Holiday Questions: What Not to Ask

This is a topic I have spoken out a little bit in the past, but I thought it was a good time to share a reminder of questions to avoid when visiting family this holiday. Here are four questions to avoid, what to ask instead, and how to respond if someone asks you one of these invasive questions.

Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev on Pexels.com

When are you having a(nother) baby?

Don’t ask people about their reproductive plans. If the information is relevant, they will offer it. But if you ask uninvited, you could be bringing up:

  1. Infertility issues: Someone who has been trying to get pregnant might not want to talk about this.
  2. Miscarriages: Someone grieving a miscarriage could find this question triggering.
  3. Judgment about their life choices: Some people do not want kids, or do not want more kids, and that is fine. But by asking this, you might be implying that their choices are not valid.
Instead, ask:
  1. What have you been up to?
  2. Do you have any new projects you want to talk about?
  3. How is (existing family member) doing?
If you get asked this question:

Deflect, redirect, or decline to answer.

  1. Here are some things I have been doing at work lately.
  2. Here are some pictures from a trip I took this year.
  3. The turkey tastes really good this year!
  4. That’s a very personal question, and I am surprised you feel comfortable asking.
  5. When are you going to have another baby?

When are you getting married?

Don’t ask people their plans for marriage. Again, if it is relevant, they will tell you. Some people choose not to get married, and that is fine. Other people want to get married but have not met the “right person,” and bringing this up could be hurtful. Just don’t ask.

Instead, ask:
  1. How has work been going?
  2. How has (friend) been doing?
  3. What’s new in your life?
If you get asked this question:

Deflect, redirect, decline to answer.

  1. No plans right now.
  2. Trust me, if there was news, I would tell you.
  3. That is a very personal question.
  4. I don’t know, when’s your funeral?

Have you lost/gained weight?

It’s rude to comment on someone else’s body. It is not helpful, and even if you think you are giving a compliment, your words could be harmful. Maybe they lost weight due to an illness, or maybe your “compliment” is reinforcing disordered eating. Just don’t comment on people’s bodies, okay?

Instead, ask:
  1. I love your shoes, where did you get them?
  2. Can I get you a plate?
If you get asked this question:
  1. That’s a very rude thing to say.
  2. I would rather talk about (accomplishment).
  3. Pass the apple pie!

Why aren’t you drinking?

People choose not to drink alcohol for a number of reasons, which they may or may not feel comfortable sharing with you. It is okay to offer someone a drink, but if they decline, let it go. Do not ask probing questions, and do not pressure them to have a drink.

Instead, ask:
  1. Can I get you a soda?
  2. Can I get you some water?
  3. Can I get you a coffee?
If you get asked this question:
  1. No thank you, I don’t want a drink. (Repeat as necessary.)
  2. That’s a very personal question.
  3. I’ll have (non-alcoholic beverage).

I hope you have an enjoyable, non-invasive holiday!

How To Host a Holiday Feast Without Letting Anxiety Get the Best of You

Thank you again to Julie Morris, writer and coach, for sharing some tips for hosting and cooking for the holidays! Although there are positives to families coming together, Julie helps anyone dealing with anxiety related to hosting.

Photo by Chelsea Francis at Unsplash

There are people who look forward to hosting holiday parties with joyful anticipation – and then there are those who dread it. If having everyone home for the holidays makes you anxious, Resiliency Mental Health has the following suggestions to help you combat the stress.

Ask in advance about dietary restrictions. While you can’t always accommodate everyone, having an option or two for guests with limited diets will be appreciated. Look for options that can cater to multiple people, such as recipes that are both dairy- and gluten-free.

Consider hosting a potluck. Not only is this a great way to relieve you of some stress, inviting everyone to bring a dish to share is a great way to help people mingle. Let everyone decide what to bring, or offer a list of suggestions and let people pick so there won’t be duplicate dishes.

If you find yourself getting too overwhelmed, take a break and relax. Whether it’s keeping up your exercise routine or taking five minutes to sit and focus on your breathing, taking a break can help keep your stress under control, so take time to practice self-care whenever you need it.

Hosting a holiday party is a lot of work, and if you’re not careful, the experience can trigger anxiety. With the right planning and plenty of self-care, however, you can enjoy every piece of the party-planning process.

