Connecting With Your Spirit

What is spirituality?
While it is difficult to define spirituality because the term has different meanings for different people, one common theme is that spirituality increases awareness of your inner self on all levels and establishes a sense of universal interconnectedness.

What are the benefits of spirituality?
Those who have a spiritual practice regularly integrated into their lives are reported to have better mental health than those who do not. Studies have shown that regardless of faith, those who engage in regular spiritual practice show lower levels of nueroticism and stress as well as higher levels of extraversion. It is also reported that spirituality benefits overall health. Researchers have found that there is a link between spirituality and healing. According to a study conducted on 126,000 participants, those who engaged in weekly spiritual practices visited doctors less often. Those who were spiritual were less likely to become ill and had quicker illness recovery time (ranging from colds to severe physical/mental illnesses). Studies have also shown that spirituality protects the brain from depression.
Why is there a link between spirituality and health?

Religion and faith provide a social support system that one can participate in by giving to the community and receiving from the community. Being involved in a religious community can relieve stress because members know they have people who can support and encourage them. The social support system is strengthened by sharing common beliefs, which promotes bonding with others in the spiritual community. Lower stress levels, positive affirmation, and a sense of belongingness all contribute to better overall health, both physically and mentally.

How do I develop a spiritual practice?
Although religion is often what comes to mind when one thinks of spirituality, it does not mean that spirituality is strictly religion-oriented. Aside from being active in a religious community, you can practice secular spiritual activities that allow you to consciously connect with your inner self. You can develop a spiritual practice by incorporating mindfulness of your thoughts and actions. You can do this by meditating or reflecting on your day by keeping a journal. Also, exploring and learning new things can help you develop your personal spirituality because it increases your self-awareness. Self-awareness is important because it can help you identify positive and negative aspects of your personal life that need improvement.  When you are able find an outlet to eliminate the negative aspects through spiritual practice, you can achieve higher sense of inner peace.
Discover more spirituality resources in UB’s Wellness Directory.
Borchard, T. (2010). Spirituality and Prayer Relieve Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/03/21/spirituality-and-prayer-relieve-stress/
Pedersen, T. (2014). How Spirituality Protects the Brain Against Depression.Psych Central. Retrieved on February 20, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/01/19/how-spirituality-protects-the-brain-against-depression/64698.html
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). 3 Ways to Develop a Spiritual Practice. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/06/19/3-ways-to-develop-a-spiritual-practice/
Wood, J. (2012). Spirituality Linked to Better Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 20, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/08/21/spirituality-linked-to-better-mental-health/43427.html

UB Therapist Spotlight: Ben Fogel, LCSW

benBen Fogel is a licensed clinical social worker who is experienced in providing psychotherapy to individuals, families and groups. Ben’s approach to therapy values the unique needs of each client using a strengths-based, client-centered philosophy, and he works with each client to establish treatment goals that are meaningful and attainable. He believes strongly in promoting therapy as a normal, proactive way of staying healthy, relieving pain and gaining insight. He works from UB’s Chicago downtown counseling office.

View Ben’s Full Bio

What made you become a therapist?

Growing up, my father was a therapist and my mother was an administrator in public health care. Not surprisingly, mental health was heavily promoted in my family and being in therapy was seen as a proactive way to stay in good shape, both mentally and physically. It was with that foundation that I later discovered my skills as a therapist. Helping clients develop insight into their situations and struggles, and begin to make the changes they want in their lives is incredibly rewarding to me.

What are your specialties?

Helping people navigate life changes/transitions. Working with couples to re-establish intimacy and connection. Helping caregivers manage care for loved ones while also caring for themselves.

Did you have a career before becoming a therapist?

I’ve worked for many years as a clinician at the Alzheimer’s Association, where I work with people with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as their caregivers. Caregivers and seniors are a group of truly remarkable people with so much collective wisdom and energy, but whose struggles and losses are often neglected by our broader society.

Why do you believe that counseling can help?

The act of sharing your story with a nonjudgmental listener who truly understands and respects you can be extraordinarily healing and powerful. Often, while sharing thoughts and feelings about the issues that led a client to seek therapy, the client and therapist can come to some conclusions about what led the client to get stuck in the first place and how to best move forward and feel whole again.

Why is it important to seek counseling?

