brentwood counseling associates blog

Getting Out of the Story in Your Head

We all have a story in our heads. It’s the narrative we tell ourselves about who we are, what we’re capable of, and how we fit into the world. It’s the lens through which we view our experiences and interpret the world. While our story can be a source of strength and motivation, it can also hold us back and keep us stuck in limiting beliefs and negative thought patterns. So, how do we get out of the story in our heads? Here are some tips:

Recognize Your Story

The first step to getting out of the story in your head is to recognize it. Pay attention to the thoughts and beliefs that arise when facing a challenge or a difficult situation. What story are you telling yourself about the problem? Are you seeing it through a lens of fear, self-doubt, or negativity? By becoming aware of your story, you can challenge it and see it for what it is – a narrative you’ve constructed based on your past experiences, beliefs, and perceptions.

Does it help?

Once you recognize your story, you can explore how helpful it is. Rather than challenging whether or not your story is true, ask yourself, “Does it move me toward who I want to be?” “Is it improving my relationships?” “Is it improving my satisfaction with life?” Alternatively, “Is it bogging me down in negativity?” “Is it damaging my relationships?” “Is it making me less productive?” When we get fully enmeshed in our inner narrative, it can begin to look like it is the Truth, limiting our ability to engage our world effectively.

Focus on the Present Moment

Part of the way that we are limited by our negative stories is that they keep us stuck in the past or worrying about the future. If you observe your story and determine it is not helping you, you can refocus on what is right in front of you. By focusing on the present moment, we can let go of our story and experience life as it is without the filter of our narrative. Practice mindfulness or meditation to help you stay present and let go of distracting thoughts.

Take Action

Once we are refocused on the present moment, it is time to take action. Instead of getting caught up in your thoughts and beliefs, focus on what you can do right now to move forward. Take small steps towards your goals, even if they feel uncomfortable or scary. By taking action, you can break free from the limitations of your story and create a new narrative based on your experiences and achievements.

Practice Self-Compassion

Often, our story limits us through self-criticism and judgment. We may compare ourselves to others, feel inadequate, or focus on our flaws and mistakes. Practicing self-compassion allows us to see ourselves in a more positive and accepting light. Treat yourself with kindness, understanding, and forgiveness, and focus on your strengths and accomplishments instead of your shortcomings.

Connect with Others

Sometimes, we need to get out of our heads and connect with others to break free from our story. You can engage with friends, family, or a therapist for support and perspective. Share your struggles and concerns with others, and listen to their stories. By connecting with others, we can gain a broader perspective on our experiences and find inspiration and encouragement to move forward.

Getting out of the story in your head is a process of awareness, questioning, and action. By recognizing and questioning the helpfulness of our story, staying present, taking action, practicing self-compassion, and connecting with others, we can break free from limiting beliefs and negative thought patterns and create a new narrative based on our experiences and strengths. This is often hard and takes time and effort, but the rewards of letting go of our story and living in the present moment can be life-changing. So, step outside your story today and see what new possibilities arise.

If you would like help in this process, please reach out to us at 615-377-1153, and we can get you connected with one of our excellent therapists, who are trained to guide you as you get out of your head and re-engage your life.


The Happiness Trap website ( is an excellent resource for learning about the process of getting out of your head. They have everything from free resources to a full, 8-week program guiding you through it.

(NOTE: Brentwood Counseling Associates has no connection with The Happiness Trap and receives no compensation for recommending it)

What are the signs your child may need counseling?

Addressing your own anxiety as parent is the first step to helping your child with theirs.

Following the recent school shooting tragedy at Covenant School many parents are wondering, “How is my child handling this, what do I need to say to them to ease their mind?” Well, step one is to evaluate your own anxiety on the topic. It’s very valid as a parent to be quite anxious about how to protect you and your family given recent events.
Before we address some warning signs to look for in our children that may indicate a need for additional support first let’s focus on you.

Be mindful of the amount of news you are consuming.

While it’s important to stay informed we have to be mindful when too much, is just too much. I know firsthand we have all been very shocked and as a result curious about the shooting. This has led to a lot of reading updates and watching video footage. It can be helpful to ask ourselves how we are feeling after we finish reading or doom scrolling. If the answer is anxious then it likely that we need to take a step away.

