Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness, CBIT, ERP, CBT-I, Behavior Consultation, and Treatment for Anxiety and Insomnia

Laura Van Schaick-Harman, Psy.D., BC-TMH


Dr. Laura's Meaningful Psychological Services

Online Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

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Meaningful Psychological Services: Really Useful Thoughts from a Psychologist 

Helpful interests, ideas, and resources about psychology, therapy, mindfulness, cognitive-behavior therapy, anxiety, living meaningfully and online therapy.

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Healthy Communication

Posted on June 29, 2020 at 4:55 PM

There is a time for listening and a time for speaking. Both communication methods are integral to successful relationships. Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed a lot of speaking and hopefully more listening. Understanding the perspective of someone who has a different viewpoint than you can make a big difference. We may not agree with someone’s choices, actions, feelings, thoughts, or statements. We may feel like ending a friendship, blocking them on social media, writing them off as falling into a demographic group or category different than our own, or dismissing them. While this may seem like it solves the problem, this behavior divides us and prevents the development and practice of skills in conflict resolution, relationship reconciliation, problem solving, communication, and tolerance. It is expected and acceptable to disagree with others. In fact, let’s welcome discourse and conflict and work through it. We don’t need to run away (except in dangerous situations of course). We don’t need to come to an agreement on everything. We can be a bridge builder, peacemaker, and good listener.

 

When we change our perspective to see someone else’s, we may learn some actions are motivated by fear, loss, love, anger, personal experiences, discrimination, financial struggles, or some other aspect of life that has deeply impacted them. And sometimes our behavior changes because we didn’t have a good night’s sleep or breakfast that day. It is my hope that we work to understand each other more, listen often, and keep communication open.

 

 

Speaking of communication...

 

I have a new e-mail address: [email protected]

 

Please save this for your records to replace: [email protected]

 

 

Coming soon! I will have a new website in addition to www.meaningfulpsychservices.com

Resilience During the Pandemic

Posted on May 26, 2020 at 2:30 PM

We are living history in the making right now more than ever. Our day-to-day challenges, activities, sources of happiness, health concerns, interactions, learning environments, and work experiences have been impacted. We can choose to let these factors wound us and diminish our well-being, or we can choose to practice optimism, resilience and grit and embrace life with a sense of meaning and purpose.


 Here are some suggestions to accomplish this:


 Connect with others safely. Replace the phrase “social distancing” with “physical distancing” and remember that we can see people online via video or in-person following the local health department guidelines. It is very important to stay connected with our community, friends, and family.


 Practice healthy behaviors during the pandemic. Demonstrate concern for the well-being of others by wearing a face covering and following guidance from health professionals.


 Limit the news viewing. Stick to 1 or 2 reputable resources for information grounded in science and local information as needed. When possible, review primary/original sources of information or consolidated information from a trusted health professional rather than news media summaries.


 Remember that we are all involved in this pandemic in some way and show kindness and healthy attributions towards others. We don’t know why a teacher doesn’t respond to a student’s email. We don’t know why a student doesn’t submit work. We don’t know why someone is venting on social media. We don’t know why our neighbor has guests over. We don’t know why a business who is permitted to be open is closed. We don’t know why someone is not wearing a mask. We don’t know who is struggling and how. We have a tendency to blame others. Let’s pause and challenge ourselves to come up with 2-3 alternative explanations for someone else’s behavior. This shows kindness to others and also exercises your cognitive skills. 


Remember that challenges can bring us together and we can learn, grow, and make healthy changes for the future.

Resource for COVID-19 Coping

Posted on April 27, 2020 at 10:30 AM

How are you doing and coping? I hope you are prioritizing self-care, having some fun, and staying healthy. This month I am sharing an excellent and detailed resource for coping with a variety of mental health challenges related to COVID-19, social distancing guidelines and recent changes in our daily schedules. I am hopeful that this resource will be helpful and supportive.

 

http://psychrescue-covid19.com/

COPE

Posted on March 26, 2020 at 11:25 AM

COPE

 

I am writing to you during a very interesting, unique, and unprecedented time in our history. In my role, I have seen the increase in anxiety that has developed regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. My goal is to help all of us COPE in a healthy way so that our lives can continue to be meaningful.

 

 

Connect with others

 

Social distancing can be difficult, but this practice does not need to keep you from connecting with others. Consider chatting via video or text with friends and family. Take a walk together (keeping at least 6 feet apart). Drive to a local beach or park that is open, meet others and listen to music while everyone stays in their own car. Share pictures. Connect with others on social media. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while on the phone (yes, I said to call, not just text). Forgive people who have hurt you. Join an online class.

