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Podcast Episode, Breaking The Silence: EMDR How Can It Help?

Amanda Christenson was a guest on another episode of the podcast by Reach10, Breaking The Silence. She talks about how EMDR can help with trauma, shame, and even sexual addiction and betrayal trauma. We have three therapists trained in EMDR at Hope Therapy! Listen to this episode to see if you are interested in trying it.

Listen to the podcast here: https://reach10.org/emdr-how-can-it-help-with-overcoming-pornography-amanda-christenson/

To read research about the efficacy of EMDR, visit https://www.emdr.com/efficacy/

Prevent Porn Problems with 2 Parenting Practices: Teaching Emotional Resilience and Creating Secure Attachment

This article is written by Amanda Christenson, LMFT and was originally posted for Defend Young Minds here.

As a therapist specialized in sexual addiction, I have met with hundreds of adults and teenagers on the journey of recovery. Part of that recovery process is looking back on the roots of the addiction–how it started and why it sustained itself.

That process also helps us identify important factors that reduce the risks of falling into addiction. Most commonly, sexual addiction starts with sexual exposure in some form combined with a lack of healthy emotional regulation or a safe person to emotionally process with. 

Two areas that parents can focus on to reduce the chances children will fall into addiction of any type are

  • raising resilient children and
  • creating secure attachments with them

Some of the greatest wishes of my clients are that

  • they had been able to confide in their parents about their sexual struggles, 
  • their parents had modeled and actively taught healthy emotional coping, and
  • they felt more nurtured and noticed as they grew up. 

As parents raising kids in this time, we can do all of this. We have the emotional education that other generations did not. It is important to teach healthy coping early and consistently. Parents have power!

Why does emotional resilience matter?

Emotional resilience is the ability to cope and adapt to stress and adversity. When children haven’t practiced resilience, pornography and other harmful sexual behaviors sometimes become a coping mechanism. In that case, a child’s coping strategy for stress is completely in secret and muddled with shame, a fantasy world of escape that can develop into sexually harming themselves and potentially others. 

Adult addicts tend to have low resilience and turn to avoiding the hard parts of life instead of meeting challenges head on. Luckily, one does not simply have or not have resilience. It can be learned and practiced at any age.

4 ways to foster resilience in children

1. Let go and allow kids to make mistakes

A falsehood in parenting is the belief that it is the parent’s job to shield children from challenges, setbacks, and failures. When we do this, we actually rob children of the opportunity to problem solve and practice resilience.

Just like learning any skill, we all need to fall off the bike a couple times to learn how to keep our balance.

Experiencing natural consequences in life is a gift. So let your kids fail a test because they didn’t study or support them as they navigate hard friendship dynamics instead of immediately stepping in and deciding who they can and can’t be friends with. Try to avoid abandoning, shaming or lecturing and instead empathize with your child’s experience and express confidence in them. For example, “I’m hearing you say it feels like you failed and you will never be good at math. That sounds hard and scary. I have seen you try again even when it was hard and I know you can do that with math if you want to. I’m here to help.”

2. Help children identify and cope with their emotions

Emotion can be complicated and messy, but it paints the beautiful landscape of our joys and sorrows. Helping kids see emotion as acceptable and valuable is a good start to helping them manage how they react healthily to emotion. 

Walk them through how to identify an emotion they might be feeling in the moment and then sit with them in trying to understand or provide space for that emotion, not judging it as good or bad. Then prompt them to use that emotion in a productive way. For example, “I see you are stomping the ground and yelling at your siblings, I wonder what emotion you might be feeling. Oh okay, so it’s anger. And I wonder what else? Oh, so underneath the anger you are also feeling left out because they are playing that game without you? That’s understandable to feel angry and left out. What do you want to do with those feelings? Yes, let’s try to take deep breaths and when you are ready, you can ask calmly if you can play the game with them. And if not, I will play the game with you.”