Do something that is pleasant and a typical part of your routine.

When things feel really chaotic in the world falling back into routine can really help ease some of our anxiety. Decide if you need to decompress by yourself or with your family. It’s ok to need time for yourself. Taking care of ourselves allows us to be a calm safe space for our children which they desperately need right now. Take a walk, take a shower or bath, watch your favorite show, anything that allows our brain to have a break from the intensity of recent events. If we aren’t able to snag a few minutes for ourselves also remember co-regulation is an option. Take family walk, make dinner together, play a family game. These are helpful ways to decompress as a family.

Reach out for your own support.

Maybe this looks like talking to your partner, calling a close friend or maybe even scheduling a session with a therapist. Make sure you have a space to process as well. Feeling as though we have a handle on our own feelings makes us better equipped to support our children if they need help. Many counseling practices in the area are offering free or reduced rate sessions for anyone in the community that may be affected by the shooting and need additional support.

If it feels foreign to put your own mental health first remember this. Our children pick up on our anxiety, even if they are young they can sense it. We just want to be mindful that we are being their calm safe place, not unintentionally adding more anxiety. We are human and not going to be able to do this perfectly but taking care of yourself is worth it and will positively benefit your child.

Now let’s switch our focus to our children.

Warning signs of distress to look for in our children following the recent school shooting:

  • Asking a lot of questions about the shooting.
  • Changes in behavior (sleep and appetite increases or decreases).
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or having bad dreams.
  • Increased crying or irritability.
  • Not getting schoolwork done or falling behind.
  • Withdrawing, declining social events that they usually would want to attend.
  • Having new headaches or stomach aches
  • Recurrent thoughts or images of shooting or other scenarios in which they may feel unsafe.
  • Avoidance of sounds, people, places, or other things remind them of the violence

It’s hard to know if a conversation with your child could reconcile some of these signs of distress but it’s a place to start. There are a lot of articles circulating addressing how to talk to your children about events of mass violence. We are always happy to share these specific resources if needed. If problems still persist our child therapists are happy to also offer a parent consult to assess if your child requires additional professional support.

Please reference our website or give us a call for more information.

P: 615- 377- 1153

Mindfulness for People Who Don’t Want to Meditate

Mindfulness is a great way to improve mental and emotional well-being, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote overall health. However, many people are put off by meditation, finding it challenging to sit still for long periods or quiet their minds. The good news is that mindfulness doesn’t have to involve meditation. Many ways to practice mindfulness don’t require sitting on a cushion for hours. Here are some ideas for practicing mindfulness for people who don’t want to meditate:

Practice Mindful Breathing

A straightforward way to practice mindfulness is through mindful breathing, which involves paying attention to your breath and focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body. You can do this anywhere, anytime; it only takes a few minutes. Just take a few minutes, close your eyes if it helps, and feel the cycle of your breath as you breathe in and out. Not only does this ground you in the present moment, but it also connects you to what you feel in your body.

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is just what it sounds like. Take your time when you eat, savor each bite, and notice the food’s taste, texture, and smell. Pause between bites and take a few deep breaths. Try to eat without distractions, such as TV or your phone, and focus on the experience of the meal.

Mindful Listening

We often listen to others without really hearing them, as our minds are busy with our thoughts and distractions. Mindful listening involves giving full attention to the person speaking without interrupting or judging. Focus on the person’s words, tone, and body language, and try letting go of distractions or judgments.

Mindful Appreciation

Practicing gratitude and appreciation can help us to cultivate a positive mindset and improve our well-being. Even a few minutes each day spent reflecting on what you’re grateful for, whether it’s something small, such as a cup of coffee, or something significant, such as your health or relationships, can have a considerable impact. Keep a small notepad beside your bed and write down a few things you are grateful for each evening.

Mindful Movement

Mindful movement can involve any form of physical activity, such as yoga, tai chi, stretching, or simply walking. The key is to pay attention to your body’s sensations and move with intention and awareness. Focus on the sensations of the movement, the shifting of your balance, and the connection with the ground. Let yourself be fully present with your actions.

