This summer I have been reading a lot of resources on mindfulness. During a recent vacation, I stopped in a Five Below store and found some simple, yet helpful books on being mindful that can give you a quick start or if you already practice, more skills to explore. The books are called, The Mindfulness Journal by Corinne Sweet and 5-Minute Mindfulness Parenting by Claire Gilman. Inside are resources from starting your day, to mindful eating, walking, how to create a calm space, or deal with those pesky racing thoughts. There are tidbits on taking a technology break, breathing
exercises, ways to clear the mind in different situations and with children, coping with loss, and how to develop compassion for yourself and others. Parents, the second book really places emphasis on nurturing relationships and raising your children, with simple 5-minute exercises for the time-pressed parent. Really, they are gems. Buy one! While many parents respond well to these stress-relieving tips or resources, managing parenting stress can be too much at times. If you need more support, contact me at SHCS.
Are you ready to take a moment to stop? Good. Notice your posture. Be aware of your breath. How does your body feel? Is your mind racing or calm? Are you hot, cold, or just right? Are you hungry or thirsty? Being mindful is about being completely in the now and noticing everything at the moment, in the present time, from the growls of your stomach to the sensations in your back, or tightness in your jaw. It is noticing everything around you, the rain on the window, the clouds in the sky, or the sounds of birds in the distance. While it does take practice, it can take as little as 2 minutes a day. Here are a few suggestions to try.
Basic Meditation. Go to a quiet space and sit comfortably with your back supported and hands resting comfortably in your lap. Set a timer for up to 5m. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Notice your belly expand as you inhale, and release as you exhale. Continue breathing and notice the sounds around you. If your mind wanders bring it gently back to the breath. When the timer goes off, open your eyes and notice how you feel. Stretch and pause. Tune into your body, feelings, and mind.
Try the basic meditation for 5m a day for a week. Once this is familiar, try moving up to 10 minutes or longer.
Try it while in a car, walking, when listening to a song, at a doctor’s office, when arriving to work, or whenever you need a moment of calm.
Set aside time and stick to it. Be realistic about when and how to practice.
If you find it hard to concentrate, don’t worry. New habits take time. Don’t give up! Give yourself time to get used to it and be patient with yourself as you learn to be mindful. For a guided experience check this one out on You Tube.
Do you ever feel that you or others in your life could use a little calming down moment? Maybe you’ve thought about it and didn’t know how to get started, or simply concluded you were too busy to practice being mindful. Whatever the reason, mindfulness really is helpful. The practice of fully being in the moment (even as little as 5 minutes a day), has awesome health benefits. According to Positive Psychology here are some of the top reasons:
Decreases stress. That’s right! Less anxiety, irritability, restlessness, headaches, and migraines, among many more…
Enhances ability to deal with illness and helps facilitate recovery. Decreased pain, rumination, and fatigue are just a few benefits. While mindfulness may not take away symptoms completely, it does make them more manageable.
Reduces depression, increases self-compassion, and emotion regulation.
Improves general health. Mindfulness is linked to lower blood pressure, and improved cardiovascular health.
When we are mindful we can discover we have control over our mind and body through our breath. We can also learn to move to this state of awareness anytime, anywhere.
Children who practice mindfulness are better able to self-regulate, have improved social skills, sleep better, demonstrate higher self-esteem, and focus! Ready to get started? Contact me at SHCS.
Whether you are at home or away from home, one of the best strategies for coping with big feelings, stress and our disrupted lives are finding a space in which to get away from it all, even if only 20 minutes. It’s like an extended break, but with your thoughts focused not on the problem, but on things that can bring about some peace. Numerous sites are out there about staycations and vacations. According to Travel Bugs World, there are numerous ideas to do just that. Here are a few helpful ones.
Plan a weekend just for yourself. Consider a hotel, camping, a day trip, or visit the beach. Can’t get away? Perhaps a local road trip, historical tour, museum, the zoo, a concert, or some self- care just for you.
Eat or drink your favorite food, mindfully and slowly. Consider a picnic or local cafe. Perhaps pick your favorite fruits at a local orchard.
Get outside! Go to the beach, go fishing, visit a park, or botanical garden. Watch the sunrise or sunset.