3. Model resiliency

Kids are sponges. They watch, learn, and copy. As parents, we do our best to provide a healthy example for them to copy. Many parents have shielded their kids from any of their emotion, showing no weakness. While well intentioned, this can backfire with children feeling like struggling is weakness and unacceptable in the family system. 

On the other hand, some parents are overly sharing with their raw emotion and children feel like they have to take care of their caretaker emotionally. 

Modelling resiliency looks like being open about a challenge and meeting it courageously while acknowledging the emotion that goes along with it.

If kids watch parents crumble, blame, or escape during hard moments, that is their template. If they watch parents take accountability, set boundaries, and continue while accessing healthy resources then kids have a template for resilience.

4. Teach shame resilience

Feeling shame can lead to fear, disconnection, and isolation. Many parents haven’t learned how to deal with this powerful emotion themselves, so when they see their child’s face turn red, head drop, and run to their room, parents are at a loss. 

To teach shame resilience, help children identify how they experience shame. This is part of helping them learn how to label an emotion by knowing what triggers it, where they feel it in their body, or what it leads them to do. For example, with your help, your child learns that when she makes a mistake in front of her dance class her stomach drops, her head feels hot and she wants to leave the class and never come back. That could be shame and identifying it is the first step in being resilient to it. 

Then teach about “speaking shame”. This simply means discovering a language and safety in talking about shame triggers and connecting with another person. This normalizes the experience and moves the child toward experiencing empathy instead of separation. When it comes to pornography, shame is toxic and perpetuates secrecy and feelings of worthlessness. If children have good shame resiliency skills and know how to connect over the feelings of shame instead of going inside themselves, they are more likely to respond to exposure to pornography in a healthy way

Secure attachment through emotional attunement

Kids are constantly experimenting with what gets the attention of their caregivers. This starts as early as infancy and the response or lack of response in parents contributes greatly to how secure or insecure the child feels about themselves in the world and how safe they feel. This is a widely researched topic called “Attachment Theory”.

Sex addicts are much more likely to be insecurely attached than the general population. So one important focus for parents now is to create an environment for secure attachment for their children. Overall, this creates a safe haven and a secure base. 

Studies have shown that children with a secure attachment history 

  • are better at coping under stress, 
  • have increased emotional regulation
  • enjoy higher self-esteem, and 
  • form happier relationships with parents and siblings. 

Another benefit is that when people are securely attached to their caregivers, they are likely to carry this same type of attachment into other future relationships including in their friendships and romantic relationships. This results in being able to truly connect, practice vulnerability, and seek out safe people in a responsible way in the face of trials.

One of the best ways to promote secure attachment is through attunementDr. Dan Seigel describes attunement as “feeling felt” in a relationship. Parents who are emotionally attuned to their children are able to 

  • sense and pick up on their emotional cues,
  • ask questions that help kids feel known and not alone, and
  • respond to their children’s needs in a compassionate way

Attunement is built in small and simple moments. In therapy, I like to assess how attuned my client’s caregivers were to them. I will ask questions like these:

  • Do you remember your mom tucking you in at night or reading stories to you?
  • Did a parent or family member come to watch your baseball games and keep up with how you were feeling about each game? 
  • Did dad know what was important to you and spend quality time with you? 
  • Did mom know who was in your friend group and did you feel safe to tell her about any drama within it? 
  • What was it like to make a mistake in front of your parents? 
  • Did you express your emotions growing up or were you often playing a role to be seen and loved? 
  • Did your parents ever ask about your emotions to try to get to know you better? 
  • Did you keep a lot of secrets from your parents?

Examples of what emotional attunement can look like:

With a toddler – “Oh wow, it looks like you are having big feelings. I can feel them with you and then we can try to take deep breaths. Let’s stomp the ground together! Stomp for as long as you need to!”