Whether one has decided to enter therapy because of a crisis at home or work, or is doing reasonably well but wants a sounding board in order to find more contentment and happiness, therapy can be a great fit. Each client sets goals for therapy with input from the therapist, and the treatment is uniquely tailored for each person. Making the first step by acknowledging you’d like some help can be scary, but you’ll be glad you did.

Favorite Self Care Activities:

Spending time with my wife, walking our recently-adopted beagle, an occasional massage.

What You Need to Know About: The Benefits of Positive Social Support

What is positive social support? 

We all have connections with other people in our lives, ranging from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. Regardless of what category they fit in, the people who provide positive social support are the people who have a positive influence on your life because they are a part of it.

What are the benefits of positive social support? 

Positive social support is linked with mental, emotional, and physical health. Brain imaging studies have shown that positive social support is extremely important and effective for depression recovery. With reduced isolation and an increased sense of belonging & support, negative thought patterns will diminish. Social support has its benefits even for those without depression, since it can help prevent negative thought patterns from festering too long. Those who have a positive influence in your life will help you find solutions to your problems and show you different perspectives you may not have considered before.
Social connections can also have an impact on your physical health. The habits of those who you choose to surround yourself with can have an influence on your daily behaviors. It is important to associate with those who have a healthy lifestyle, rather than an unhealthy lifestyle, because their influence may impact your daily decisions. For example, if you want to stay fit, having a gym buddy (or a supportive friend who won’t tempt you to go out to eat pizza instead of going to the gym) will help you stay on track and reach your goal. Researchers have also found that not only does the receiving party benefit from social support, but the support-giving party benefits as well. Giving support to someone you care about activates the reward center of the brain and reduces stress.

How can I develop a positive social support system?

Connecting with the right people and keeping negative influences at bay is important in order to develop a positive support system. In addition to helping you develop a positive social support system, therapists can also provide positive support by helping you identify your goals and providing guidelines to help you reach them.
Discover more social support resources in UB’s Wellness Directory.
Click here to browse Urban Balance therapists.


UB Therapist Spotlight: Leslie Holley, LPC

leslie holleyLeslie is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who earned her Masters in Community Counseling for DePaul University. She offers individual counseling to clients suffering from trauma, anxiety disorders, depression, post baby issues, and substance abuse. She also works with clients who are experiencing significant life changes and are seeking personal growth. Leslie also offers couples counseling for clients facing relational problems, such as communication and co-dependency, as well as counseling services for children and adolescents. She works from UB’s Chicago downtown counseling office.

View Leslie’s Full Bio

What made you become a therapist?

It is hard to answer this question because I was guided to this decision after several life events. I believe I have been on a long journey, trying to find my authetic self and counseling allows me to live in my purpose. After working in music industry doing marketing after undergrad I quickly became unfulfilled. I did not feel like I was connecting with others or making a difference. Counseling allows me to grow as an individual while also helping someone else reach their authenticity.

What are your specialties?

CBT, Depression, Anxiety, Adolescents & Children, Couples, and Life Transitions.

Did you have a career before becoming a therapist?

Yes, I was a field marketing representative in the music industry doing sales and marketing. I also was an event planner for awhile.

Why do you believe that counseling can help?

Counseling can be helpful in many ways and effects us all differently. I believe the key word is connection. Too often, in our daily lives, we do not get a chance to truly be ourselves with others. To have an environment where you can freely share, without judgement and feel heard, is priceless.

Why is it important to seek counseling?

We all need help some of the time. It is okay to seek help when you need it. Life has a way of throwing all of us unexpected twists and turns. To have an added support, to listen and provide effective tools to help us through tough events can have long lasting positive effects.

Favorite Self Care Activities:

Hot yoga, journaling, time with friends & family.

seasonal affected disorder counseling chicago

Feeling SAD? 3 Ways to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

by UB therapist Alyssa Yeo, LPC.

It’s February in Chicago, and that usually only means one thing… cold. It’s cold, it’s snowy, and it’s a rare occasion when the sun shines.

For many, this is the most difficult time of year.  The lack of sunshine, amount of time spent indoors, and increased stress at work or at home can leave you feeling more depressed, irritable or tired than usual. Unlike major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) symptoms appear during late fall or early winter, and dissipate during the spring and summer months when there’s more sun. While the length and specific timing of SAD may vary from person to person, symptoms usually affect individuals at the same time each year.  The symptoms of winter-onset SAD may include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

These symptoms may impact your ability to function at work or in social situations, which can trigger unhelpful feelings toward yourself and a destructive cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. Research has found that you may be at an increased risk for SAD if you are a woman between the ages of 15 and 55, or if you have a family history of depression.