Dr. Amy Marschall of Resiliency Mental Health is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

Workrobe: Work From Home in Style and Comfort

Note: Although I was not paid to write this post, Workrobe compensates me each time someone purchases one of their products using my link. I have strived to give an honest and balanced review of the product with my true opinion, and I will list things I did not like as well as things I liked. However, I want my readers to know that I do have a financial interest in this post. Look at me, I’m a Paid Influencer!

Guess what, everyone! My Workrobes came! Workrobe is a company that has created bathrobes that look work-appropriate in a Zoom meeting. Because when you work from home, comfort is king. At the time that I am writing this, Workrobe has three robes available: a button down, a cowlneck, and a blouse. I purchased the cowlneck in gray and the blouse in white. Here is my review.

By the way, if you want to work from home in a bathrobe, shop here. Use discount code DRAMYMARSCHALL15 to get 15% off your order!

The Blouse

I purchased the blouse in white, size S/M. I love the detail on the sleeves, and the fabric is super soft and thick. I think anyone who would feel more comfortable braless would not have a problem with this robe.

The Blouse

My husband felt that it was obvious that I was wearing a robe in the Zoom view. I feel like it looks like a “real” shirt, and maybe he thinks that because he knew going in that I would be in a robe. Decide for yourself:

The Blouse on Zoom

Overall I’m very happy with it! It definitely seems high-quality and well made.

The Cowlneck

(Yes, I probably should have ironed the robe before I took photos, but I think Millennials don’t iron things. Don’t quote me on that.) I got the Cowlneck in the L/XL size. I can tell it is bigger than the blouse, but both fit me fine. A great thing about bathrobes is they aren’t too rigid on sizing.

Of the two styles, this one is my favorite. I like the look of it, and the snap gives me a little more reassurance that I won’t have a wardrobe malfunction.

The Cowlneck

The fabric is a touch thinner than on the blouse but still feels high quality to me. I think the style of this one is a little closer to my “real” clothes, which might be why I felt a little more comfortable in it.

The Cowlneck on Zoom

Again, overall excellent quality and great product in my opinion!

What I Love

  • High-quality, cozy, soft fabric.
  • Deep, large pockets.
  • Wearing a bathrobe at work, duh.

What I’d Change

  • The robes only come in S/M and L/XL. Although the sizes seem pretty flexible, I would love to see more sizing options to be more inclusive.
  • Each robe only has a couple of color options.

Did you get a Workrobe? Tell me what you think on Twitter at @DrAmyMarschall!

Understanding Versus Excusing Behavior

Today I am going to talk about an important distinction that sometimes gets lost when we are making amends or holding someone accountable: the difference between understanding behavior and excusing it.

Photo by Vie Studio on Pexels.com

An explanation describes how something happened. An excuse defers accountability.

When I make a mistake, part of making amends includes determining what factors contributed to the mistake so that I can do better in the future. However, when apologizing for the mistake, I must clarify that I am not downplaying the mistake or trying to excuse it.

In fact, determining the explanation for my behavior might be just for me and my own growth. Unless it is relevant, it is not part of the apology at all.

The same is true in therapy. An important part of making changes is understanding the underlying cause of a behavior. Is it a trauma response? Do you need to un-learn something?

This does not excuse or un-do any harm caused by your behavior and does not mean you will not have to make amends, but this exploration can help you do better in the future.

When you excuse your behavior, you hope to reduce consequences and do not commit to making changes. The distinction is the next step beyond explaining: moving forward with specific plans to do better in the future.

When you understand your behavior, you are able to fully accept if someone does not accept your apology or chooses to set boundaries with you. An excuse, on the other hand, might aim to dodge this responsibility.

Ask yourself, am I trying to explain and understand my behavior, or am I making an excuse? Only one will help you grow as a person.

The Weekly Mews with Armani

(The WordPress editor is glitching on me today, probably because I am doing something wrong. I apologize for any formatting issues in this post.)

Hello again from Armani! He does not have a lot new to share this week. He is still getting his insulin twice per day and getting lots of kitty snuggles.

Sleepy Kitty

Armani missed us while we were gone last week, but he has forgiven us for smelling like other animals when we came back. Such a good, happy boy!

Armani getting ear rubs

Armani wants to remind you to drink water, have a snack, and get plenty of sleep!