Get moving! Go for a hike, ride a bike, take a walk, go bowling…
Relax! Have a spa day, try a little yoga, read a book… Our world has been hit hard this past year and continues to be affected by COVID19. Be kind to yourself and to others. Relax, my friend. For more information on ways to cope, contact me at SHCS.
When I first began this career, I wanted to learn as much as possible about music therapy and explore different settings to find where I felt my heart and passion would be most in connection with my desire to help others.
I first experienced the benefits of music reaching others by playing in churches. Next, it was funerals and then weddings. After this, I entered college and began the process of working with exceptional children, such as special education, and adults with disabilities. I met folks with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and an array of other ailments. I enjoyed singing to older adults in various settings and later doing process-oriented music therapy work with kids in the residential setting, and later the foster care system.
I learned how music could relieve stress or muscle tension before a patient had surgery. I learned how music could help a patient with a stroke begin to speak again through singing. I learned how music could decrease isolation and pain for persons on life support. I learned how music could facilitate connection with families in end of-life care, how music could coordinate movement where Parkinson’s had impacted a patient’s ability to walk. I met adults with chronic mental health conditions and children with all levels of autism with varying degrees of impairment, and found new ways of connecting with these individuals through our music-making.
Now, I blend music with counseling and play. The aspects of its use have shifted over the years as I embarked with different populations and learned new skills.
Interventions commonly seen in therapy sessions addressed with music therapy target self-regulation, coping skills, emotional expression, enhanced mood, social interactions, attention and focus, as well as others.
While theses are only small accounts of the many ways music may be incorporated in therapy, thousands of other music therapists are doing this wonderful work daily and I encourage you to check out their stories.
March is National Music Month. There are some fabulous ways to experience music, even if you cannot attend live events at this time. With apps like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, we literally have selections at our fingertips. Did you know, though that what you listen to can literally heal or harm you?
Music has been used for hundreds of years to treat illnesses and restore harmony between mind and body. Research today has provided evidence-based support for incorporating music in our lives to reduce pain, stress, among other components.
According to psychcentral.com, the soothing power of music is well-established. It has a unique link to our emotions and can be an extremely effective stress management tool. Slow, quiet, instrumental music can relax our minds and bodies. The Power of Music To Reduce Stress (psychcentral.com). It slows the pulse, heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases stress hormones. The music focuses our attention, provides a healthy distraction and helps to explore and express emotions. It can aid meditation and help prevent the mind from wandering.
Music preferences vary widely, however. What works for one person may be different for someone else. It’s important to find and explore what works for you. If you’re not someone that gravitates to trying music when feeling stressed, avoiding music is often common. However, I encourage yourself to give it try.
Here are some simple ways to explore music for yourself:
Make a portable playlist. Listen from your computer, phone, computer, or car.
Listen while walking, bathing, meditating, or doing household tasks.
Listen while walking your dog.
If your music has lyrics, sing along to release tension.
Listen to calming music for peace and relaxation before bed to induce sleep.
If you play an instrument, practice with intention, without judgment, and listen deeply.
For more information about music therapy and how it could benefit your life, please contact me at SHCS.
When I was a teenager I worked for a small department store a few hours per week. I made plenty of mistakes. My supervisor at the time was fairly strict about the procedures and I often felt stressed when I was working with her on my shift since I did often make a lot of mistakes. I tried humor and a friendly smile, but she did not laugh.
When it was time to leave for college, I thanked my supervisor for her time with me and gave her a tin of homemade cookies. My supervisor cried and hugged me. She told me that no one was ever nice to her. I later learned just by listening that her husband had died and she had undergone a very difficult year. After that event my perspective of this woman was changed. I went back to visit her on school breaks to say hello and made an effort to speak to her before leaving the store. She met me with a friendly smile, a warm hug, and well-wishes.
As a counselor, I love teaching others about mindfulness, the benefits of not judging ourselves and others. I talk about the practice of having compassion for others, even when it’s hard, and to be kinder to themselves during times of challenge or self-doubt. One of DBT’s distraction strategies is called Contributing.