While you may shrug off your feelings as the normal winter blues, if you think about it, these negative symptoms can account for one-third to one-half of your entire year! Instead of hibernating and succumbing to misery this winter, here are three things you can do to help improve your mood and energy.

Exercise: Exercise is a proven method for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and is an effective way to boost your mood and stay in shape. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins — a chemical that triggers positive feelings and reacts with receptors in your brain to reduce your perception of pain. Any type of exercise can produce these results, and committing to a regular routine is a simple way to combat symptoms of SAD.

Although exercise may be the last thing you want to do during the cold winter months, you can increase your motivation by partnering up with a loved one or friend, or by being creative about the types of workouts you do. You can check out indoor exercise programs you’ve been meaning to try, like a yoga studio in your neighborhood or a class at your gym.

Talk Therapy: You don’t have to have a major life event or traumatic experience to benefit from therapy.  Working with a counselor is a healthy way to process some of the thoughts and emotions that are causing you to feel down. In fact, research has shown that verbalizing feelings can have a significant effect on the brain, making your sadness, anger or pain less intense.

Therapy can help you learn tools and techniques for identifying negative thought patterns, so you can start to regain control of your mood and emotions.  So while you may not be able to control the weather, you can control the way you respond and process your thoughts and emotions during these winter months.

Light Therapy: Even though the harsh cold is difficult to cope with, SAD is believed to be more related to the lack of sunlight than the actual temperature. Experts have found that in darker months the body increases its production of melatonin, a chemical that helps regulate sleep and can cause symptoms of depression.

One proven way to combat this effect is with light therapy (also known as phototherapy), which works by sitting close to a special “light box” for 15 minutes to one hour per day. The boxes provide a level of light intensity that can imitate the light we receive on a bright sunny day.  Studies show that bright light works to stimulate the cells in the retina that connect to a part of the brain that helps control circadian rhythms. Activating this area of the brain can restore a normal circadian rhythm and thus banish seasonal symptoms .

Light boxes are shown to be most effective when used in the morning, at approximately the same time every day. Although you have to keep your eyes open when the light is on, you should not stare directly into the box. Most people find time to use light boxes while reading, eating, or doing work.

Please note that light boxes are not for everyone, and there have been individual side effects reported. Be sure to do your own research before purchasing a light box, and consult with your physician if you are unsure about how it may impact you.

1 Mayo Clinic (2014, Sept 12). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Retrieved from


2 Blaszczak, J. (2005). 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved from


3 Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Primary care companion to

the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 6(3), 104. Retrieved from


4 Wolpert, S. (2007, June 21). Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects in the Brain; UCLA

Neuroimaging Study Supports Ancient Buddhist Teachings. UCLA Newsroom. Retrieved from


5 Miller, C.M. (2012, Dec 21). Seasonal affective disorder: bring on the light. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved

from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/seasonal-affective-disorder-bring-on-the-light-201212215663

What You Need to Know About: Anger Management

What is anger?

Anger is an emotion that occurs as a natural response to frustration or feeling like others do not care or respect us. The spectrum of anger ranges from slight irritation to extreme rage.

What are symptoms associated with anger?

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Flushed/red face
  • Protruding veins
  • Clenched teeth
  • Stiff posture

What can I do to manage my anger?

  • Try to figure out what triggers your anger and develop strategies to prevent those triggers from being activated.
  • Re-evaluate your thinking process to see situations from a different perspective.
  • Perform relaxation exercises: take deep breaths, imagine relaxing scenery, practice yoga, etc.
  • Learn better communication skills. This can include listening to what others have to say before reacting and communicating your needs more clearly to others.

At what point should I seek help?

If you feel that your anger is sudden and/or beyond your control, you should seek help. If your anger is also damaging your social or work relationships, it is advised to seek help as well. Anger management counseling and therapy specialized for anger will assist in controlling your anger.

What is the difference between anger management classes and therapy specialized for anger?

Anger management counseling will help you learn what causes anger and help you identify what situations specifically cause anger in your life. Anger management teaches exercises and strategies to cope with anger, typically through a 6-12 session program.