Therapy with Teens: More Than “Just Talking”

I would like to thank my friend, colleague, and co-author of It’s About To Get Real Unprofessional, Katelyn, for sharing her expertise with us today. The following is from a thread that she shared on her Twitter and gave me permission to post here.

Photo by olia danilevich on Pexels.com

I hear a lot from parents that they felt past therapy experiences for their teens was “just talking” and they wanted the therapist to “do more.” And I’ve been trying to find the best way to explain why therapy with teens looks like “just talking,” but it’s SO much more than that!

Teens are so accustomed to being “taught” things—8 hours at school, club meetings, sports coaches, lectures from parents/adults, etc. They’re burned out from being talked “to” and it feels too much like normal life. Therapy needs to be different, it needs natural pacing.

Teens are also incredibly sensitive to inauthentic behavior. When adults are clearly trying to “muscle” a point across, they tend pull away: They want to be IN the discussion. When a therapist is trying hard to impart information like a teacher, they lose credibility to the teen.

As a therapist, the hardest part of my work with your teen is developing the rapport and the relationship to do great work. It’s a process that you can’t rush. But I know that, as a parent seeing your kid suffering, you just want to “fix it” as fast as you possibly can.

But sometimes parents make the mistake of projecting their anxieties onto the teen’s therapy process. They may even send messages to the teen that “therapy clearly isn’t doing anything if you’re still getting angry at me!” And this can be so damaging to their trust in the process.

And: Your teen might appear to get “worse” before getting better. Therapy is having them tune into their emotional life—and we live in a culture that encourages distraction and numbing. This is likely new and it’s hard for them to feel their feelings. It’s tough work but worth it.

Putting your teen into therapy requires an immense amount of trust in the therapist and we value & respect that. Putting that trust into a stranger is scary. It can put fear into the thought that your parenting will be assessed and criticized, or that “you” are the problem.

As a teen therapist, I always operate from the belief that parents are doing the best they can—and I’m approaching with openness and curiosity, not the intent to blame or critique. But building a relationship takes time and we only have one hour a week (usually) to do that.

What sounds like “just talking” is the therapist trying to immerse themselves in that teen’s internal world—their opinions on music, social media, news events, fashion, are all a part of understanding them and determining what will help them and resonate with them.

And the conversations get “real” meaning I’ll want their perspective on everything: Even if it’s brutal and harsh. I want to find out what they value, how they see things, what their goals are—even if they seem excessive or unrealistic. I want to listen first.

Skills work happens, but depending on the type of therapist, it can look different. I don’t put worksheets in front of teens because it’s not real, it’s not authentic—it’s a homework assignment. But I use evidence-based practice, those modalities are unfolding in our process.

We often laugh in therapy. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard work and that important discussions aren’t happening. Sometimes the best work is happening then. We laugh at the absurdities of anxious thoughts or our internal critics. We may watch a TikTok that resonated with them.

Along the way, seeds are being planted. We are collaborating on solutions. We are processing the connection between us. We are exploring values and goals. We are developing effective ways of meeting our needs and setting boundaries. It’s all happening.

I adore working with teens—it takes a lot of work to make the process look effortless. For parents, it may require patience when you’re desperate for things to change. We therapists honor that and are working as efficiently as we can, I promise.

App Review: Calm

Most people are familiar with Calm – this app is a household name for mindfulness and meditation. But in case you had forgotten, here it is.

Calm welcome screen

As with many of these apps, there is a free version and a paid version. I have only used the free version.

When you sign up, the app takes you through a series of questions about things you want to change and what coping skills are helpful to you. It also asks about your comfort and familiarity with meditation in order to tailor your experience.

Just a moment while we personalize your plan

The plan cues you to use various mindfulness activities based on your reported preferences. You can try out various exercises and figure out which ones feel best for you. There is a journal feature to keep track of what works best.

Take a deep breath

If you like to change up your exercises, there are endless choices, with new meditations added all the time. This app is an excellent go-to for mindfulness and meditation.

Telehealth Activity: Dance Party

There is more than one way to do a telehealth dance party! You can have a literal dance party where your client chooses a song, and you both rock out in front of your cameras. This can be a lot of fun but is also challenging because you have to try to stay in-frame.

