by Jake Bava, M.Ed., PLPC
Over the past decade or so there has been a cultural resurgence around the tabletop game, Dungeons & Dragons. I have been playing D&D for almost 8 years. In that time, I have been able to explore intimate aspects of myself, my personality, strengthen my social skills, such as conflict resolution and problem solving, as well as develop and maintain deep, meaningful relationships with the people I have played with. Since becoming a therapist, I noticed that many of the benefits seen in play therapy are also present in Dungeons & Dragons, regardless of your age.
One of the most important components of D&D is the character you create for yourself to play in the game. I can recall road tripping with my friend and discussing for hours who my first character should be. There was so much to explore about my character’s personality, his back story, his family and why anyone with a lick of sense would decide to venture out into a dangerous world as an adventurer. Since playing D&D, I have been able to create characters that help me to explore different aspects of myself, that I otherwise would have never discovered. I have used the many different characters that I have played to explore aspects of myself in a fun and unique way. Similarly, many people have found that D&D has been a safe space for them to explore topics like gender and sexual identity, religion, family relationships and more. By exploring these topics with a fictional character in a fantasy world, many can find resolution and closure when they were otherwise unable to.
Playing Dungeons & Dragons also comes with a ton of practical skills. Patience, empathy, resiliency, critical thinking, and creativity are just few of the many different social skills that can be grown while playing D&D. Navigating a dangerous tomb riddled with traps gives players the opportunity to confront anxiety and fear of the unknown. Dealing with an unruly gang of thieves and bandits allows players to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in making a difference for their local community. Mourning the loss of a dead character gives players the chance to practice grieving, as well as developing empathy and connection with the other players in their group.
When immersed in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, players can often times experience a sense of agency that is not always possible in the real world. If players notice injustice, discrimination, or other forms of oppression in the fantasy world, their characters have the power to make a difference in changing those systems. This sense of empowerment often times is carried over from the fantasy world into the real world. Additionally, the time spent building a story with the other players can lead to deep and long lasting friendships. These connections develop a powerful social support system for players and offer a sense of community.
Dungeons and Dragons is a wonderful tabletop role playing game where players are given the opportunity to express themselves in ways they may not be able to otherwise. Experiences in the game can lead to closure and resolution to issues outside of the game, as well providing a safe environment to explore intimate aspects of ourselves. D&D grants opportunities to build upon our social skills as well as empowering us to make a difference in our own communities. The only question left at this point is: “How do you want to do this?”
Random Acts of Kindness Week
by Andrea Schramm, LPC
We likely are not strangers to the idea that random acts of kindness are a beneficial experience for us and for the recipient of our kindness. Did you know there is a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation whose mission is to make kindness the norm? What a wonderful idea! Kindness is good for us.
What are the many ways being kind is good for us? There is some cool science behind kindness. It turns out kindness is catching. Studies show when we engage in kindness it benefits both us and the recipients of our kindness by reducing our stress, anxiety, and depression through the release of the hormones Serotonin, which makes us feel better, Endorphins which reduce pain and Oxytocin which lowers blood pressure and makes us feel more loving and loved. Simply witnessing an act of kindness between others can have a positive benefit on us and encourage us to also engage in kindness.
How do we prepare ourselves to engage in acts of kindness in our busy world we live in. To reap the benefits of acts of kindness for ourselves and others, building a habit offers an opportunity to include acts of kindness in our everyday interactions. Making a list of random acts of kindness we feel comfortable and able to perform can help us establish this habit by choosing one act a day to engage in.
Here is a simple list to help you build an acts of kindness habit:
Watch your habit grow and catch on as you add more acts of kindness to your daily routine. Notice how much better you feel adding acts of kindness to your daily life and the lives of others.
Start by visiting Random Acts of Kindness Foundation https://www.randomactsofkindness.org
New Year Poem
By Lauren Josten, MA, PLPC
Ah, the New Year
The start of something new
A fresh start,
A new beginning
A brand new something or another
Whatever you wish to call it:
Happy New Year to you!