More in-depth therapy for anger management provides a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of your life to determine the influences in your life that may contribute to anger. Therapy will be tailored more towards analyzing your life choices and provide individual strategies that are more effective for your unique situation.

Search UB Therapists who specialize in anger management.

Discover more anger management resources in UB’s Wellness Directory.

Ponton, L. (2007). Anger Management. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/anger-management/0001093

Tomasulo, D. (2011). Anger management or combination of therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/08/05/anger-management-or-combination-of-therapy/

Therapist spotlight: Kiya Immergluck, Ph. D., LCPC

Kiya As a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist, Kiya has supported couples and family members to improve communication in order to heal all of their relationships. Kiya has extensive experience working with people to move beyond self-destructive behaviors.  As a Certified Addictions Counselor, Kiya has helped people to admit their issues with addictive substances and activities as a first step towards developing a healthier lifestyle.  Kiya also makes a special outreach to the LGBT community and to creative individuals. She works from UB’s Chicago River West counseling office.

View Kiya’s Full Bio

What made you become a therapist?

I started out as a school teacher and realized early on that I cared much more about the emotional health of the children than any academic requirements. I became a school counselor and then a school psychologist. When I went into Private Practice, I chose to concentrate on working with adults.

What are your specialties?

Addictions, Self-Esteem, Depression, Anxiety, Couple Counseling, LGBT issues, Creativity, Energy Work.

Did you have a career before becoming a therapist?

I was an elementary school teacher, then a Special Education teacher, a school counselor, and a school psychologist.

Why do you believe that counseling can help?

I know it can help because I have counseled hundreds of people throughout my career and I’ve watched them move and grow through the process of being heard, respected, supported, and understood.

Why is it important to seek counseling?

There are many times in life when situations can become so overwhelming that a person needs someone safe and objective to talk to. Friends and family don’t always have the time or the skills to deal with deep issues that may impact a person’s ability to cope with life stresses.

Favorite Self Care Activities:

Hanging our with friends, playing with my cat, prayer, reading, writing, and painting portraits.

grief counseling chicago

UB’s Leslie Holley & Joyce Marter Quoted in “Deconstructing Grief”

Grief: Ways to help yourself and others

By Katie Morell for Chicago Health Online

Grief is a topic difficult to discuss, but it’s universally felt. Intense grief can surface from a variety of circumstances; from the death of a loved one to the feeling of loss over disastrous current events.


Processing grief can be difficult. Some people prefer not to admit that they are hurting while others can’t stop talking about their feelings. Therefore, the symptoms associated with grief can come in a variety of forms.

Emotional symptoms include feelings of sadness, loss, apathy and fear.

“You might not feel like doing things; most notably things that you used to find pleasurable,” says Joyce Marter, LCPC, founder and CEO of Urban Balance, a counseling practice with six locations throughout the Chicago area. “You could feel numb or confused or frustrated and ask yourself why this happened.”

Physiological symptoms can range from changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or hypersomnia [excessive sleep]) to overeating or undereating. And physical signs of grief can include migraines, headaches and stomachaches.

“You may have pains in the body or feel an aching for that person,” says Marter, who lost her mother in 2008 to a brain tumor. “I’ve felt the physical craving of wanting to hold my mother.”

Appetite fluctuations can also be a sign of grief, says Fran Nathanson, a licensed social worker and bereavement team leader at Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter in Glenview. “If someone is continuing to gain weight or lose weight unintentionally, that could be an indication,” she says.

Read Full Article


What You Need to Know About: Couples Counseling

There seems to be a dismal outlook for marriages these days, with the overall declining marriage rate and the unfaltering high divorce rate. Despite these grim statistics, your marriage does not have to contribute to them. Generally speaking, some married couples may neglect to prioritize putting in the effort to continually learn and personally grow with their partner like they did before they were married. As a result, the connection between them dampens, feelings weaken, and dissatisfaction festers which can eventually lead to frequent arguments, lack of communication, or other marital issues. If such problems are not addressed, chances are they will only accumulate and worsen over time. This is why Urban Balance’s Aaron Karmin specializes in marriage counseling. As a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, he offers individuals and couples the tools necessary improve their marriage, regardless of the stage of the marriage or the severity of the marital issues. To give an overview of how therapy can assist with improving your marriage, Aaron answered several questions you may possibly have about marriage counseling.