Photo by Wellington Cunha on Pexels.com

The dance party I am sharing today is a bit different. It is much less body-work-oriented but can help with focus, impulse control, and timing. The flash game is called Super Friday Night Funki, and it is available on Kizi and Arcadespot.

(Side note – I link a lot of third-party websites in this blog. If a game ever gets taken down and the link is not working for you, plug the name into a search engine, and you can usually find the same activity hosted on another site. Please also tell me you had trouble so I can update the post.)

To play this game, the client needs to be on a laptop or Chrome book with a keyboard. Share your screen, and give them remote control. They will use their arrow keys to make the dance steps. You can take turns, which allows you to model regulation and frustration tolerance, or you can talk the client through the activity while they play.

This game reminds me of Dance Dance Revolution (I think I just dated myself), so there is an added nostalgic flair for me. It re-hashes some skills that other telehealth games address, which is great because sometimes kids get bored with an activity but still need to work on what the activity helped them learn.

What other games surprised you when you pulled them into your sessions?

Six Ways Your Holiday Wish List Can Lead to Self-Improvement

Thank you again to Harry Cline of New Caregiver for providing another great guest post! Today he shares with us ways your wish list can help you with your personal goals.

As a reminder, Harry is working on a book, The A-Z Home Care Book. I can’t wait to check it out!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

The holidays are upon us once again, and you’ve likely been bombarded with the question, “What do you want this year?” If you’re tired of giving generic answers to friends and family about what gifts you’d like, here are some holiday ideas that aim to give your life a boost and make you a better person.

Organize Yourself

In this world, there are some people who seem to naturally excel at self-management. Let’s face it, though, most of us can stand for more organization in our lives.  Since that is the case, why not ask for a little extra help this holiday season? Calendars, planners, and desk organizers are all great gift ideas if you find yourself constantly losing important documents or second-guessing your upcoming work schedule. While adding these gifts to your wish list, organize and declutter your home to inject some much-needed order into your daily routine.

Read a Book

When you were growing up, your teachers probably stressed the importance of reading. Even as an adult, reading still has many benefits, such as broadening your mind and sharpening your focus. Reading also can be a relaxing way to escape the daily rat race and dive into a place where your mind is free to explore. There are tons of new great books that have captured the imaginations of new and long-time readers alike, and there’s a good chance that you’ve missed at least some of the titles on the many lists of Best Books Ever Written. With so many genres available, there’s really something out there for everyone.

Continue Learning

If you’re looking to change careers or make yourself more marketable, getting a degree could significantly boost your earning potential. Online programs provide you the flexibility to continue working your current job while you learn, and you’ll be able to get started at a time of your choosing. This year, ask loved ones to make a contribution toward your education.

Unleash Your Inner Chef

If your kitchen feels more like a staging area for your microwave and refrigerator, then you might be relying too much on quick and easy meal options. While ordering dinner out or popping something in the microwave may seem more convenient, you could be missing out on key nutrients. Make 2021 the Year of the Chef by adding a meal delivery subscription to your wish list. These meal delivery services ship the ingredients right to your door with step-by-step instructions that make cooking a full-course meal easy and fun. Just choose what meals you want and how many people you want to serve, and they’ll send you everything you need. You’ll be amazed at what you can do in the kitchen and might even discover that cooking is a brand-new passion for you to explore.

Learn to Play an Instrument

If you’ve ever been curious about learning to play an instrument such as the guitar, now might be a good time to ask for the gift of music in your life. Learning to play an instrument is a great mental exercise that can develop your creativity and ability to express yourself. In addition, learning an instrument also leads to a deep feeling of accomplishment. There are plenty of guitars perfect for beginners. With so many different apps and lessons online, you can practice virtually anywhere and anytime you like. Impress friends and family by playing your favorite songs, or perhaps even write a few songs of your own.

Add Coloring to Your Life

Life can be stressful, and it’s easy to let anxiety and stress get in the way of what truly matters. Sometimes, you need to take a step back and close yourself off from the stress. Today, there are lots of ways you can achieve mental balance in your daily life, but did you know that maybe all you really need to relax is just to sit down and color? That’s right, coloring is a relaxing activity that you can do at any point during the day, at home, at work, or even on your commute. Adult activity books are becoming more popular as more people than ever before are experiencing the calming, meditative effects of coloring. Perhaps a new set of colored pencils and some coloring books are items you should add to your wish list this year.