And how often have we each heard
Shortly after this exclamation:
“What’s your New Year's resolution?”
The excitement of something new
So forcibly stripped and reoriented
Inevitably away from the celebration,
The potential of the new year with its unknown feelings and unknown outcomes
And forcibly toward something more tangible,
More serious, stressful:
The ideal that we must continue to do more.
We may as well just ask,
“What’s your plan to be happier by being more productive?”
Before I go on
Let’s not pretend that productivity is useless
Productivity keeps us moving–it creates focus
It certainly helps to create and sustain a life force
The forward momentum that we have come to reliably value
More than many other resources available to us
Such as those stereotypical therapy ones:
Meditation, connection, slowing down to feel.
“Where’s the forward momentum there?”
“What am I working toward by slowing down?”
Ah, yes. Welcome to the United States of America.
While I cannot answer this specific dilemma
As each response would and should be quite individualistic,
I can offer a question to reflect on in turn:
Why must you move forward?
Our society attempts to
Create forward momentum
By creating backward ideals:
“I can feel better, calmer, if I just work harder.”
But let’s get more specific, and
Let’s talk about one of the most common New Year’s Resolutions in the US:
“I can feel better, calmer, if I just lose weight.”
The old reliable tactic
The ongoing battle
The seemingly endless vacuum
That is information on how to lose weight
How this is the year
Those before pictures will finally
Yield those “after” results
I have personally worked with dozens of individuals
Fighting this very battle: the one between will power and the body
But in time realizing they are actually fighting something
They didn’t realize they were actually at war with:
The raging inferno that is the fight between who they are, and who they wish to be
Though this is a rather large concept:
The relationship one has with oneself and why,
It is one we all battle, whether consciously or not
And often times it manifests most clearly
In the angry thoughts we hold toward the way our bodies
Look, feel, seem, act...
The anger we can hold toward how they “work.”
“Why do I have to feel this way?” “No one else feels this way.”
“I shouldn’t feel this way.” “I can’t be tired yet.”
“Ugh, how do I still not have a thigh gap?” “Why did I eat so many Reeses?"
This relationship we have with our bodies
Can offer a glimpse into the true world of our uncertainty
“Who am I really, and how does my body reflect this?”
And why is it my body has to be
A mirror for the world to see?
What is it about what is happening inside my body
Whether in emotion, sensation, or physically
That drives me up the wall
And leads me to make changes
And how closely tied is this
To my own personal sense of value?
It certainly begs the question,
How is my relationship with myself,
even if these goals aren’t met?
What does my external body need to show
in order to reflect how I want to be seen internally?
Does being fit equate to being driven, motivated, successful?
Does being unfit equate to laziness, boredom, shame, or guilt?
How might I be trying to solve my inside problems
By “fixing” my outsides?
While exercise and nutrition can be vital components to leading a healthy and happy lifestyle
It is important to not lose sight of what is also important:
The relationship we hold with ourselves.
May your New Year be full of happiness and connection–both with yourself, and with others
And may your resolution be to move toward greater self-cohesion and acceptance
Versus toward another plot to take yourself down.
And while certainly not all of us struggle
Between the relationship between the body and the sense of self,
My hope is you will consider these reflections of true motive,
As you continue to ponder your relationship with productivity.
By: Angela Kuhns, LPC
The holiday season is upon us and the new year is approaching fast. Our traditions, at their best, are how we mark time and connect to meaning in life. This can be a time to gather, celebrate, reflect, and set intentions. I hope we’re able to do all that AND it is cold- it is dark- many of us are running on fumes. Times like these highlight the complexity of being human and intensify our emotions. We might experience a longing for connection and challenging family dynamics that lead to isolation, fatigue and the pressure to do it all, being surrounded by people and feeling alone, ideas about how things “should” be and the reality of how they really are, ideals of “the most wonderful time of year” and unrelenting grief. It can all be overwhelming and disorienting.
