today! After much consideration, I think we need to go after these databases on a federal level. Both the national ACLU and the North Dakota branch have not gotten back to me, so I’m starting a petition. Please sign and share with your networks so we can fight these databases.

Change.org: Tell the ACLU to fight mandatory autism databases!

My hope is to get enough attention on this issue that they are able to take action and get these databases taken down (or at the very least only maintained on a voluntary basis). I have detailed the APA and NASW ethical codes that contraindicate registering clients with the government based on diagnosis, as well as international human rights law.

Did I miss anything? Have an idea or a way to help? Tell me!

Thank you again for all the support, feedback, and resources everyone has sent me so far. I really believe we can do this if we keep fighting and making noise!

More Updates on the Autism Database

UPDATE: Kodi Pinks emailed me back regarding my question about going through medical records to determine whether people were being diagnosed with autism but not registered. According to Kodi: “As to your question about whether the department is going into people’s medical records to determine reporting compliance; I can assure you that this is not being done.” So that’s good!

(Hello new friends! If it’s your first time joining me, I have been trying to repeal a North Dakota law mandating that providers register autistic clients with the government. Information on the law is available here. More information about these kinds of databases is available here, and my journey raging against these databases is here.)

File:Pastel Neurodiversity Symbol.png by MissLunaRose12

First of all, I want to thank the people at the North Dakota Psychological Association. They didn’t immediately get back to me because there was an issue with the contact form on their website, so they had no idea I was reaching out. When I reached out by phone, they got back to me within hours and validated my ethical concerns. They also forwarded my concerns to all members of the NDPA, and I have spoken with other practicing psychologists. The people I spoke with asked me not to put their names in this post, so I am honoring that request. Here is what I have learned.

  1. The database was started after the parent of an autistic child became concerned that pesticides were causing higher autism rates in North Dakota compared to other states, and they wanted to determine whether this is true.
  2. No, autism is not caused by pesticides. No, North Dakota does not have a higher rate of autism than other states. Yes, this was tested and debunked.
  3. The data collected for the database has not been updated since 2017. So they are collecting this information and…sitting on it? Not sure how this is helpful for anyone.
  4. The database has not led to an increase in services or support for autistic people in North Dakota.
  5. North Dakota taxpayers are footing the bill of approximately $1,000,000 a year to keep this going (I have not been able to confirm the number). Are you a North Dakota resident? Do you want your money going to this? No? Call your reps!
  6. Providers were outraged when the law was originally proposed and testified against it. The government did not listen and passed it anyway. Many are refusing to comply but feeling hopeless about overturning it because they have been shut down at every avenue so far.
  7. As far as I can tell, no one has lost their license or been fined for refusing to comply with the law…so far.
  8. This is the big one. I saved it for last so it would stand out. Because providers are not complying, the Health Department has started going through people’s medical records to determine who has been diagnosed with autism but not reported to the database.

Yes, the North Dakota government is requesting medical records through hospital systems to identify autistic folks who were not reported to the database. On top of being a disgusting and inappropriate overreach towards autistic people, this means they are going into everyone else’s medical records as well.

One psychologist I spoke with asked about this at a meeting of the Governor’s autism task force (I’m still not sure why the governor has an autism task force), and the response was reassurance that this is completely legal.

Do you live in North Dakota? Do you want the government to not go through your medical records? Call your reps!

Questions and concerns about the Autism Database, Autism Task Force, and privacy of medical data are to be directed to Kodi Pinks, per this letter. After you get off the phone with your reps, reach out to Kodi with your concerns.

That is the information that I have so far. I am continuing to work with other psychologists as well as a couple of legislators to see what we can do about overturning this law, but I am concerned that this is not a strictly North Dakota issue. For true protection against this kind of government overreach, we need federal protection to take down similar databases in other states and prevent other states from implementing a similar law. More updates on that later.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out with words of encouragement, reported the database, and made noise about this. It is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.

The Weekly Mews with Armani

Happy Caturday to those who celebrate!