Anyone can ask for a new sweater or pair of socks, but what if you want something more? While clothing items certainly make fine presents, the gifts listed above are meant to add new depth and color into your life. If you’re struggling to think of what you’d like this holiday season, why not ask for something that improves your life and makes you a better person?

Resiliency Mental Health offers mental health classes, articles, and resources for mental health professionals, teachers, and parents.

5 Essential Tips for Telehealth with Kids

With my new book’s release date fast approaching, I’ve put together five tips for your telehealth sessions. I wrote this piece for PESI’s website, and you can get two free telehealth activities there!

The original post, plus two FREE telehealth worksheets, available at PESI!

Therapists are still reeling from the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on therapy. While sessions continued with telehealth options, gone was the safe space of a shared room with our clients. And though all mental health providers faced challenges with providing a new kind of care, those of us working with children faced additional trials. Holding a young client’s focus on a digital platform, one that did not allow us to follow them if they moved around the space, required therapists to completely rethink play therapy and kid-friendly interventions.

What can you do to keep your clients engaged in telehealth sessions? The following five tips are essential to boosting your practice in a world of online therapy.

1. Be Honest About the Experience

Although telehealth sessions will follow the same general outline and as any “normal” in-person session, the change will be an adjustment for the therapist and the client.

Make a point to reassure your clients that you are there for them and that they can still have sessions, but tell them honestly that you will be “learning together” as you transition to telehealth. Be realistic about challenges you might face and open with your own emotions about the situation.

Because of your own transparency, clients will feel more comfortable sharing their questions and concerns with you, and you can use the opportunity to model communication and regulation skills.

2. Be Flexible With Your Interventions

If you use a non-directive therapeutic approach, you are used to giving your young clients some level of control over their sessions. This helps clients engage because they have a say in the activities.

Ask children what they want their session to look like, what they wish they could do in therapy, or which games or activities they enjoy. Then, see how you can incorporate that into your sessions. You may find brand new activities that you can share across clients!

As a child therapist, your goal should not be to force a specific intervention, but to make whatever happens organically in the session therapeutic. You can pull treatment goals into a myriad of games and activities.

3. Get Creative

Creativity is one of the most important aspects of child therapy, as every young client learns, develops, and copes differently. At first, telehealth sessions can feel limiting because you and your clients are not sharing physical space, but if you think about it, the Internet actually expands your options!

What kinds of activities does your client enjoy doing on their tablet, phone, or laptop? How can you make those activities therapeutic? What skills does the child need to play those games, and how can those skills tie into their treatment goals?

Do not be afraid to try something new in a session or experiment with interventions you have not tried before. The possibilities in a telehealth session are endless!

4. Make Technical Issues Therapeutic

Technical issues can be the most frustrating part of telehealth sessions. Dropped calls, audio or video problems, and low bandwidth interfere with our sessions at any time and are incredibly annoying for you and your clients.

However, technical issues offer yet another opportunity for intervention! When faced with an issue, a client must engage in problem-solving during their session. In real time, the client might have to ask an adult for help, try different things to find a solution, or cope with feelings of frustration, annoyance, or anger.

When technical difficulties arise in a session, you can see it as an intervention and pull for these skills, making the moment therapeutic. You also get to show your clients that you are going to stick with them and work through challenges together.

5. Have an Arsenal of Interventions

Although your clients can provide great ideas for their sessions, it is your job as therapist to guide them and to introduce things that will help them move toward their treatment goals.

Even when children are unsure about what they want to do in session, they can be picky about the activities you suggest. When a child lets you choose a game, give them a couple of options rather than simply picking something. It is helpful to have several activities on deck to suggest if a child does not take to your first idea or needs to practice a specific skill.

I use keywords and therapy skills to label my various telehealth interventions. This helps me decide which choices are the best fit for the client and streamlines writing my notes.

Having your sessions online doesn’t have to upend your entire process when working with young clients. Although telehealth adds challenges to therapy with kids, it also creates opportunities for innovation, flexibility, and connecting with your clients. After transitioning your clients online and adding some new interventions to your repertoire, you can reinvent your therapy process—wherever it may be!