How do you combat the stigma of couples counseling?

I always find it helpful to educate couple that pursuing counseling is not a sign of weakness or failure. The stigma of therapy has diminished across generations, but seeking counseling is still mentioned in whispers. All humans struggle with their feelings and can benefit from psychological guidance.  I think mental health should be addressed on par with physical health. We get an annual physical, but most do not see the same value in routine mental health checkups. Seeking counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness. We all need help from time to time and it’s a sign of strength an intelligence to know when to seek support. Someone who has skills and the right tools, is an asset, not a liability. If I have a leaky faucet and the only tool I have is a hammer, just banging on my pipes is only going to make the problem worse. The pipes burst, my basement floods and the foundation cracks. Or I could just call the plumber and he gives me a new tool called a wrench, so next time I have a leak I can fix it myself. Counseling offers new tools and professional instruction. If I have a bad tooth, I go to the dentist; if my car breaks down, I go to the mechanic. We get professional support for all kinds of problems and mental health is no different.

What should couples expect from their initial counseling session?

I think it is best to use the first appointment to determine what the relationship goals are. I do this by gathering information on their personal development and relationship history. There are many therapeutic approaches used when meeting with a couple.  I personally like to evaluate what approaches to use based on the needs and style of the couple.  There isn’t one “right approach” to doing therapy as there isn’t one way to live.  I provide education on what I have found that is useful in relationships. I encourage the couple  to try new ways of behaving and communicating.  I like to learn from them about what they really want in their relationship.  I am very interested in what each partner has to say about what has led to their struggle or becoming stuck.  I want to know what they have done to change their situation, what has worked and what has not worked.  I am careful not to duplicate what hasn’t worked. I always give some background on myself so they know that I have been providing couples counseling for over 10 years and have worked all along the relationship spectrum: dating, premarital, married, divorced, second marriages. I let them know that I am an active therapist in that I ask questions and offer consistent feedback to guide the session’s focus. I reassure them that I utilize an integrative style – applying a variety of approaches to best meet the needs of each couple and their concerns. It is my belief that the counseling process is one in which all parties are actively involved. I emphasize the importance of forming a connection with your partner. This means there is an implied understanding of values, a common frame of reference, a series of shared experience and a sense that you are both on the same page. These connections form the bonds that foster trust and promote intimacy.

At what point in a relationship should couples seek counseling? Is there ever a time that is too early?

In my mind it is never too early to meet with a counselor. We can all benefit from a skilled psychotherapist who can see patterns emerge from subtle signs and apply tools to help us change. Most clients seek counseling when they come to realize that their way of moving through life is not working. They have begun to see that it wasn’t bad luck or someone else’s fault. They have started to look back on a lifetime of lashing out at problems. Instead of using their adult judgment to find solutions, they have come to the realization that they cannot manage their problems by themselves anymore. They need a guide to continue their journey without scorching the earth behind them. They need a new set of choices, a new way of moving through life. I respond by giving them choices they didn’t know they had. They find these new choices empowering and encouraging.

Is couples counseling a “quick fix” or a long-term commitment? 

Counseling doesn’t need to be a long process, especially if you feel you’re starting out with a very solid foundation and only need some clarifications and goal-setting. For some people who are a “higher conflict” couple or have deeper issues to contend with, the process could take a bit longer. I think there is still a myth that therapy takes years. I hear many people say that they are too busy and are unable to commit the time.  Yet, most clients are seeking counseling for discrete, circumstantial issues and it doesn’t take years of therapy to get to the bottom of problems.  They don’t need to talk endlessly about how they feel or about childhood memories.  I agree that problems take time to create, and take time to fix. However if therapy is taking years, either the client isn’t doing their homework or the therapist isn’t doing their job.

Should couples have a pre-determined plan for their first session, or should they attend counseling with an open mind?

I would say there is value in both. When clients come into my office and they have a pre-determined plan for their first session, I always ask some focusing questions, such as:

  • “What is the worst part about it?”
  • “How does that worst part make me feel?”
  • “When else have I felt this way?”
  • “What am I trying achieve?”
  • “What scares me about this?”
  • “How will this affect my life in the long term?”
  • “What would be an ideal outcome?”
  • “What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?”