What I most often see and experience in moments of overwhelm is either a shutdown (think feeling numb/disconnected) or a panicked what’s wrong with me and how to do I fix it so I can do more. These are natural responses, sometimes getting us by short-term, and long-term end up wreaking havoc.
It is important to be mindful that we ourselves and others are likely experiencing many intense feelings this time of year. If we feel ourselves slipping into overwhelm, or suddenly just wake up there, it is time to take a break. I mean full on stop. Yes, problem solving and processing are important, and in a state of overwhelm none of us come up with solutions or helpful interpretations.
Step out of the chaos for a moment- This might look like taking a quiet moment in the bathroom, a walk around the block, or acknowledging a worried part and asking it to slow down so we can effectively address what’s coming up.
Reorient- We are physical bodies, this means we first reorient ourselves by grounding in our senses, establishing physical safety, and breathing deep into our bellies.
Acceptance- I know this word can be tricky. Think of a map. Acceptance is just saying these are my current coordinates. You are not saying that what happened to you that led to these coordinates was okay, that this is where
you want/planned to be, that you like where you are, or that you will be staying in this place. Simply, this is where I am right now.
The next right action- Engage with compassion. It may help to think of what you would want for a loved one. Be clear on what is and isn’t within your control, establish realistic expectations and boundaries, and connect back to your values. Take your next action from this place.
Our wellbeing is so much more about embracing the fullness and complexity of our
experiences, who we are, and what we need in any given moment than about trying
harder or pretending everything is ok.
taking care not to weaponize gratitude
By: Angela Kuhns, LPC
It is the time of year where Gratitude is scrolled across every inspirational post and
barn board in sight. There is a significant amount of research that supports the
numerable benefits of a gratitude practice such as improved mental and physical
health, increased resiliency, improved relationships, increased self- esteem, and
increased empathy. Yet the word snags on the jagged edges of my judgment and I
am instantly suspicious. When I hear someone say “I should be grateful” or “just be
thankful” I cringe. Cue the inner critic and concern for what others will think. I am
not supposed to think that way yet alone share it. Maybe I am a bad therapist- a
bad human. I am going to go ahead and pause right there. I have never
investigated a part that didn’t have a deep caring, something it was fiercely
attempting to protect. So, like I encourage the people I work with to do, I try to get
curious and explore with compassion rather than judging the part or over identify
The part brings forward how hard this time of year is for so many people. Grief,
loneliness, stress of unrealistic expectations, the sense of not enough... it is
agonizing. There is so much minimizing, shaming, and dismissal of pain that
masquerades as gratitude. The meaning gets misconstrued and weaponized. We
hear how our pain is unacceptable and a personal failure.
In the depths of our pain, we need to know someone sees us, our suffering, and will
follow through with compassionate action. Pain is profound and it asks to be
acknowledged along side the profoundness of gratitude. For gratitude is not a way
to circumvent pain, it is a salve that eases suffering not denies it. It is protective. It
increases our wellbeing. Now more than ever we need gratitude in its truest form,
not some watered-down performative version or the false stand-ins that cause
Brené Brown in Atlas of the Heart writes “Gratitude is an emotion that reflects our
deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what
makes us feel connected to ourselves and others.” This points to ways we can
check in with ourselves and our practice. Do I feel thankful or guilty? Open or
hardened? Relaxed or tense? Connected or isolated? Expansive or diminished?
Intentional or forced? Warm or numb? Compassionate or judgmental?
I hope this season we can connect to the heart of gratitude.
May we receive the gifts of both gratitude and the acknowledgement of pain
May we practice gratitude in ways that expand compassion to ourselves and others
May we make space for all parts and connect to the deep caring within
Unlocking the Good
By: Angela Kuhns, LPC
Laughter, joy, excitement, and the like are often not the first things that come to mind when we think about therapy. It is true, most of us seek out therapy when the pain in our lives has become unbearable. What’s good and how we take the good in are not at the forefront. However, the practice of taking in the good is vital to our wellbeing. It is sustaining, adds to our sense of wellbeing, and puts us in a more resourced place as we confront the many challenges of being alive.