Mindful Reminders

Finally, a personal favorite of mine is simple timed mindfulness. In this practice, you set a recurring alarm to go off every half-hour or hour. When it does, you focus entirely for two to five minutes on whatever you are doing at the moment. This approach doesn’t require you to set aside any time or even stop what you are doing; you just entirely do what you are doing. When brushing your teeth, pay attention to the toothpaste’s taste and the bristles’ feel. If you are working on a report, allow yourself to fully attend to the report rather than running through your task list in your head. If you are with your family, focus entirely on engaging with them. Again, the what doesn’t matter, just do it fully. 

The benefits of mindfulness come from being completely present in where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing. Getting caught up in thoughts of the past or future leaves us trying to manage things we cannot influence. By engaging in mindfulness, we engage with those things we can do something about. Further, we are more engaged in the things that matter to us. Try on some of these methods for improving your present-moment mindfulness. Jot down the experiences you have. Reflect on the impact it has on your day. 

If you want to dig into any of these concepts more thoroughly, contact our practice at 615-377-1153. Our office manager, Jane Jenkins, will be happy to help you connect to one of our excellent therapists.

Life Phases and Their Impact on Mental Health

Think about the following folks and what they have in common. Hunter is a 27-year old college graduate who has just quit his third job and is thinking of going back to graduate school, citing unhappiness in his career so far. His friends tell him he’s just having a “quarter-life crisis.” Jennifer is a 48-year old working mother of three who recently moved her mother into her home following a dementia diagnosis. Her husband comments, “you bet she’s stressed out, she’s part of the sandwich generation, and she never gets a break.” And Nancy is a 72-year old retiree from the corporate world who, despite being financially secure, states, “I thought I’d be relieved to be out of the rat race, but instead I’m getting more and more depressed.”

In spite of being in different phases of life, each of the people above is experiencing a significant strain on their mental and emotional well-being. And for all of them, it’s actually the stage of life they’re in that’s contributing to it. In my practice, I work with adults across the lifespan. And for many, their current phase of life has a lot to do with the reason they sought therapy. As humans, we are constantly evolving into new life stages. When we were young, these changes were usually exciting and brought new experiences and long-awaited markers of independence. We can all remember the freedom we felt during those firsts: riding our bikes across the neighborhood to a friend’s house or getting the keys to mom’s car for a night out with friends. But what happens when we, like those in the examples above, find ourselves up against a new life stage that doesn’t bring what we expected?

As we struggle to adjust, we often find that we need to quickly develop new habits and routines that will help us navigate the uncharted territory. This is perhaps most common when the life phase comes on suddenly. Take our middle-aged mom, for instance. She might have known that her mother’s cognitive health was declining, but due to the busy-ness of her own life, she wasn’t aware of the urgency of her mother’s need for round-the-clock care. And as she began caring for both her children and her mother, she came to put herself last. She discovered, perhaps too late, that she couldn’t do it all without significant changes to her life. Gathering the practical support needed to care for both her mother and her children was necessary, but took a lot of time and emotional energy. And that took a toll on her well-being. Mental health concerns like anxiety and depression have a way of sneaking in when we’re most stressed and unable to maintain our previous levels of self-care.

But even when we have time to plan for the change, we might still have a hard time adapting. Think about our retiree above, for example. For years, she had anxiously awaited her chance to spend quiet mornings sipping her coffee and reading the news instead of fighting traffic on her 45-minute commute. She had looked forward to traveling for pleasure, as opposed to catching the red-eye for conferences. And she couldn’t wait to trade emails and meetings for school lunches with her grandkids and pickleball with her friends. Why, then, did she grapple with depression? Big life changes, even those that we welcome with open arms, are usually accompanied by some kind of loss. In our example, the retiree had lost the thing that had filled most of her days for the last 50 years. And yes, she hated aspects of her work, but overall, she did find it meaningful. She felt that her contributions to her workplace and, in a larger sense, to her field, had really made a difference. And working to readjust and find new things to not only occupy those 40 hours a week, but also to bring her the same kind of purpose, was difficult.

Similarly, the young college graduate in our examples above was experiencing loss. The transition to the world of work in a new city meant the loss of significant friendships in his immediate surroundings. Moreover, his new workplace was filled with folks in all stages of life, and he just didn’t feel a natural connection to the 45-year old parents or those nearing retirement. Add to that the learning curve of starting a new job and navigating a new city, and our college graduate felt lonely and inadequate as he struggled to find his place in his new world. Yet, he expected himself to adjust to this new phase of life with relative ease. After all, his story followed the natural progression of things for many college graduates. And on paper, his life was playing out as it was “supposed” to. That might have been precisely why he was caught so off-guard by his unhappiness.