Sleepy Kitty

Armani wishes the weather would level out because he gets confused not knowing if it will be warm enough to preside over his kingdom on the balcony each day. He also wishes I would stop closing the office door because he needs to be able to come and go as he pleases all the time.

He knows there’s a lot going on right now, and he hopes you are safe and warm. He wants to remind you that he loves you.

Task Activation: Throw Yourself at the Ground and Miss

One of the challenges of ADHD is getting yourself to do The Thing. The Thing could be relatively simple, like returning a phone call or paying a bill, or a more complicated project that you just cannot get yourself to start.

I will start with an obligatory disclaimer that what I am about to suggest works for me (sometimes), but I cannot promise that it will work for you. However, if you are having trouble crossing The Thing off of your to-do list, it might be worth trying.

Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

There is a quote by Douglas Adams: “There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

For me, the key to doing The Thing is to throw myself at not doing The Thing and missing. In other words, if The Thing is just not happening, I make the conscious decision to not do it. Did I set aside time to write an article and nothing is coming? That’s okay, I just won’t work on it today. Most of the time, that gets me out of my own way, and I can accomplish the task.

Sometimes the sense of urgency that comes from feeling like I need to do something right now becomes a mental block, and it is just not going to happen. As soon as my brain knows it is okay to let that expectation go, I can do The Thing!

The irony is, this only works if you are completely and 100% okay with The Thing not happening. Once in a while, removing the expectation just gives me a sense of relief, and The Thing still does not happen. Besides, if you know you are tricking yourself, it will not work. So, this trick only works on things that can be put off without blowing up your life.

For Things that absolutely cannot be put off, having a friend ask you to do The Thing as a favor to them can help – your brain might not be willing to do The Thing for you, but it will do The Thing for someone else.

I hope these tips can help someone who needs to do A Thing today. If that person is you, would you please take care of it? As a favor to me?

App Review: Finch

Remember Amaru, the flying cat that helps you learn mindfulness? Well, I have found another little friend to help you manage your mental health! Finch is an adorable little bird who grows and develops personality traits when you take care of yourself.

Chamomile, my finch baby

I let the app randomly generate a name for my finch. This is Chamomile – aren’t they adorable? You get to choose your finch’s gender, and mine is non-binary.

Daily check-ins help Chamomile grow

Chamomile encourages me to journal things I’m grateful for, move my body, and take care of myself. They encourage me to set “daily goals,” but that goal can be “just survive.” It is incredibly wholesome.

Give Chamomile energy through mindfulness practices!

Chamomile gets energy when I follow through on my goals and take better care of myself. It’s a great external reinforcer for things that make me feel better.

“I am Chamomile, hear me cheep!”

Interview with Lisa Hutchison, LMHC

1. First, can you tell us a bit about your professional background?

I am a licensed mental health counselor for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who has been practicing psychotherapy for over 20 years. I have created  program for caring professionals, who want to prevent and treat compassion fatigue. I have taught various classes online and in person, in addition to being a national public speaker.
I am the Best selling Amazon Author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and Setting Ethical Limits For Caring and Competent Professionals.  I also am published in 3 Chicken Soup for the Soul books and international magazine publications. Currently, I am an expert writer for CounselingSchools.com and a CEU faculty member writer for NetCE. 

After multiple publications, I further expanded my business to include writing coaching and teaching, to help others tell their stories and connect to the creative-therapeutic aspects of writing.

I have worked in various community outpatient mental health clinics, serving clients with substance abuse/addictions, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. In addition, I worked four years in an elder partial hospitalization program. One of the many groups I led was expressive therapy, in which I loved teaching creative writing.  My lifelong connection to spirituality became a part of my professional business in 2014, when I started my own business offering angel card readings and later spiritual coaching sessions. You can find my spiritual readings on my You Tube Channel, Lisa Hutchison LMHC.

Lisa Hutchison

2. Compassion fatigue (aka secondary trauma, aka burnout) is such a huge issue for helpers right now! When did you start writing about/working with compassion fatigue?