It is very common for us to lose sight of the good or what brings joy into our lives. This might simply be getting lost in the busyness of life, an oversight remedied by being more mindful and intentional. It is also very common to actually be defending against allowing the good in. Harmful conditioning, fear of vulnerability, and incidents that interrupt our sense of self and safety often cause the good to be perceived as a liability. We become locked into avoiding pain. So much so that we are all avoidance with no sense of what to approach. Our world becomes smaller; we experience the emergence of depression and anxiety. Our protective strategies that helped us survive, while they deserve our respect and gratitude, are not conducive for fostering our greater sense of wellbeing. It is impossible to fully embrace goodness if it is being perceived as a threat.
When we notice we are unable to take in the good, it is time to act. If depressive symptoms and/or anxiety are so debilitating that we can’t seem to engage, it is important to enlist the help of a therapist and establish care with a psychiatrist. Sometimes support is necessary to connect us to our resources and unpack the experiences and beliefs that are keeping us overwhelmed.
When we are able to engage, we can start by investigating what we are defending against. The specifics are different for everyone, and common themes include guarding against: failure, loss, disappointment, judgement, being manipulated or taken advantage of, being perceived as less than, vulnerability, a sense of unworthiness, guilt, and shame. When we know what we are afraid of we can start working towards establishing safety. Again, this looks different for everyone, and common themes include: acceptance of the full range of human emotions, establishing realistic and compassionate self-talk, connecting to our worth, tolerance of inherit vulnerability, boundaries, and building healthy relationships.
Once we are in a place where we are willing to allow the good in, we must identify what bring us joy. It is almost certain if we have been defending against allowing the good in, out of fear or a need to protect, our initial reaction will be “I don’t know what brings me joy.” Not knowing is okay; our fate is not sealed. Not knowing is our invitation to get curious. We may review what we do know. Where have I experienced joy, interest, or playfulness in the past? We may research. What would people I trust say about when I am most joyful? What do experts say about human joy? We may experiment. What are some of my best guesses and how can I try them out? From here we can make a list of the good we would like to take in. We can work to foster it in our lives through setting our intention, direction action, and mindful awareness.
To anchor those positive experiences and practice taking in the good
If you’d like to dive deeper, check out the practice of Taking in the Good with Dr. Rick Hanson.
By: Sarah Sanburn, LPC
School has just started, first day jitters are over and students are beginning to learn
the classroom expectations.... now what? Whether your child has anxiety that pops
up periodically or they have an anxiety disorder; it is important to understand the
best ways to support your child with their worries.
Transitioning back to the start of school can feel overwhelming for parents and
children alike. As parents, we are often loaded with back-to-school activities, the
start of after school programs, managing the changing schedule and of course, if
you’re anything like me, the never-ending laundry and dishes that children seem to
forever be creating. With pumpkin spice latte’s still not on the menu and the chilly
mornings not something we can look forward to, it is normal that this time of year
would be stressful for anyone. It’s important to be mindful about children’s
schedules having a healthy balance with school, activities and rest.
Here are some guidelines to support your child as they begin the school year...
The start of school can bring nerves to even the calmest of children. It’s normal to
have the back-to-school butterflies in the stomach feeling, as I’m sure we’ve all
experienced when starting a new job. To check in with your child on their feelings,
ask open ended questions instead of leading questions. Instead of, “Are you feeling
anxious?”. Try asking in an open-ended way, “How are you feeling today?” or “What
do you think about your new class?”. Then, and this is the most important part,
listen. I have often been asked what I say to my child to get her to talk to me, and
the thing that has made the biggest impact is not exactly what I said but that I
listened. Kids can sense when you’re really invested and hearing them or if you’re
running through the to do list in your head. Before bed is a great time to have these
conversations, and leads to great bonding time.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Limit after-school activities and provide unstructured play time. It’s easy to feel like
your child is missing out when you are surrounded by social media posts with
parents showing off their child’s new activities. Here is a hard truth-there will always
be something your child is missing out on. However, by saying “No” to another
extra-curricular activity you are also saying “YES!” to unstructured play time. This
type of play, play that is not organized by adults and typically does not have an
intended outcome, is essential for children to thrive emotionally and socially.
