Nov 102017

By Evi Fisher, Graduate Intern, Clinical Mental Health specializing in Expressive Arts therapy

Expressive arts therapy is a type of therapy which uses the creative process to enable healing. In mental health, it is used as a different way of exploring the problems and issues that come up in therapy. Many times, visual art is used, but expressive arts therapy encompasses the use of writing, music, drama, dance and movement throughout the therapy process. 

You do not have to be an artist to utilize expressive arts therapy. In fact, the therapeutic value of expressive arts therapy is not in the finished product, but in the process of creating. The creative process, whether it be making a collage, writing a poem or using your body to dance, is at the core of expressive arts therapy. It is not unlike typical therapy; the expressive therapist uses both talk therapy and the arts to treat his/her patients.

Many times, language does not suffice in helping us get to the root of our problems. By using art and the creative process we are actually accessing a different part of our brain where our traumas are stored. When we access these parts of our brain, we are able to process past hurts, feelings, and emotions that language cannot express. 

The U.S. Military has found great success using expressive arts therapy to treat PTSD. In fact, the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. is using Expressive arts therapies with combat veterans to treat symptoms of PTSD and to help them and their families readjust to civilian life. The military has found expressive therapies to be so effective that they are expanding the program to veteran’s hospitals and military bases across the nation to help treat more veterans and their families. 

Expressive arts therapy is being widely used for many different populations and therapeutic purposes. It can be used for any age, for any person. It is used to treat traumas, anxiety, depression and many other mental health issues. Expressive therapists go to school to study mental health and are Master’s level clinicians.

Oct 302017

By Robin Larkin

Mindfulness is a concentrated awareness that offers no judgment. That awareness is what is happening both in and outside your body. Mindful eating creates an awareness of your body: hunger, taste, smell, and fullness. It also creates an awareness of mind: judgment, distraction, and emotions.

So many of us eat while doing other things. Watching tv while eating dinner is commonplace. But we run the risk of overeating and not enjoying our food when we do that. Instead, make eating the main event. Whether it’s a snack on a break from work or a 3-course meal lovingly prepared by yourself or someone else, give it your full attention. Mindful eating means bringing your awareness to all the components of the food and your body. How does the food smell? Is it crunchy or soft? Is your hot food hot and your cold food cold? How does your body feel? Are you eating because you’re hungry or because there is food in front of you? By chewing each bite thoroughly and putting your utensil down between bites, the body has time to feel fullness and let the mind know to stop eating. By suspending judgment, food becomes a pleasurable experience instead one of guilt and shame.

Give mindful eating a try next time you eat. Eat because you’re hungry. Chew thoroughly. Enjoy the tastes and textures of your food. Listen to your body and stop eating when it says it’s full.

Bays, J.C. (2009). Mindful Eating: How to Really Enjoy your Meal.

Aug 222017

By Robin Larkin

Self-care are activities and habits that we do on a regular basis that help us function better. By putting a self-care plan into practice, we can lower our stress levels, perform better professionally and personally, and stay healthier. Your self-care plan should include physical, emotional, spiritual, and mind categories. We are all unique beings so what those categories mean to us and what we need to do in those areas will be unique to each of us. Basically, a self-care plan creates a plan for what we need to do to keep a sound mind, body, and spirit. A sound body may need a daily walk, gym workout or a weekly volleyball game. A sound mind may need a daily crossword puzzle or weekly stimulating conversations. A sound spirit may mean time in nature or a weekly yoga practice. Your self-care plan is your individual blueprint to a healthier, less stressful life.

Introduction to Self-care.

Feb 222017

By Robin Larkin

Another example of a one minute meditation is a kindness meditation. Take one minute to do something kind for someone else. A quick text or email takes only a minute. Holding the door for the person behind you or reaching an item on a shelf for someone in the grocery store are also examples of one minute kindness meditations.

Research tells us that people who make a habit of showing kindness to others are happier both immediately and in the long run. Your kindness meditations should be thoughtful and based on feelings of goodwill, not something else to check off on your to-do list. Done often enough, showing kindness to others will become a habit and an extra layer of happiness will insulate you against the stresses of daily life.

Maybe the person who needs a kindness is you. Feeling tired and worn out? Show yourself kindness with a compliment for a crisis handled well or a temper held in check during the stressful morning commute. Take an extra minute to enjoy your morning coffee or gaze out at the sunset outside your window.

We can increase our happiness level and decrease our stress levels with a one minute kindness meditation. Make showing kindness to others and yourself a habit and reap the benefits. It only takes a minute to show someone you care. And the benefits can be life-long.