By contributing to someone else, we mindfully focus on the need of another person. By offering help, volunteering, doing a good deed, or providing a service for someone else, it takes our minds off ourselves and contributes to the wellbeing of someone else. In this way, we learn to be generous, thoughtful, grateful, helpful and develop empathy for others. Contributing offers a chance to reconnect and provides a sense of achievement. You can find more about this strategy here.
On February 17th, Random Acts of Kindness Day is celebrated. This is a great time to think about doing something for someone else. It doesn’t have to be big. Perhaps a letter, text, phone call, or card might cheer someone up. You never know what kind of impact a small gesture of kindness can have on a person’s life.
February 7-13 is National Play Therapy Week. According to the American Play Therapy Association, play therapy is “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”
More simply put, child play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play. Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.
Play therapy works best when a safe relationship is created between the therapist and client, one in which the latter may freely and naturally express both what pleases and bothers them.
Mental health agencies, schools, hospitals, and private practitioners have utilized play therapy as a primary intervention or as supportive therapy for:
Behavioral problems, such as anger management, grief and loss, divorce and abandonment, and crisis and trauma.
Behavioral disorders, such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), autism or pervasive developmental, academic and social developmental, physical and learning disabilities, and conduct disorders.
Research suggests play therapy is an effective mental health approach, regardless of age, gender, or the nature of the problem, and works best when a parent, family member, or caretaker is actively involved in the treatment process.
At SHCS, I use play techniques with children 12 and under to work on an array of treatment goals. Some children are learning how to play, or how to engage with others, while others are developing flexibility, learning to take turns, or expressing to me their world, feelings, and perspective, with friends, at school, or with family members. Play is both fun and powerful!
For more information on play therapy or play techniques with your child, contact me at SHCS.
In honor of Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month, I wanted to share some insights into how music therapy benefits children having autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, currently affecting 1 in 68 individuals in the United States (CDC, 2014). While the causes are still unclear, the DSM-5 describes the following two cores characteristics of ASD: 1) deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, and 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities. Interventions, such as music therapy, are crucial for individuals with ASD to maximize their potential and lead fulfilled lives.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, people of all ages, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and degrees of abilities respond to aspects of music in daily life. The engaging nature and accessibility of music often elicit positive responses from individuals with ASD.
Researchers have discussed that persons with ASD have advanced music memory, responsiveness, and aptitudes for music. They may have more sensitivity to musical elements, yet similar skills of music perception as compared to typically developing peers. While only a small number of individuals with ASD are musical savants, all clients can benefit from music therapy interventions (Fact_Sheet_ASD_and_MT__8-26-15.pdf (musictherapy.org).
Music therapy interventions focus on enhancing social, communicative, motor/sensory, emotional, and academic/cognitive functioning, or music skills in individuals with ASD. Music therapy services are based on each client’s individual abilities, noting preferences, needs, the family’s values, beliefs, and priorities. Music therapists work in partnership with clients, families, and teams.
Music therapy interventions are informed by research evidence and have been found to enhance or improve:
Auditory processing, other sensory-motor, perceptual/motor, or gross/fine motor skills
Identification and appropriate expression of emotions
Social engagement in the home environment and community
Target behaviors and teach new skills
Music therapists accept referrals and provide assessments and interventions to individuals with ASD and their families in public schools, family homes, private practice settings, preschools/ daycares, music therapy agencies, early intervention programs, treatment centers, support groups, hospitals, and various venues within the community. The role of the music therapist may be as a provider of direct services (i.e., via individual and group sessions), as a coach to parents, or as a consultant to family members/caregivers, educators, or team members (Kern et al., 2013).
Music therapy is an evidence-based health profession and is recognized as a related service under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Therefore, preschool, youth, and young adults may be eligible for music therapy services under the IDEA Part B. Services also may be funded by states, foundations, or community grants. Many music therapists also accept private payments.
With 2021 upon us, I look forward to a new year, though I admit much of my thoughts continue to be around COVID. I anticipate the arrival of the COVID vaccine, look forward to seeing fewer cases, and possibly seeing more folks in-person as cases decline over this next year. I look forward to a return to normalcy and spending time doing experiences outside the home with my family. I long for a return of planning trips and vacations and seeing my kids involved in community activities.
According to dictionary.com, hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Other words to describe hope include: to expect, anticipate, look for, wait for, want, wish for, or dream of.