Model Behaviors You Are Looking For
What we say is important, however what our children see us do on a daily basis is
more important. If your go to stress technique is to acknowledge the feeling and
take a deep breath before responding then they will follow in your footsteps. When
you model this anxiety reducing technique, they internalize the understanding that
anxious feelings are ok to come up and to let go. Normalizing expressing emotions
in this way is going to set your kiddo up for success as they grow and develop in
communicating their needs.
If your child’s anxiety seems to linger longer than expected, checking into
resources could be helpful. It’s important to know and understand your resources at
your children’s school and in the community. Missouri state law encourages schools
to have an established resource for mental health. Most schools in the area have at
least one school counselor, crisis counselor or have established a resource from an
outside organization to provide mental health support for students. You can call
your child’s school and inquire about the resources available. Most school
counselors also have a list of recommended therapists in the area.
I wish you luck in the school year ahead, hopefully you can also make time to
prioritize yourself. Here’s to a great school year!
by Sarah Sanburn, LPC
We live in a culture that praises the active and invested parent, in my over 10 years of working with children and families I have seen an increase in the parent’s participation. It’s been wonderful to see parents become more interested in their children’s lives and more attuned to how they are feeling. However, when involvement becomes parental interference, it can be at the expense of the child and parent's mental health. The extreme cases of this were seen in the news when wealthy parents were caught buying and bribing their children’s way into top schools. In daily interactions, teachers, administrators and school counselors often see parents calling to solve problems for their children. I know from my own parenting the pressure we feel to help our children live pain-free lives. Here is the case for allowing children to fail.
As parents, we want to see our children live full, happy lives and it can easily feel like removing obstacles is a way to support our children. However, when we remove the learning experiences that failure brings for children, we are not allowing them to fully grow and develop into their authentic selves. I see these tendencies to bulldoze problems increasing the perfectionistic tendencies of our children as well. When they easily overcome everything that they set out to do, they don’t develop a growth mindset and instead begin to expect perfection from themselves.
By allowing our children to fail, within an environment of empathy and unconditional love, we set them up to increase flexibility and grit. As I raise my two-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter I have plenty of practice in this any time we go to the park, or really anywhere for that matter! When my two-year-old goes to climb up the same play structure his older sister does I do not go behind him and help him up the whole way to the top. I will allow him to try independently first, encouraging his attempts and validating moments he struggles. If I were to automatically help him to the top, he would not have gained the confidence that comes from overcoming a challenge or trying something new.
This also shows up as my seven-year-old enters the world of competitive sports. I have often heard parents screaming from the sidelines, walking over to talk to their kids on the bench mid game and at times even asking the coach for more field time. These well intended parents are giving their children the message that they don’t think they can handle it on their own and that perfection is a top priority. While the parent’s intention is to do what is best for the child, the impact can be an increase in anxiety. Instead of inserting ourselves into each issue our children face, we can choose to support our children as they learn to face life's challenges. When little league feels overwhelming and it’s going to be a tough game we can give children the support, love and encouragement they need without solving the problems for them.
Kids love to hear how adults make mistakes also, it gives them a template to learn from and normalizes failing. I often like to use car rides to talk with my kids, as we always have some place to go and I know there are much fewer distractions, it gives a good set up for healthy conversations. I will bring up to my daughter what the most challenging part of my day was, how it felt to fail at something new, and what I learned from the experience. This has become a favorite past time and my daughter now lights up any time I tell her about a mistake I’ve made. I will also check in about what she felt when she faced something challenging, how good it felt to overcome the obstacle or her feelings about the difficulty in having to walk away from something and what she learned.
There are many ways to allow your children the space to develop a growth mindset through mistakes. Offering genuinely challenging tasks to children based on their age and skill is a great way to grow a growth mindset. For instance, you can empower them to seek out a difficult class, a new sport or hobby, or meeting new friends. Allowing children to face failure with a supportive and loving safety net, allows them to develop courage, confidence to overcome a challenge, and bravery- all things we want for our children as they grow into wonderful adults.