By answering these questions, I discover that sometimes the pre-determined plan isn’t really the issue. These questions help to make internalized, unconscious, unacceptable feelings conscious and concrete. This allows the couple to find relief from their conflicting logical and emotional reactions, which helps the session and relationship to move forward.

Should couples, young and old, only seek counseling if there is a severe problem in their relationship?

My belief is that if you think you might need counseling, you probably do! Relationship counseling is under-utilized. Counselors should be consulted sooner, rather than later! Studies show that the average couple doesn’t seek professional help until six to seven years have passed since the relationship started to go downhill. Sometimes a couple is on the verge of divorce before they begin working with me, and they always wish that they had started counseling sooner. Going to see a mental health professional even when you experience occasional signs has value because if left unaddressed, they grow in frequency and intensity over time.

Are there any common warning signs that indicate a couple should seek counseling?

Below are 5 warning signs that indicate a couples is in need of counseling.

  • Control: Control can start out small and build over time so that you hardly notice it. Control can mean determining who you can see, where you can go, what you can wear and even how you think. Control isn’t just about permission. It can also be about fear. If you find yourself doing things to avoid fights or hiding parts of your life that might set off your partner, you’re in a controlling relationship. Control is dangerous and effects you mentally and emotionally.
  • Jealousy: Jealousy is one of the most confusing unhealthy relationship warning signs to interpret. Because you’re human, seeing your partner get jealous can be flattering and make you feel wanted. The occasional twinge of jealousy even happens in healthy relationships. When your partner gets jealous on a regular basis or his/her jealousy leads to anger or controlling behaviors, it’s a warning sign that you may be headed for problems. No matter how it might make you feel, jealousy does not equal love. It stems from insecurity and a desire to control you.
  • Isolation: Your partner wants to control you, and she/he might do that by trying to keep you to her/himself. Often this process happens slowly so that you don’t realize you’ve lost contact with most of your friends and family members. If your partner has rules about who you are allowed to see or asks you to stop hanging out with your friends and family, it’s likely an isolation technique.
  • Anger: Anger is one of the most dangerous unhealthy relationship warning signs. There’s a fine line between losing her/his temper and punching the wall and losing her/his temper and punching you. Anger often accompanies violence, but it can also serve as a springboard for name calling, jealously, control, intimidation and other abusive behaviors.
  • Unhappiness: If you’re not sure if your partner manipulates you, tries to control you or has inappropriate anger, you can gauge the health of your relationship by determining if you’re happy. Are you free to lead you own life, independent of the relationship? Do you have your own identity, friends, hobbies and interests? Do you feel loved and supported more often that mistreated or belittled.

If a couple believes they have open communication and solid trust, but they are not connecting sexually, should they seek help from a couples counselor?

It can be very beneficial to meet with a counselor to discuss how a sexual disconnection impacts a relationship. Even if people are not sexual, they still need affection. We are touch-oriented creatures. If we are not touched, we become irritable, anxious, and depressed. Some people may not be as sexual as they once were, but they can remain intensely physical. There is a complex relationship between love and desire—between a couple’s emotional life together and their sexual life together, and these don’t always correspond. What is emotionally satisfying isn’t necessarily sexually exciting. The worry and responsibility couples’ feel for their partner can negate the spontaneity and selfishness required for sex. That’s one reason why a relationship can have open communication and trust, but still endure concerns with sex. A therapist can engage the partners to uncover and free themselves from their erotic blocks.

Do you have any advice for couples looking to ensure they grow together, rather than apart?

Connecting with your partner has one variable that is not found in any other relationship, romance. Romance involves the expression of sincere loving feelings and is the fuel that feeds the connection in our love life. Loving romantic gestures can be very dramatic or very small. However,  if you constantly hold back what you really feel, then you may convince yourself that you don’t have a romantic side. But anyone who is capable of falling in love, and who wants to enter a relationship, has the ability to be romantic.  There are an endless variety of little things partners can do to connect with each other on a daily basis. Performing small, simple acts regularly can have a dramatic impact upon being connected with your partner.

Many psychological professionals advocate marriage counseling. Should unmarried couples seek counseling as well? If so, why?

Here are five reasons to why unmarried couples should seek counseling:

1) Strengthen Communication Skills: Being able to effectively listen, truly hear and validate the other’s position is a skill that isn’t necessarily a “given” for many people. Couples that really communicate effectively can discuss and resolve issues when they arise more effectively. You can tune up your talking and listening skills. This is one of the most important aspects of emotional connection between couples.