I believe that we need to expand the conversation around life transitions. In addition to emphasizing all the good things they bring, we need to include the possibility that it might take time to adjust to any inherent losses. And perhaps more importantly, we need to remember to give ourselves extra grace as we work to become accustomed to all the newness. Simply remaining aware that mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety can creep in during adjustment periods works wonders. But even more importantly, we need to remain intentional around identifying and working to maintain any coping mechanisms that have worked for us in the past. Remaining connected to previous support systems is crucial. So is continued engagement in activities that bring about relaxation, joy, or fun. And sometimes we need others to make sure we’re staying on top of these things. Whether it’s asking friends and family members to reach out more regularly during the transition or seeking the support of a mental health professional, it’s helpful to have a system in place that can act as a bridge while crossing into the new phase of life.

If you’re struggling to adapt to a significant life transition and need some support along the way, the therapists at Brentwood Counseling Associates can help. Read more about each of us here to find out more, and if you’re interested in scheduling an initial session, reach out to our office manager.

4 Ways to Feel Better Today

When I was in my teens and twenties I loved theater. I auditioned for and acted in whatever theater productions that were available to me. (I wasn’t good–but what I lacked in skill I made up for with enthusiasm!) One of the base understandings that all actors must grasp is that you never wait for a feeling to determine your actions. If you act first, the feelings will follow. One of my teachers used to say “never feel your way into an action—act your way into a feeling.” Over time I learned that she was 100% correct. I have also learned that this is a fantastic paradigm for a first step towards feeling better in therapy: Instead of allowing our feelings to dictate our actions, there are ways we can skillfully act to help ourselves feel better. It is quite possible to act our way into feeling better.

There are 4 domains that significantly impact our quality of life. I call them the “4 Pillars of Wellbeing.” They are: “Eat, sleep, move, breathe.” This is the first thing I explore with all of my clients.

  • Eat: The food we eat and beverages we drink have a significant impact on how we feel. There is powerful reality to my mom’s old maxim: “We are what we eat.” The more we adhere to a balanced diet of whole foods–fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meats–in a balanced intake throughout the day, the better we feel. Unfortunately the foods that are the cheapest and most readily available are rife with processed carbohydrates, refined sugars and caffeine. An outsized intake of these kinds of foods are akin to using muddy water to fuel a car. At some point we will feel the effects–and it does not feel good! Also, many of us are woefully underhydrated. Beginning the day with a 20 oz. glass of water (and a sprinkle of Hymalayan sea salt to help with absorption) can help counter the dehydration from a night of sleep.
  • Sleep: We are learning that sleep is the most important of the 4 pillars. Sleep expert Matthew Walker, Ph.D, has found that “the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.” Lack of sleep also contributes to increased anxiety, depression and the inability for the nervous system to self-regulate. 7-9 hours of sleep per night is necessary for mental, emotional and physical health. One of the most important things we can do is create a “sleep routine.” With my clients I refer to this as “landing the plane.” A sleep routine begins about an hour before sleep and may include a warm bath or shower, stretching, breathwork/meditation and a relaxing activity such as reading (also, no screens, caffeine or sugar at least an hour before bedtime).
  • Move: The more we move, the better we feel. This does not mean that we have to be training for a triathlon. For example, a short walk (outside, preferably) of 30 minutes does the trick for the day. Other activities such as yoga, gardening, swimming, etc…can provide a significant boost to our mental, emotional and physical well-being.
  • Breathe: Most of us live in chronic, low-level stress response. One of the markers of stress response is clipped and shallow breathing. By simply stopping three times a day to take 10 long, deep slow breaths can help provide our bodies much needed oxygen, help us focus and help our nervous systems shift from stress to relaxation response.

I know, this feels like ALOT! The best approach to change is to make small changes that will compound over time. So: What is 1 thing in 1 domain that you can act on today? And stick with it tomorrow. And the days following?