 

Offer help and assistance

 

Your skills, compassion, and talent are needed. How can you help someone else? This may be delivering groceries to an elderly neighbor or sick friend (drop at the door). You may call someone who is feeling lonely. You can donate a gift card, food, or money to a local food bank or mission. You can read with your children. You can make a rainbow and hang it on your front door or windows. You can send a loving e-card to a friend or family member. Send a loving thank you note to our healthcare workers. Contact your local nursing home for opportunities to share messages of hope and love for the residents via video.

 

Practice good hygiene, healthy eating, exercise and handwashing

 

I know you’ve been hearing this a lot lately, but it is important. Take care of yourself. You will be healthier and a better husband/wife, son/daughter, girlfriend/boyfriend, employee, parent, partner, co-worker and leader if you do. Eat a well-balanced nutritious diet. Go outside. Exercise. Wash those hands!

 

Enjoy life and make the most of it

 

These are weird and challenging times. We are all in this together. We can enjoy unstructured time. We can find the odd balance between working at home and parenting. We can adjust to different schedules. We can still be connected socially. We can bake and try new recipes. We can learn from great authors (check out lunch doddles with Mo Willems https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/mo-willems/). We can take a virtual museum tour. We can watch movies. We can read. We can learn a new skill. We can spend time with our families. We can be less distracted with the usual business of life and embrace some simplicity. We can and would benefit greatly from limiting our news intake.

 

 

Thank you to every single health care worker and essential workforce member- you are working so hard to keep people healthy and the world running as normal and safely as possible. I am forever grateful.

"Little and Often Makes Much"

Posted on February 26, 2020 at 12:10 AM

Setting goals can be overwhelming at times. We set ahead to lose weight, watch less TV, exercise more, meet more people, apply for a new job, ask someone out, quit smoking, take a vacation, and spend less money. We set high expectations. Lose 50 lbs without gaining anything back. Watch Netflix only on weekends for 20min. Apply for 15 jobs in a day. Stop buying coffee. While it is possible to attain goals with high expectations, we are more likely to give up completely if there aren’t certain characteristics that are met.

 

Goals work best when they are specific and measurable. This means we have a budget for spending or a specific amount and type of positions to apply for within a designated amount of time.

 

Goals work best when they are reasonable and achievable. This means we understand that changing from smoking 20 cigarettes in a day or from watching 6 hours of TV every day to none at all the next day will be very hard and almost unrealistic.

 

Goals work best when we are kind to ourselves. Punishing ourselves for setbacks, failures, lack of motivation, or setting unrealistic goals will not help us to grow. Forgiving ourselves and understanding that true growth takes time, energy, and nurturing will.

 

Goals work best when we remember that “little and often makes much.” Taking small, healthy, and realistic steps towards a larger goal can build habits and positively contribute to our success.

 

Start by doing a little of something often and see how you grow.

Mindsets Matter

Posted on January 28, 2020 at 12:10 AM

Happy New Year!

 

Flexibility in our world is so important. Being flexible in our thinking, attitude, and relationships can make a positive impact in your life. One of the key areas regarding our well-being and mental health is mindset. This month, I am sharing some of Dr. Dweck’s research on fixed and growth mindsets. Why does this matter? Check out her work here: https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/Impact


Let’s start off the new year with hope for the future, flexibility in our thinking, and love in our relationships!

Holiday Coping Resources

Posted on December 23, 2019 at 11:50 AM

The holiday season can be merry, fun, and joyful for some people and depressing, anxiety provoking, and stressful for others. There are so many dynamics with family, friends, and activities at work. Here are some interesting articles about coping with some common cause of holiday stress.

 

 

https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/managing-holiday-stress-stressed" target="_blank">Managing Holiday Stress for the Stressed


 

https://positiveprescription.com/improve-your-business-negotiation-skills-or-just-get-along-better-with-your-family/" target="_blank">Feasting Together Can Help You Succeed in Business and Life


 

https://positiveprescription.com/the-paradox-of-the-perfectly-wrapped-present/" target="_blank">The Paradox of the Perfectly Wrapped Present


 

 

https://meaningfulpsychservices.blogspot.com/2018/12/let-your-heart-be-light.html" target="_blank">Let Your Heart Be Light


 

https://meaningfulpsychservices.blogspot.com/2015/" target="_blank">Just Be

 


 

 

https://meaningfulpsychservices.blogspot.com/2013/" target="_blank">Helpful Strategies for Celebrating with Special Needs

 


Wait it Out

Posted on November 25, 2019 at 2:35 PM

Have you suffered from an anxiety disorder? Have you experienced a panic attack before? Have you felt like anxiety would never end?