Happy Pride Month
by Michael P. Raymond
Happy Pride Month! I am a gay man. I want June to feel extra special for me. But the
depressive episode I am experiencing makes it hard.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the lesbian, gay and bisexual
community are twice as likely to experience a mental health condition. Transgender
individuals are nearly four times as likely. This is the same for adults and youth.
As a young gay kid in the mid-90s, I dreaded being the object of a bully’s ire, for
crossing my legs like a woman or playing Little House on the Prairie with the girls at
recess instead of kick ball. In second grade I was a called a “gay wad.” My sexuality
was used to hurt me before I even had any idea what sexuality was; an all too
common experience for many queer people.
I was taught to be ashamed of who I was. I grew up the son of a preacher, in a
church that believed being gay is a sin. My shame was reinforced in all areas of my
life. I wasn’t able to come out until I was twenty-two, when I was financially
independent and could insure my safety. But the shame didn’t stop there.
I love my family very much. But like the military from 1994 to 2011, we have a strict
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. And it takes its toll. I was twenty-one the first time I
had trouble getting out of bed for days on end. I have been taken anti-depressants
since then. I didn’t start seeing a therapist until summer of 2019. I am in the midst
of the complicated and grueling task of shuffling off the mortal coil of my shame. A
phrase taken from Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy. A speech about
choosing to live or die. I am out an out and proud gay man, but sometimes my
shame makes me ask that same question.
Pride Month is supposed to be about throwing off my oppressors and taking to the
streets in protest and celebrating my innate queerness! But how can I do that when
I can barely get out of bed? All of the “Happy Pride Months”, pride parades, and
corporations changing their social media profiles to a rainbow logo can’t heal my
shame. That is up to me (with the support of my therapist, and my chosen family of
queer friends and allies).
Pride month shouldn’t be just for queer people to be proud of ourselves, but for the
people in our lives to affirm our existence. So please, tell your brother, your cousin,
your aunt, your non-binary child, your trans co-worker that you are proud to know
them. That you see them for who they are. And if that doesn’t work, we gladly
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day
By: Sarah Sanburn, LPC
Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, May 7th this year, was established to bring attention to to the importance of children’s emotional, behavioral and mental health. Children are resilient, we hear this often. While true, it is not the whole story. Building resilience requires supportive and understanding adults. Both children and their caregivers are struggling recently. As research shows us, there has been a consistent decrease in children’s mental health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health in 2021 due to the increase in mental illness in children nationwide. Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide have been on the rise since 2010 with the pandemic increasing these rates due to the surge in stress and instability.
As the bias around mental health services decreases and awareness is more widely understood parents are seeking therapy at a growing rate. However, there is a lack of resources for children’s mental, emotional and behavioral health. As a child therapist I see daily the impact that a lack of mental health resources has on children and their families. When I first talk to parents it is common to hear about how many calls they made or how many times they were turned away before getting their child into therapy.
I am lucky enough to have two wonderful healthy children, ages 7 and 2. Being a mother is the most amazing and the most challenging thing I have ever done, I am sure most parents feel similarly that showing up for their kiddos emotionally is incredibly rewarding and also difficult. I find that when I make time to care for myself I am able to be more present for my children. Making time to recharge is a huge piece of the challenge to parenting amidst all of the laundry, soccer practices and activities. Reading, especially listening to audiobooks, has given me comfort in the knowledge that I am supporting my kiddos to grow into resilient humans.
Here are a few of my favorite parenting books:
JENNIFER EULBERG, MA, LPC
Welcome Jennifer, our new blogger!
Jennifer is a counselor at Sandhill who specializes in depression, self-esteem, and grief & loss. Get to know Jennifer as she shares her perspectives on life, contemplates value themes, and offers gentle encouragement.
THANK YOU to Stefanie Pisarkiewicz, LPC for her blog contributions from November 2014 - February 2019!
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