If you would like help in not only feeling better, but also experiencing healing of your past, engaging meaningfully in the present and crafting a meaningful future, please contact me or any of our therapists at 615-377-1153.

What is Play Therapy?

“Play therapy is to children what counseling is to adults. Play therapy utilizes play, children’s natural medium of expression, to help them express their feelings more easily through toys instead of words.”
(University of North Texas, Center for Play Therapy)

Play is the language of children. Just as we may sit down with one another and share our deepest worries, fears, excitements and joys, children do the same through play. It is a medium in which children can express their inner thoughts and feelings in a way that makes sense for them. Play gives their brains a method to organize confusing thoughts or experiences into something more concrete and easier to understand. And it’s not just children who benefit from play. Older teens and even adults can express and process difficult thoughts and feelings through play. In fact, current research indicates that play is a biological need for the brain which helps us make sense of the outside world. In play, either individually or with others, children can master social skills, and expand emotional tolerance and cognitive learning. Most importantly, play opens the space for vulnerability and connection, both qualities that every person needs when faced with difficulties and hardships.

Through play, the child is able to focus on their anxiety, depression, and even trauma without needing to use words. In my time working with children and teens, I have found the best moments of healing are not when words are used. Rather, it is when the person allows themselves to be open to what they are experiencing in the expression of play and art. Sometimes big thoughts and feelings are expressed through art, playing a game with the therapist, or creating a world in the sand tray. Play opens the space for connections to be made that weren’t previously there and for clients to master and understand emotions or thoughts that didn’t make sense previously.

What does Play Therapy look like?

Play in therapy takes several different forms. Sometimes the child leads the play and the therapist joins at the child’s comfort level. Other times, the therapist guides the play so the child can practice certain coping skills. Parents can even join in play therapy sessions to encourage connection to children’s processes and experiences. Play can also create opportunities for growth and learning. What might be a simple game of Uno, can easily become a lesson about turn-taking and creative problem solving. Or, a make-believe game becomes an opportunity to encourage self-esteem and emotional regulation.

How can Play Therapy be helpful?

Play Therapy can be used to treat a wide range of issues; including, anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and grief. It is typically used for clients who are 5-12 years old, but research also shows play to be beneficial for teenagers and adults. Play therapy is used by a trained therapist who is knowledgeable about the use and benefits of play. If this practice seems like something you might be interested in for your family, reach out to our counseling center at Brentwood Counseling Associates to match you with the right therapist.


Does Telling Your Kids About Santa Mean You’re Lying to Them?

Does Telling Your Kids About Santa Mean You’re Lying to Them?

This time of year usually seems to spark a debate about whether or not telling children about Santa Claus means parents are lying to them. Scroll through any social media platform and one can easily find some hot debates on if it is a good or bad thing to encourage Santa. And I can see the concern with both sides. Does celebrating Santa mean I am unintentionally lying to them? Will encouraging Santa mean I will harm our relationship in the future? Will my child lose trust in me forever the day they learn the truth about Santa? Is it okay to lie at all to my kids? From a child therapist perspective, I want to add some insight into this hot topic and hopefully calm those valid concerns.

First off, you will not cause irreparable harm to your child by telling about Santa and Christmas magic. But, there are a few ways in which we can continue the magic of the Christmas season and Santa while also preserving our relationship with our kids.

Don’t Use the Whole “Naughty” or “Nice,” “Good” or “Bad”

The classic song lyric, “you better watch out, you better not cry” may be a message about Santa I would encourage parents to let go of. The reason being is that when we connect our kid’s behavior to getting presents or the fun of Christmas, it places a lot of pressure for small kids to live up to. In fact, that pressure typically tends to backfire and lead to even MORE unwanted behaviors. The “naughty or nice” message can also mean that when our kids make mistakes then there’s a possibility that it can impact their self-esteem and self-worth. We don’t want our kids to think, “when I make a mistake that means I am bad”. We especially don’t want them to connect their self-worth to times of big feelings or mistakes. Instead, we want them to know that they will always be good kids even when they make mistakes because we will accept them no matter what they do or what they feel.

Frame Santa as a Magical Being, or Make Believe.