 

Feeling anxious is incredibly uncomfortable. You may feel sweaty. You may feel that you are not getting enough air in. You may feel sick. You may feel like your heart is racing. You may feel a tight chest, tingly hands, or sweaty palms. You may think this will never end. You may think you’re dying. You may think that something has gone terribly wrong with your body.

 

Anxiety is a normal human emotion. We all experience anxious feelings during our lives. Anxiety is supposed to show up when we are in danger, such as being chased by a mountain lion or driving during a white-out blizzard. Anxiety is also supposed to show up when we need to be motivated to prepare for something, such as a test, job interview, or meeting someone new.

 

Anxiety becomes problematic when it shows up and we are not in danger or needing to be prepared. Anxiety is problematic when it shows up in a very loud and excessive, noisy way disproportionate to the situation (for example, having your mind “go blank” when taking a test).

 

One of the best things you can do to cope with anxiety is to just let it be.

 

Wait it out.

 

Anxiety will not last forever. It is temporary.

 

One of the best ways I have seen this described was on a recent episode of This is Us. Real anxiety symptoms and panic attacks have been depicted on this show. One of the characters disclosed how he suffered from anxiety and how his mom helped him. His mother would pour seltzer into a cup and say that this represents anxiety. All he had to do was wait for the bubbles to settle.

 

Wait for the bubble to settle. Wait for the anxiety to pass. It will- that is how your body was designed.

 

Of course, anxiety can pass quicker if you use other coping skills such as deep breathing or telling yourself you’re not in danger. The key here- it passes even if you do nothing.

 

So, just wait.

Building Bridges with The Good Place

Posted on October 23, 2019 at 4:30 PM

I love it when our mainstream entertainment teaches good lessons. Check out this interesting https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_lessons_in_bridge_building_from_the_good_place?utm_source=Greater+Good+Science+Center&utm_campaign=241d4682e5-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_GG_Newsletter_Oct_9_2019&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5ae73e326e-241d4682e5-50850427" target="_blank">article about building bridges between people based on what we learn from the TV show The Good Place.

After you read the article, challenge yourself to answer these questions:

Who can you can get to know better?

How can you connect with that person?

What prevents you from interacting with people you perceive as different?

How can suffering help you grow?

Starting School For Parents and Kids

Posted on September 24, 2019 at 11:50 AM

My oldest started Kindergarten earlier this month. While I have seen many families make this transition professionally, going through it yourself is so powerful and can be very different.


There is so much for families to cope with during this time. There are grown-up anxiety, worries, planning, scheduling, and emotions. There are child-size worries about making friends, who to sit with at lunch, how much work there will be, and when will they be able to go back home again.


Letting go of your child is good, healthy, and important. We can prepare them to be strong. We can teach them to be a hard-worker. We can show them how to work through conflict. We can model how to cope with big feelings. We can show them how to accept other children. We can demonstrate compassion. We can help them solve problems.


We will grow right along with them. As parents, we can grow stronger, more hard-working, and a better conflict resolver. We can cope with our big feelings more effectively. We can accept others, even when they are different. We can show compassion. We can be better problem solvers.


Thank you to all of the teachers and school staff who are working so hard to develop resilience and academic strengths in our children and who are keeping them safe.


Have a great school year!

When to Worry About Your Child's Worry

Posted on August 19, 2019 at 3:45 PM

Will you pick me up on time?


Can I sleep in your bed?


Am I going to get sick from touching that?


Are monsters real?


Do I have to go to school?


Has your child asked you one or more of these questions? These are examples of worries that are being communicated to a parent. How do we know which are normal and expected worries and which are excessive and disruptive? How should we respond to worries? Does my child need therapy?


For answers to these questions and detailed background information about anxiety, which is a normal human emotion, and anxiety disorders in children, watch this webinar for parents: https://adaa.org/webinar/consumer/when-worry-about-your-childs-worry


Wishing you all a healthy and brave start to the school year!


Do You Have Weeds in Your Life?

Posted on July 22, 2019 at 3:40 PM

We have weeds. Big, thick, and tall weeds. I have tried mulch, landscape fabric, and sprays, and it helps a good amount. This year, I thought I finally did it. No weeds! Yay!


I was wrong. After a few weeks, I saw the evidence. A few weeds either survived or new ones navigated their way through a tiny opening in the mulch and fabric. Untamed and free, they grow and grow to be thick and full and push out our pretty sunflowers attempting to grow.