2) Discuss Role Expectations: It’s incredibly common for couples to never really have discussed who will be doing what in the relationship. This can apply to time, finances, chores, sexual intimacy, career and more. Having an open and honest discussion about what each of you expect from the other in a variety of areas leads to fewer surprises and upsets down the line.

3) Learn Conflict Resolution Skills: Nobody wants to think that they’ll have conflict in their relationship. The reality is that “conflict” can range from disagreements about who will take out the trash to emotionally charged arguments about serious issues – and this will probably be part of a couple’s story at one time or another. There are ways to effectively de-escalate conflict that are highly effective and can decrease the time spent engaged in the argument.

4) Explore Spiritual Beliefs: For some this is not a big issue – but for others a serious one. Differing spiritual beliefs are not a problem as long as it’s been discussed and there is an understanding of how they will function in the with regards to practice, beliefs, family, holiday celebrations etc.

5) Identify any Problematic Family of Origin Issues: We learn so much of how to “be” from our parents, siblings and other early influences. If one of the partners experienced a high conflict or unloving household, it can be helpful to explore that in regards to how it might play out in the relationship. Couples who have an understanding of the existence of any problematic conditioning around how relationships work, are usually better at disrupting repetition of these learned behaviors.

Is a long distance relationship sustainable, particularly in regards to a major life change (i.e. choosing to continue education or accept employment at a great distance from one’s partner)?

Long-distance relationships can work depending on the couple. If the long-distance is for a “doable” amount of time (which will be different for everyone), couples will desire each another more. However, if the long-distance is for too long, you aren’t able to see each other and feel deprived, then desire dies. In order for any relationship to succeed, one must allow their partner to have the time and space to pursue his/her interests. Through this space or absence, we use our imagination and begin to long for our partner- two huge components of desire. One way that seems guaranteed to create absence and build desire, is distance. When we see our partner as independent, confident and self-sustaining, we become aroused and filled with desire for our partner. There’s nothing quite like wanting something and not being able to have it to stimulate the libido. However, it all depends on your circumstance. It all depends on your relationship. For some people, distance is less trial, more tyranny. Separation leads to insurmountable complication. Absence makes the heart weaker, not stronger.

How do young couples (referring to both age and length of commitment) maintain a healthy relationship after the initial spark of attraction has faded?

I believe that a healthy relationship is based on maintaining connections. When you form a connection with your partner, it means there is an implied understanding of values, a common frame of reference, a series of shared experience and a sense that you are both on the same page. These connections form the bonds that foster trust and promote intimacy. Having a connection is like cooking a meal. All the parts combine to create something new and distinct. No different than all the flavors that make meal, all the traits two people share combine to build a connection. We long to connect with and to be recognized by another person; to feel that we are seen and heard. But too often we look for this need to be satisfied by only one person. Caretaking is powerful in a loving relationship, but it can be an anti-aphrodisiac. There is a big difference between neediness and desire. Being desired is great, but being needed shuts down romance. Love seeks closeness, but desire needs space to thrive.

Is the idea that young people should “play the field” before settling down detrimental to collegiate/post-collegiate relationships?

If we want to get better at something, whether it is a relationship, a sport, a hobby, whatever – we need to invest more time, energy, attention and practice in the thing we want to improve. If you want to improve your culinary skills, you can’t do that by playing tennis. With something like a relationship, why do people think you make it better by doing the exact opposite? Staying faithful and committed require self-control, discipline and the ability to delay gratification. Maybe instant gratification satisfies people momentarily, but that’s what causes this ongoing unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. Marriage isn’t this test of the waters with someone. That’s what dating before marriage is for.

If you could give one piece of advice to a couple that has never attended a counseling session before, what would it be?