Okay, I hear the lying point. I get that idea of finding out as an older child that your parents told you all about this person who did all these wonderful things and it turned out that person wasn’t real. However, we do not need to lie to our kids to have Santa. Instead, what I would encourage for Santa is to frame him as a magical or make-believe person who brings Christmas cheer. Talk about Santa as you would about a TV character or a superhero. Refer to him as a magical being who brings the spirit of Christmas each year. Explain that Santa represents the “spirit of Christmas” by helping, giving and being kind to others. All qualities that we want our own children to one day practice.

Read Stories About Santa Together

Let’s not forget that the origin of Santa came from stories that have been passed down for generations. Reading stories about Santa together encourages that idea of talking about Santa as a fictional character. Discuss what Santa or the other characters did in the story that encourages the Christmas spirit of giving or helping others. Reading together also encourages an opportunity to connect and spend quality time with our children, which is what they will remember the most during the holidays.

Lastly, I want to add that you should always do what feels best for your family. Whether that is skipping Santa or keeping Santa. You know your family best. Talk about Santa in a way that best incorporates your family’s culture. I encourage you to celebrate Christmas in the way that helps everyone in your family enjoy the holidays.


What are the signs your child may need counseling?

5 Easy Ways to Connect to Your Child

Why is it important to connect?

With the busy schedules we face as families, it is easy to get lost in the day to day grind. Between games, dance recitals, music lessons, and never ending homework, it can be easy to forget to set aside downtime to connect with our children. Why is it so important for us to set aside time to connect with our kiddos? Because connection is at the heart of what we need as humans. We are wired to connect with those we love, to remind us of our support systems in the time of need, and to feel wanted by others. As parents, it is so important to provide this to our children. Just as we meet our child’s physical needs with food, shelter, and extracurricular activities, our children also need to have their emotional needs met.

When we feel connected, secure, and safe, our brains are better able to manage all of the input they receive throughout the day. In a connected state, we are better equipped to handle big emotions and better able to problem solve when things don’t go our way. When children feel safe, loved and secure they are able to take risks because they know that someone will be there if they need them.

Now that we talked briefly about why it is important to connect, you may be thinking, “Gosh, now I have to add another thing to my do-list?” Well, thankfully, finding ways to connect can actually be quite simple. Moments of connection don’t have to be an hour-long process, it can be just a few minutes a day. I have some suggestions below, but find what works best for your family and your schedule. You can easily adapt any of these suggestions to different times of the day, or different frequencies. I typically suggest that you try at least one of these once a week. It doesn’t have to be the same each week, and you don’t have to do all of these at once. You know your child and your family best.

Suggestions for connection:

1. Play a familiar game with your child

Yes, it’s as easy as playing a board or a card game with your child. I encourage you both to put away your phones and play your favorite game together. Whether it’s Uno, Candyland, or Go-Fish, playing a board game can encourage connection and communication between the two of you. I have found that teenagers even benefit from this approach, though they might appreciate a more challenging board or card game. Competition should be off the table with this approach. If you notice your child or teen becoming frustrated, take a break or switch to a new game. Board games are a great way to practice turn-taking, empathy and joy with each other.

2. Eat family dinner or meals together

Family meal time is a perfect way to encourage connection. There’s something natural about sitting around at the dinner table and sharing stories about one’s day over a good meal. Now, I know many of you may not be able to do this every night, and you certainly don’t have to. But try to sit down as a family at least once or twice a week. Again, turn off the TV or phones and simply sit down with one another.

3. Create a ritual on the drive to or from school

If your child is under sixteen, you are probably driving them to school or extracurricular activities which means you are probably in the car together quite often. Creating a ritual or a moment of connection can easily be adapted to your busy driving schedule. For example, on your way to school you can each name something you are excited for, something you are nervous for, and something you are hopeful for the day. One family I know listens to their favorite audio book together. Another idea is to play a familiar car game. Get creative, those long drives and waiting in the carpool lines can be an excellent time for you to connect.

4. Set aside screen-free time at least once a week

This one goes into the other suggestions, but I encourage all families to set aside 1-hour free of screen time at least once a week. This means no phones, no TV, or tablets. Encourage your child to play a game outside with you, or work on a puzzle together. Whatever it is, remove distractions from technology so that you can focus on whatever game or activity you are doing together.