Back to the drawing board...I think I will try to de-root the surviving weeds next and see if that helps.


Do you have any weeds in your life? Are you suppressing negative feelings? Are you avoiding taking risks to grow? Are you letting weeds grow wild? Are you forgetting to nurture your flowers?


Is anxiety, depression, anger, or jealousy taking over your life?


If your life feels full of weeds, look for the flowers trying to grow. Get at the root of the weeds and challenge yourself to face the scary and negative feelings. You may need to try different strategies to see what works best for you.


If needed, seek the support of a psychologist. We can help!

The Secret Life of Pets 2

Posted on June 24, 2019 at 5:35 AM

Do you believe the world is a terrible and frightening place? Are you nervous each time you go to a new place? Do you stress when your children separate from you? Are you scared to take risks? Do you have trouble relaxing?


These are just a few of the elements depicted in the new The Secret Life of Pets movie.

I won’t give you any spoilers in this post, so don’t worry!


Easier said than done, right? Worry is so common and a hard behavior to break. However, it is very treatable and it is possible to live a more worry-free life.


The Secret Life of Pets 2 depicts how anxiety can develop, how we can be overprotective of our loved ones, and how we can make our world really small. The movie also shows how important and beneficial challenging worries can be.


If you are a parent, child, or just movie-going lover, go ahead and see this movie. Then challenge yourself to face a fear!

The Importance of Play

Posted on May 22, 2019 at 4:35 PM

Play is so vital and important for both children and adults. For several years in my practice, I have observed many families rushing from school to multiple after school structured activities for multiple children with multiple conflicts. Kids express feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Our high achieving students struggle with balancing clubs, sports, and HW and when to turn down additional responsibilities. Parents struggle with which opportunities to take and pass on.

This Ted Talk illustrates the importance of play from a biological perspective and the relationship between play and mental health.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg-GEzM7iTk" target="_blank">http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg-GEzM7iTk

Whole Child Learning

Posted on April 22, 2019 at 1:40 PM

Yes, just yes! This month, I am sharing a presentation by Dr. Hynes, Superintendent of Schools in Patchogue-Medford. This talk provides some insight into whole child learning, mental health, physical health, social emotional growth, and raising children to be successful and healthy adults.

https://youtu.be/qczA5SLhxEY

Reassurance Seeking

Posted on March 27, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Reassurance seeking is a common anxiety symptom that both children and adults exhibit. When we feel anxious, it is a generally uncomfortable feeling, so we will want to try different things to alleviate the discomfort. One very common method is seeking reassurance to help calm the anxiety or worry.


Reassurance seeking can be done verbally or through physical behaviors.


Here are some verbal examples:

“Am I going to be ok?”

“Do you think she heard me?”

"Should I send this e-mail?”

“Do you think I sounded ok?”

“Are you sure you will be there to pick me up?”


Here are some behavioral examples:

Re-reading e-mails after they are sent

Replaying conversations in mind

Looking up health problems online

Checking to see if the door is locked

Seeking reassurance will help us feel better quickly if we receive the answer we want. How can this be a problem? Well, when we engage in seeking reassurance excessively (more than once), we are reinforcing anxiety.

There is a difference between reassurance seeking and information seeking. When we seek information, we are learning about a new topic, illness, schedule, plan, routine within an appropriate boundary.


For example, if your child is asking what time you will be picking them up from the birthday party because they forgot or they haven’t been told yet, this is not considered reassurance seeking. This is information seeking. If, however, your child presents with anxiety (possibly separation or social anxiety) and he/she is asking you what time they will be picked up multiple times and if you will remember to get them, this is reassurance seeking.

What do we do?

We limit seeking to information from approved and appropriate resources (e.g., avoiding misleading websites and forums). We limit re-playing conversations and re-reading messages, to once or not at all once originally checked. We stop asking others to participate in reinforcing our anxiety. For parents, make a plan with your child to discuss how the questions will be answered. We set a goal to answer each question only once so we can teach the child to learn to seek only information, but not extra reassurance.

There is so much to discuss around this topic. Let me know if you have questions or additional thoughts!

KonMari

Posted on February 21, 2019 at 12:25 AM

Have you been swept up by the KonMari method and reorganizing your entire house yet? About 6 weeks ago, my husband and I decided to try this new show on Netflix that follows a professional organizing consultant author who helps people get their possessions in order. This was purely for entertainment, but my personality loves to learn and pay attention to the method behind the madness.


I don’t want to spoil the series or the books or your interest in learning more, so I will try to focus on KonMari elements that spoke to me personally and professionally.