I started to notice my own compassion fatigue when I worked as a counselor for counseling agencies. Even though I did a good amount of self-care,  I would come home feeling exhausted. 

Deep down, I knew something was missing.  I was good with setting boundaries, I began instituting boundaries more and more. Despite this, I  still felt fatigued.

In 2014, I had a spiritual experience, which lead me to leave my traditional job and start my own business, incorporating my psychological expertise with my spiritual channeling abilities. I wanted to help others who are empathic find their own answers and feel better through counseling and angel card readings. Later on, I offered spiritual coaching sessions.

I knew I wanted writing to be a big part of what I offered. I began by writing a blog, putting out a newsletter and submitting articles. I tuned into my feelings and gut knowingness, which brought me to one publishing experience to another. 

3. Tell me about your books and resources on compassion fatigue.

I will go through the main three publications I have.

I wrote and published, I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers. I wanted to give my clients and other helpers who may not be into therapy, a tool to manage their personal energy. I filled it with helpful suggestions, writing prompts and space for the helper to journal their inner thoughts, feelings and observations. I wrote and NetCE published, Setting Ethical Limits for Caring and Competent Professionals. This is a continuing education course for counselors, although many other professions could find benefit in the information presented as well. I wanted to educate helping professionals on how to provide compassionate care ethically to those they serve without causing burnout. 

On my web site, I offer a free 10 page e-book called, Why Compassionate People Run Out of Energy and What You Can Do About It. In it, I discuss compassion fatigue, burnout and vicarious traumatization. This is a small introduction to these topics. Also, helpers can receive my free monthly newsletter when they receive this which is filled with tips for empathic helpers. You can find this here at http://www.lisahutchison.net at the top of the page. 

4. What can we, the helpers, do to take care of ourselves when it seems like “difficult times” are never-ending?

The most important thing helpers can do for themselves is to listen within and acknowledge whatever you are feeling. Reach out and find supports who can hold the space for your inner exploration and expression. This can be a friend, coworker, psychotherapist or coach. Find someone who gives you the tools to follow your own gut knowingness. Other people may prefer to connect to their intuition on their own and write out what they are feeling. 5. Tell me a bit about your Archangels course – what is this, and who can it help?

I am currently running a seven week Archangels course that is delivered to your email inbox. Once a week, you receive a video, which tells you about how a specific Archangel can help you, being an empathic helper. In these emails, I describe how you can connect to each angel by their unique signifiers, different exercises to connect with them, writing prompts, prayers and affirmations. I also offer 3 live zoom angel card readings for the class as a whole. This is for the empathic helper, who connects with spirituality, to rejuvenate, protect and restore their depleted energy. I created this to be self-paced because I know how busy we can get. There are times at night or during the weekend, you could listen to the video, do a writing exercise, practice affirmations, or speak the prayers and intentions.     

6. What other upcoming projects do you have going on right now?

I currently offer virtual psychotherapy, spiritual coaching sessions and angel card readings. In addition, I help others with developing creative writing skills through sessions and classes. I am writing a new continuing education course for NetCE for counselors. I also am in the process of writing another book, this time on spiritual manifestation and psychology.

Autism Database Updates

If you’re new around here, you might want to get caught up: here’s my letter to the North Dakota psychology board about the Health Department’s mandatory autism database, and here’s information about other states that have mandatory databases as well as steps YOU can take to protest them.

Infinity by Kuba Bożanowski

I was able to get a hold of someone at the North Dakota Psychological Association and learned that not a single mental health professional was consulted in creating the database, and everyone in the association spoke against it at the time. They shared serious concerns about privacy, eugenics, and ethics. And the government, which supposedly exists to serve the people and defend our rights, went ahead and passed the law anyway.

NDPA is in favor of me pushing back on this, but it sounds like they ran out of options at the time. I have reached out to the North Dakota chapter of the ACLU and am awaiting a response, since it sounds like this law would not hold up if challenged in court, but that requires someone to challenge it in court.