Altman, D. (2012). The Top One-Minute Mindfulness Strategies to Use in Your Practice. CMI Education Institute.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Oct 152016

By Robin Larkin

Studies have shown that adding laughter to your day decreases your risk of getting sick by helping the immune system function better. Laughing more will also decrease your stress levels. Adding laughter to your day can be as easy as watching a funny show or movie. Even 30 minutes of watching a funny show showed health improvements.

If you want to increase the amount of laughter in your life try this laughter meditation. Do it alone or with a friend but give it a try. It is best to do this mediation before eating.

Laughter Meditation
  1. Start with 1-2 minutes of stretching
  2. Stand and stretch your whole body. Arms up, fingers of both hands laced and go up on your toes.
  3. Don’t forget to stretch the muscles of your jaws and face – a yawn or two will do it.
  4. Now Laugh for 5 minutes!
  5. Begin by turning up the corners of your mouth and smiling softly
  6. Now make that smile bigger and start laughing
  7. Make the laughter bigger so you feel it from your belly
  8. Try and laugh ‘with’ yourself or a partner, but not ‘at’ or ‘about’ someone or something
  9. Bring mindful awareness to your laughter – whatever makes you laugh – go with it.
  10. Now be Still for 5 minutes
  11. Stop laughing and close your eyes
  12. Find a place to sit, if you were standing while laughing
  13. Become aware of the silence
  14. Ignore any thoughts that may arise and instead shift focus to any feelings or sensations in your body.

Try this meditation once a day for a month and see if you can see any positive changes.

Altman, D. (2012). The Top One-Minute Mindfulness Strategies to Use in Your Practice. CMI Education Institute.
Kushan, K.S. (n.d.). Laughter Meditation.

Oct 032016

By Robin Larkin

Practicing mindfulness means bringing your attention to a calmer place. It is not in our nature to do this naturally – quite the opposite really. So, we practice. In one minute, you can practice bringing your attention to a calmer place. Here is a breathing exercise for you to try. It is a Kundalini breathing exercise. Kundalini is a type of yoga that uses breathing techniques as well as movement to increase awareness or attention.

The One Minute Breath
  1. Breathe in for 5 seconds
  2. Hold your breath for 5 seconds
  3. Release for 5 seconds
  4. Hold your breath for 5 seconds
  5. Repeat this pattern for one minute.
  6. Use a timer (on your phone or a kitchen timer) to keep track of the minute so all your attention is on your breath and the 5 second count.

Altman, D. (2012). The Top One-Minute Mindfulness Strategies to Use in Your Practice.
Bernstein, G. (August 5, 2014). A One-Minute Meditation To Silence Your Mind & Calm Your Energy.
Yoga Journal.

Sep 222016

By Robin Larkin

Meditation offers a way to reduce the stress that everyday life can put on you. When we meditate, we learn to train our thoughts in a way that allows us to look at the world in a way that does not attach judgement. Everyday life can be full of stressors. How we react to those stressors will impact our physical and mental well-being. Practicing meditation is an inexpensive way to learn how to reduce the negative impact life’s stressors have on your life and your health.

Through meditation you can learn to detach from strong beliefs, thoughts or emotions and develop stronger emotional balance and well-being. Research has shown that meditation can reduce levels of depression, tension, anxiety, fatigue, and confusion. By deliberately directing your attention through a meditation practice, you can better react to unpleasant social encounters, negative self-talk, and maintain a less judgmental perspective.

There are many different meditation practices. Take a class, take a book out of the library or talk to others who meditate and learn about them. We will be posting on our blog one- minute meditation tools for you to try as well. Experiment and find a meditation practice that works best for you. Meditation is a tool you can use to improve your sense of well-being.

Ludwig, D.S. and Kabat-Zinn, J. (2008). Mindfulness in Medicine. JAMA 300(1), 1350-1352.
Turner, K. (2014). Mindfulness skills training: A pilot study of changes in mindfulness, emotion regulation, self-perception of aging in older participants. Activities, Adaptation, & Aging 38(2), 156-167.
Zeidan, F., Johnson, S.K., Gordon, N.S., and Goolkasian, P. (2010). Effects of brief and sham mindfulness meditation on mood and cardiovascular variables. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(8), 867-873.

Jan 232015

By Maria Luciani, LCSW

Self-injury is more than ever a common concern among adolescents, parents, school faculty, and mental health professionals. Self-harm is intentional physical injury done to oneself based on an uncomfortable psychological state. Types of self-injury include such behaviors as cutting, skin scratching, head banging, and skin burning. The most common form of self-injury is cutting. Discovering that a loved one is hurting his or her body is typically confusing, disorienting, and scary. Upon discovery, friends and families are plagued with the question of why and want to know what can be done to stop self-inflicted injuries from continuing.