5. Find a special way to connect before bedtime

Creating a ritual of connection before bedtime can not only be helpful for your relationship with each other, but also promote healthy sleep. If you have a young child, this can look like reading a bedtime story together or cuddling before bed. An older child or teen, this can be sitting down with them one-on-one and talking about their day.

Whatever method you choose, find one that works for your family. By being intentional about spending time with your child, you are giving them the signal that you are there for them and that you support them when they need you.

If you or your child are still struggling, you don’t have to navigate this alone. Reach out to us to find a therapist that best fits you and your child’s needs.

Suggested Resources:

The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired By Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

brentwood counseling associates blog

The path to a meaningful future is through your past

“What do you think of when you consider your past?”

This question was posed to me by a therapist many years ago. I wasn’t sure how to answer the question. The simple truth is that I hadn’t considered my past much at all. So I stammered something about my past being a random collection of experiences, events and relationships. At the time I was too busy to think about my past. To make matters worse, since birth I had been immersed in a culture that was future oriented. In my culture, considering the past was understood to be a waste of time. If it did not contribute to efficiency and productivity it was considered useless.

Sound familiar?

But what I have learned since then is that I don’t have a ‘past.’

I have a story.

Fast forward a bunch of years. Now I get to pose this important question to clients.

And it is important.

Here’s why: Your past defines everything about how you interpret and filter every relationship, interaction and experience. To quote Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Let’s face it: we all want to “feel better” in some way. But by engaging, learning, and studying our lives as a story, we can begin to do the hard and meaningful work of “getting well.”

Put another way, the first adventure on the path to a meaningful future is through your past.

Becoming an expert at your own story allows you to understand your life:

  • How you understand yourself and your place in the world?
  • How and why you interpret experiences the way you do?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • What do you truly love and why?
  • What are the seats of your great loves and the anchors of your great fears?

So, where do we start?

First, it is helpful to understand that every story shares some common characteristics:

Chapters: Stories are usually divided into chapters or acts and scenes. First, divide your life into developmental chapters. For example, you may consider this framework:

  • Birth-8 years old
  • 8-12 years old
  • Middle and high school
  • College/emerging adulthood (18-30)
  • Early middle adulthood (30-40)
  • Middle adulthood (40-55)
  • Late middle adulthood (55-65)
  • Later adulthood (65+)

Feel free to use whatever framework makes sense to you and helps you to understand your life as a story.

Relationships: Aside from Tom Hanks hanging out with a volleyball on a deserted island, I can’t recall a single movie or story that did not revolve around relationships. Relationships are what define a story. The first step in understanding your life as a story is to trace the line of meaningful relationships beginning with your earliest caregivers and siblings. You may want to consider friends, teachers, coaches, neighbors and many others who you consider to have had a meaningful effect on your life. (Note: this can be both positive and negative). It is important to note that the earliest relationships and experiences tend to have a more significant effect

Experiences: Begin charting meaningful experiences as they come to mind. Again, these can be both positive and negative. Some experiences you may want to consider:

  • The birth or death of a family member or a friend
  • The beginning or end of a romantic relationship
  • Graduation from high school or college
  • Job changes
  • Illness or injury
  • A personal loss
  • Significant accomplishments

Plot twists: These are the events and circumstances that upend our understanding of how the world works. These are times when you experienced significant disorientation and disorder. These experiences almost always have a profound effect on our lives and often serve as initiation points for transition from one chapter of life to the next.

Meaning and themes: Look for themes that show up throughout these dynamics: Relationship patterns, fear, anxiety, hope and joy.

  • What events or relationships do you celebrate as meaningful and significant?
  • What do you look back on with regret and/or shame?
  • What are consistent patterns where fear or anxiety drove decisions?

This work is not for the faint of heart and should not be taken lightly. To venture back into experiences of hurt, betrayal and pain risks retraumatization. Therefore, you may want to consider being guided through this process with a skilled therapist. A therapist can accompany you and provide an empathic container to hold your experiences and partnership in creating new meaning. If you would like to learn more about this approach, this recent article will provide more information.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can become an expert of your story, contact us at Brentwood Counseling Associates. You can find out more information about me here. You can call our office at 615-377-1153 or our office manager Jane Jenkins at

surface relationships

Four things to keep in mind when supporting a friend in grief

My father lost his battle with cancer 15 years ago. He was 59. One of the most confusing dynamics of his death were the varied responses and reactions of my friends. Many responses were wonderful. But many were frustrating. Some were even hurtful.