One rationale for the database is that it is modeled after a similar (equally unethical and terrible) database in New Jersey. Now, I have focused my energy on North Dakota because I’m licensed there and feel like I would have more pull as a provider, but I wonder if it would be more effective to focus nationally – if we could fight all the databases at once, that would be such a win.

Is this something the national ACLU chapter would take on? I’m figuring it out. Are you a provider who wants to push back on these laws? Are you not a provider but pissed off and wants to help? Let me know! Let’s do this together!

Some Thoughts on Mindfulness

Mindfulness,” in psychology, refers to activities and practices intended to bring your attention and awareness into the present moment. The aim is to be aware of your body, mind, and surroundings without judgment.

It is also a term that has been thrown around to the point that much of the original meaning has gotten lost. Employers promoting “wellness initiatives” (which is boss-speak for “don’t say we never did anything for you”) promote it as an antidote to burnout, and the “Wellness Industry” sells it as a cure-all for your mental health woes.

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Misuse of “mindfulness” has gotten to the point that therapists are sometimes cautious about using the word. “Have you tried mindfulness?” has a similar feel to “Have you tried meditating?” or “Have you tried going outside?” It gets sold as a magical cure-all, which does a disservice to clients who might actually benefit from some mindfulness practices.

There are many valid circumstances in which a person might not want to be more in tune with their situation. If you experience chronic pain, mental health issues, or are, say, living through a pandemic, you might not enjoy becoming more in tune with the present moment. That is why mindfulness by itself is not only unhelpful, but can actually be harmful to bring yourself more into the present without any follow up or support to cope with that present moment.

In my practice, mindfulness exercises are just a first step. It’s a way to gather data that can help us tease out what needs and supports would be beneficial. It can help trauma survivors notice their triggers, or those who struggle with regulation start to notice a feeling before it gets too big to manage. It can help children learn what different emotions feel like so they can communicate effectively.

For some, mindfulness activities can be helpful on their own. Bringing awareness to the present moment can pull someone out of a flashback or help with reality testing. But most of the time, it is a starting point.

If you find mindfulness activities helpful, great! If not, that is okay too – no one solution is right for everyone. But if it has been presented to you as a cure-all, this is an oversimplification that does a disservice to anyone who might benefit from being more present and attentive to themselves.

Interview with Kevin Gruzewski, Recreation Therapy Consultant

Kevin Gruzewski is a recreation therapist who has worked with developmentally disabled adults as well as teenagers in the criminal justice system. I connected with Kevin through Amazon of all places! I was looking up my telehealth book, and under “Frequently bought together,” Amazon recommended Kevin’s book, Therapy Games for Teens: 150 Activities to Improve Self-Esteem, Communication, and Coping Skills. I figured, if some of my readers like Kevin’s books, I should let the rest of you know about him.

Recreation therapy is “a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed need of individuals … as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery, and well-being” (NCTRC). Recreation therapy often refers to outdoor activities, like athletic games and outdoor physical activities, but it can also include creative and artistic activities, animal assisted therapy, and mindfulness or meditation activities. If outdoor activities are not an option in your practice, the book still has many resources that you can implement with your clients.

Recreation therapy can be great for building rapport, especially with clients who might not be thrilled about coming for therapy. It incorporates activities that make therapy enjoyable and often does not look like “traditional” talk therapy. The movement activities that recreation therapy incorporates can be particularly helpful for those struggling with trauma.

Therapy Games for Teens

Who doesn’t need more options in their toolbox for therapeutic interventions? Kevin’s book gives detailed instructions for implementing activities for a variety of presenting concerns. You can follow the instructions easily, but you can also customize the interventions based on the client’s unique needs, interests, and preferences. It is a great addition to any therapist’s library, especially those working with teenagers.

Kevin’s book came about from his blog, where he wrote about recreation therapy and shared resources for other therapists doing recreation therapy. (Sound familiar?) His website has some great resources and activities for therapists who want to make their therapy sessions more engaging and fun for clients. If you are looking for some free suggestions for your practice, check his blog out!

Currently, Kevin writes full time and is available for freelance work.