Increasing in popularity among adolescents and females, there are several aspects to self-injury that are significant in its presentation. It can serve as a way of causing physical pain to distract from overwhelming emotions or provide an experience of feeling something for those disconnected from their emotions. Due to the fact that cutting and other self-injurious actions are beyond the norm of behaviors to cope with mental or emotional problems, there is often great secrecy involved. Furthermore, research indicates that there is a contagious nature to self-harm, especially cutting, where people are at increased risk if they know others who utilize such behaviors to cope. Another concerning aspect to self-injury is that it can become an addiction where the frequency and severity can increase over time.

While difficult to distinguish self-injurious behaviors and suicidal intent, it is important to remember that self-harm does not always mean a person wants to end their life.  It often indicates a high level of psychological distress. Individual or family therapy treatment is needed to address underlying issues that lead to these behaviors. Please consult a licensed mental health professional if self-harm is impacting you or a loved one.

Klonsky, E. D. (2006). The functions of deliberate self-injury: A review of the evidence. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 226-239.
Strong, M. (1998). A Bright Red Scream: Self mutilation and the language of pain.

Dec 102014

The holidays signify celebration, family, and tradition. For many of us, they bring long to-do lists, strained financial resources, and unreasonable expectations. We can easily feel overwhelmed.

A good way to survive the holidays is to practice self-care. Self-care involves staying in touch with how you are feeling and engaging in activities that relax and soothe you.  There are three main areas of self-care that require nurturing – your physical self, your emotional/mental self, and your spiritual self.

Physical self-care means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and making time for some form of exercise. Allow yourself to indulge in holiday treats but remember to practice moderation and afterward – get moving. Take an evening walk around the neighborhood and check out the decorations, build a snowman or take up a winter sport such as cross country skiing or snowshoeing. If you need help managing symptoms of stress, practice deep breathing or download a guided relaxation app.

Emotional self-care happens when you spend time with others whose company you enjoy or when you engage in hobbies and activities you love. It’s important to surround yourself with supportive people rather than choose those who leave you feeling angry or depressed. The holidays can tempt with special events and invitations.  Learn to say “no” to avoid over committing. Choose to keep a few special traditions, but let go of the rest.  Remember that the goal is to enjoy the season and connect with others, not to wear yourself out.

Spiritual self-care means making time for reflection. Find somewhere peaceful to sit and enjoy the benefits of being still. It’s a great way to refresh and reenergize. Feed yourself with the music of the season or drop in on one of the many holiday performances. Nurture your soul by attending a worship service or connecting with nature. Volunteering opportunities abound at this time of year and often bring as much benefit to you as they do to others.

Make self-care a priority of your holiday schedule. Remember when we take good care of ourselves, we not only feel better, but we are better able to care for those around us.

Nov 182014

By Jenelle DiManno, MS

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the daily tasks of everyday living. It is normal to feel stressed every once in a while. In fact, stress can be helpful in motivating you to meet deadlines or to make sure you are prepared for a big job interview, but after a certain point, stress can stop being useful and start causing some serious damage to your health, mood, relationships, and quality of life.

How do you know when your stress levels have crossed the line between being helpful and being damaging? That depends a lot on how you, as an individual, respond when you are put in a stressful situation. Psychologist Connie Lillas described three of the most common ways that people respond when they are feeling overwhelmed by stress.

The first response is called “Foot on the gas”. In this response, the individual becomes angry and agitated and may become overly emotional and unable to sit still or relax. The second response is called “Foot on the brake”. In this response, an individual is likely to become withdrawn or depressed and shut down, showing very little emotion or energy. The last response is called “Foot on both”. In this response, a person will tense up or freeze. The individual will be unable to do anything under pressure and on the outside may look paralyzed, but underneath, feel extremely agitated.

Although many people picture stressors as something negative, a stressor can be anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust. This includes positive events such as getting married, having a baby, going to college, or getting a promotion at work. Stress may also build up from excessive worries about something that may or may not happen or from having pessimistic thoughts about life.

One of the most important parts of identifying what causes stress is your own individual perception about an event or situation. Something that is very stressful to you may not even faze someone else. For example, Bob thrives under pressure and performs best when he has a tight deadline, while his co-worker Matt shuts down when work demands escalate.

It is important to know your own limits! Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many different factors including the quality of your relationships, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, and genetics. Being able to identify when your stress levels are getting past the breaking point will help you better understand how to manage your stress better.

Just as there are many causes of stress, there are also many ways you can learn to manage stress in your life. There is no “one size fits all” solution so it is helpful to experiment and find out what works for you. Some of the easiest ways you can deal with stress is to make sure you set aside time for relaxation, make time to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get a good night’s sleep. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.