One of the more challenging aspects of grief is how to support a friend or family member who has experienced intimate loss. The good news is that there are skills and approaches that we can learn in order to be more supportive and helpful for friends in grief. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we try to support a friend who has experienced intimate loss:

1. Be in touch with our own anxieties

One of the most important aspects of supporting a friend in grief is to be aware of the ways that their grief triggers our own fears. Many of us simply don’t know what to do with grief. Which makes sense because we live in a society that goes to great lengths to avoid and deny the reality of death. When someone close to us has experienced intimate loss it brings death really close to home: After all, if tragedy can happen to them then it can happen to us, right? This can be a terrifying revelation that upends our illusions of stability, safety, predictability and control. If we don’t get in touch with our anxieties then our attempts to support can degenerate to frantic attempts to make the bereaved feel better, fix the situation or avoid it altogether.

Following my father’s death, random encounters with friends in grocery stores would often result in them awkwardly dancing around the obvious situation–talking about weather, baseball, church–anything except my recent loss. I get it. We do this because we are afraid of “bringing it up” and “making it worse.” But grief can be isolating. Avoiding the issue reinforces the sense of isolation. The antidote is to be seen and known–to have one’s reality named and honored. When supporting friends in grief we need to be aware of and manage our fears. Realistic appraisal of our own mortality is not a fun process, but it can be very healthy and even liberating.

2. Don’t try to make them ‘feel better’

I attended a funeral several years ago. I overheard someone say “if you’re sad right now, you’re really just selfish and making this more about you– because he’s just fine right now!” This and many other damaging and misguided statements are said under the guise of helping the bereaved ‘feel better.’ Some of the more common phrases that fit this criteria are:

  • “You can always have another child,”
  • “They are in a better place now,”
  • “God must have wanted another angel”
  • “At least he died doing something he loved”

Unfortunately this list can go on and on.

These ill-advised statements are often an attempt to manage one’s own fears and discomfort (see point #1). The more helpful–and challenging–thing is to simply be present and say little. Statements like “I have no words” or “I love you and I am so so sorry” tend to be much more helpful–primarily because they are true. These statements give space for the person to feel how they are feeling and not feel blamed for ‘doing it wrong.’

3. There is no ‘getting over it’ or ‘moving on’

When a friend is in pain we naturally want to make it better. The hard truth is that we are forever changed by some of the things that happen to us. When it comes intimate loss there is no “getting over it” or getting “back to normal.”

In her book “It’s ok that you’re not ok: Meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t understand,” grief expert Megan Devine writes: “If we talk about recovery from loss as a process of integration, of living alongside grief instead of overcoming it, then we can begin to talk about what might help you survive.” Eventually we can take steps forward–not in ‘moving past’ the grief, but in moving forward with the grief. The goal, ultimately, is not to ‘get back to normal’ but learning to eventually carry grief as we begin to move forward.

4. Be a “credible witness”

Grief expert, David Kessler, argues that the most important dynamic for grief to be processed well is empathic connection with another person who is willing to accompany the bereaved in their grief. Keller calls these people “credible witnesses” because they are able to be present and bear witness to the searing pain of traumatic loss without trying to fix it or “make it better.” Being with a person in pain is not easy. It forces us to confront our own fears. It is inconvenient. We may feel rejected. The truth is that nothing we do or say will make it better in the short term. A person in grief needs space to feel how they feel and to be seen and known without feeling that they are ‘doing it wrong’ or that they should feel better.

Grief is a complicated process that demands time, patience, understanding and active work for the bereaved as well as supporters. My hope is that more of us will grow in our ability to accompany friends and family through the searing pain of intimate loss. By becoming a ‘credible witness’ our friends will find a softer place to rest and be given the healing gift of empathy and presence.

Additional Resources:

There are many helpful books. Two that I recommend are:

Additionally, there are many good podcasts and Ted talks. I recommend:

  • The messy truth about grief” – Ted Talk by Nora McInerny
  • The “Grief Out Loud” podcast by the Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families These interviews include survivors, experts and others who have experienced grief in myriad ways.
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