I was hooked after the first few minutes of the first episode. What followed was interesting. I learned new ways of folding, storing, organizing, and choosing what to save. I was most struck by the idea of simplifying life. For many people, living a more simplified life seems out of reach. Marie Kondo provided me some very practical, simple, easy to implement strategies that have helped simplify so much. As a psychologist, this idea makes so much sense and helps reduce stress and anxiety.


Specifically, KonMari advocates for a “one look” strategy. This means that when we open a drawer or cabinet, we can see everything in an organized way, access items easily, and know what we have and what we don’t. This helps prevent us from purchasing items we already own (which many of us have done!).


I am really interested in seeing how this method may help parents and children. So many families report feeling overwhelmed by toys. Have you ever said or thought something like this: “but you have so many things to do choose from, why are you bored/upset/mad?” to your kids? Kids can learn to organize and fold using these strategies as well. My 4-year-old can happily help with laundry and my 18-month-old can clean up some toys according to categories. It is important for children to be a part of the day-to-day household tasks, have responsibility for their belongings, and not be entertained all day (I.e., be bored and use their imagination).


Let’s look at the importance of simplifying our bedrooms and playrooms, our schedules and agendas, and ultimately, our choices.


Personally, I have re-discovered some possessions that still bring me joy. I have felt good about donating items to organizations that help people who may be in need of just the item that no longer brings me joy. I emptied multiple storage tubs that were holding items that I don’t need, would be better as a blessing for someone else, or were not doing me much good being hidden in a tub. My oldest son helped me to label a lot of items, which helps us to identify what is what and also teaches word recognition.


Consider trying out an episode or read Marie Kondo’s book. Maybe you will discover something very helpful!

Sesame Street

Posted on January 17, 2019 at 12:35 AM

Sunny days, sweeping the clouds away. Gosh, I really like Sesame Street. Maybe it’s the Nostalgia of familiar songs (“1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10..11, 12”;) and characters. Maybe it’s the high-quality programming that provides information useful and helpful to young children. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t have to worry about inappropriate ads or content when my children watch or read a Sesame Street story. Whatever it is, Sesame Street is an approved and celebrated aspect of childhood in my book.



Sesame Workshop has a meaningful way of tackling difficult and serious topics and can really make a difference with the population who views it. There are many families and children struggling with hunger and homelessness right now all over the world, including our own neighborhoods. Take a look at the https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/12/health/sesame-street-homeless-muppet-bn/index.html?utm_source=CNN+Five+Things&utm_campaign=3fa1cedc8e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_12_12_12_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da287d761-3fa1cedc8e-86111485" target="_blank">link to learn how Sesame Street helps kids to understand and cope with this part of life.



May you always find yourself with shelter, not be hungry, and be able to make this world a bit kinder.

Let Your Heart Be Light

Posted on December 17, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Let your heart be light. What do you think of when you hear this?



If you didn’t recognize this phrase, this is a song lyric in a popular holiday song. I got to thinking about the deeper meaning of this phrase within the context of well-being.



Is your heart light? What does that mean? What does a light heart look like? How can we describe, measure, or even observe a light heart?


 

For me, my heart feels light when I am tucking my children in bed at night and when I check on them when they are sleeping. There is a special and wholesome feeling watching children sleep brings us.


 

When do you feel that your heart is light?



Notice that the lyric says “let” rather than “feel.” This word choice suggests that we have more influence over our feelings than we think. We sometimes get caught up in a problem and we forget our internal capacity to cope and make healthy choices. We choose not to experience peace and joy. We choose unhealthy thinking patterns or to let our worry thoughts define us.


 

When you feel a light heart, are your troubles indeed out of sight?


 

Perhaps we can have a light heart even when we have troubles and struggles. Our mindset can make a big difference in our day-to-day mood. Allow yourself to breath and manage stressors. Your heart may be lighter and fuller.

 

Pay attention to those warm feelings. Look for the good. Focus on your ability to handle difficult situations.



Happy holidays!

Be Thankful

Posted on November 15, 2018 at 12:55 AM

Happy fall to all! I hope you have taken the time to notice the beautiful and varying colors around you during this harvest season. As we approach thanksgiving and the holiday season, let us take time to experience and show gratitude for aspects of our lives we are thankful for. Maybe it’s a friend we speak to every day, or a cousin we rarely see but often think about. Perhaps we are thankful for the ability to bring our children to school, purchase a cup of coffee, or stay home from work when we are ill.

I encourage you to look for the good in the bad, the happy in the sad, and the meaning in stress.

Have a happy, healthy, and meaningful holiday season.


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