Throughout our lives, we improve our skills by taking “courses” and practicing what we learn. If you played sports, you were coached in the basics and practiced them until they became rote. At work, you were shown how to perform tasks, then got better and better as you repeated the process. To learn cooking or outdoor grilling, you followed recipes or observed someone with known abilities, then added your personal touches. Having a healthy relationship is another skill, one that gets little or no attention until failure to do so results in trouble. However, if you are considering entering counseling, you need to first think about the long term commitment required. If you are not committed to being open, honest, and willing to try new things…therapy may be unsuccessful. The goal is to help people make thoughtful decisions. It is most helpful to have a person who can listen to the problems that face you, and then provide unbiased feedback. Your therapist will be like a moderator, not a critic. This is  someone who is not biased and is hoping to help you resolve the matters at hand. The sessions may be intense, difficult, and emotional. The work accompanying therapy will require effort and it isn’t easy. I can promise you that if you find a competent therapist you put forth the time, effort, and commitment to the work, you will find yourself where you need to be. Arguments, differences of opinion, and sometimes extra-relationship affairs, don’t necessarily lead to splitting up. How you as a couple deal with these issues is most important.  Being kind, emotionally giving, and caring towards your partner will definitely improve your relationship.

If a person thinks that couples counseling would be beneficial to their relationship, but their partner disagrees, how should that couple proceed?

I would encourage the motivated partner to begin counseling on his/her own. Working together is a plus, but one partner can begin and the other can benefit even if they are not in therapy. You can practice new ideas and behaviors outside of the therapy hour and return to discuss what has been valuable and what has not. I have found that if one partner makes some positive changes and shares what has been learned, the other partner frequently becomes motivated to make his/her own positive changes. Hopefully the reluctant partner then becomes willing to attend counseling.

It is important to keep in mind that counseling does not indicate failure or weakness. All couples have room for improvement in their own unique areas, but most tend to seek help once the problems have worsened. This is why it is never too early to go to therapy. You don’t have to have a predetermined plan beforehand and counseling does not have to be a long process. With the right attitude and willingness to learn, you will be able to establish a deeper sense of trust and intimacy with your spouse that will rekindle the spark in your marriage.


The Secret to Successful Sleepers

By Therapist Andrea Watkins, LCSW

Being a new mother, I have a much better appreciation for sleep. I’ve never been a champion sleeper and I have tried so.many.things in my years to settle my brain down. Counting sheep, warm drink before bed, reading, melatonin, even straight up sleeping pills… Nothing worked! My biggest problem is my restless mind, ruminating or over-analyzing the day (yes therapists do it too!) I always say that I wish I could “turn off” my brain. So I thought I should try to practice what I preach to my clients and try some relaxation techniques.

Before I let you in on my sleeping secret, let’s talk about the benefits of sleep. It is AWESOME for our body, both physically and mentally. Sleeping is our body’s time to reboot itself. Good sleep has been linked to better control of diabetes and weight management, increasing brain function, improving the immune system, lower risks of heart disease and mental health concerns (Shaw, 2010). So let’s start practicing better sleep!

So here’s the routine:

1) Find some type of soothing sound, music, white noise. I use a free app on my iPad called “Ambiance Lite” that has tons of different sounds that you can mix or keep alone. I use the “melody” sound. Tip: If you have a hard time focusing, choose a song/sound that keeps your interest and not simply the same continuous sound, like a fan/white noise sound.)

2) Set a night timer on the app for 30 minutes.

3) Make yourself comfortable in bed and relax your body. Close your eyes and let go of any tension in your body. You can do this by quickly “scanning” from head to toe, making sure you are fully relaxed.

4) Listen to the sound of the music. Let this be the only thing that has your attention, no thoughts of yesterday, today or tomorrow. If you notice yourself drifting to one of these thoughts, quietly center your mind around the music. Listen to the ups and downs, the rhythmic sounds or other variations in the music. If you would like, you can visualize an image or scene with listening to the sound (ocean sound = visualize a beach scene.)

5) Make sure your breathing is slow, controlled and not too shallow. Your heartbeat should be steady and regular.

6) Eventually (and hopefully) you’ll be able to drift into slumber within the 30 minutes. If not, repeat these steps for another 15-30 minutes.

Okay, I’d be lying if I said this was easy for me. It took about a month for this to work. I did this routine every night, with a lot of difficulty keeping my outside thoughts away. The first night took me almost an hour to fall asleep! But sticking with this routine, each night was a little better, and soon enough, I’d put the night timer on 15 minutes and I wouldn’t even remember the music stopping! If you keep with it, it will work. Bad sleeping habits are usually etched into our sleep routine, so we need to rewrite how we sleep, relax and tune out everything around us, and this takes practice!

Best of luck and happy sleeping :)


Shaw, G. (2010). The Healing Power of Sleep. WebMD.com. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-benefits-10/healing-power-sleep?page=1.