With a child – Your 8 year old daughter comes home from a birthday party talking negatively about all the other girls there. You catch on that she might have felt left out and say, “Hey, let’s talk about the birthday party. So who did you talk to and hang out with? Oh I see, so it felt like the girls didn’t care if you were there or not. It’s so hard when you feel like you don’t fit in. Do you want to make bracelets with me and we can talk about planning a playdate with the friends you know care about you?”

With a teen – Your son says something sarcastic at the dinner table and doesn’t talk for the rest of the meal. You ask if he’s okay and he says, “I’m fine, nothing’s wrong!” and stomps off. You respect his space and later approach him to say, “I can see you’ve had a hard day, I don’t know why and I’m open to hearing about it. If you don’t want to tell me, I just want you to know I see you juggling everything with school and soccer and friends, it’s a lot and it’s okay to struggle.”

Practice A. R. E. to build attunement with children

Dr. Sue Johnson, who founded EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy), teaches that in order to be emotionally attuned, we need to be Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged. When we are practicing all three with our children, they are more likely to come to us with their needs because they know we will respond in a safe way. 

For example, if your child has questions about sexuality and he or she trusts that you will be accessible, responsive, and engaged when approached, this can end in a connecting conversation that can blossom into more conversations as more of life unfolds.

Here is a peak into a child’s brain as they determine whether or not you are accessible, responsive, and engaged: (Hint: we want to show that the answer is, “YES, I’m here for you” to every question).

Accessible –

Can I reach you?

Are you available?

Are you paying attention to me?

Are you listening to me?

Am I an important priority to you?

Responsive –

Can I rely on you emotionally?

Can you celebrate with me when something goes well?

Can you help soothe and comfort me when I need it?

Am I taken care of?

Can you respond appropriately to what I’m going through?

Engaged –

Am I valued?

Do I matter to you?

Can I trust and confide in you?

Do you care about me and my needs?

Parents get to hold the sacred space of teaching, modeling, and facilitating healthy emotional behaviors to set kids up for successful emotional lives. It’s a big calling! It is preventative, proactive, and loving. Teach resiliency and prove every day that you are emotionally attuned. When you miss something, take accountability and repair. Your children will be more likely to be securely attached and trust you with the hard parts of life, knowing they don’t have to navigate it alone.

Hope Therapy: Treating Sexual Addiction

By: Katie Whiting

Hope Therapy specializes in treating sexual addicts and their betrayed partners. We utilize psychological education, trauma work, and real-life application to help clients with compulsive sexual behavior. We integrate 12-step addiction work with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment protocols and other therapeutic interventions to guide clients toward living a life of recovery and healing their relationships.

Psychological education: The more knowledge and understanding clients have, the more capable they are to heal and change their lives. Spending time learning about the addiction cycle, their personal triggers, and relapse-prevention plans will equip clients with tools to add to their toolboxes. When they are able to apply the knowledge gained, they aid themselves in successful lifelong recovery.

Trauma work: Addiction recovery focuses on trauma. Clients sexually act out to escape current and historic points of pain and shame. Completing a full disclosure, addressing experiences from childhood, and working through shame is the next phase of therapy work after psychoeducation. Utilizing the knowledge gained, clients heal from the traumas that have kept the addiction alive.

Real-life application: It is vital that clients leave therapy with life skills and resources they can lean on to live a life of recovery. Personal boundaries are vital to an addict’s recovery as well as knowing how to honor the boundaries of those around them. Clients are highly encouraged to attend a 12-step group outside of therapy and work the steps alongside what they experience in session. The most important tool and skill clients walk away from therapy with is the stronger ability to empathize with those around them and have healthy connections that are not based in sexuality.

The sexual addiction work we offer is thorough. Often for the client, it can feel like a second job, requiring lots of time outside of therapy to accomplish goals established. When clients fully apply themselves to the process, lasting change can be experienced. Ultimately, it is up to the client and how much they invest. We feel honored to be a part of clients’ healing journeys and know it is possible to live a life of recovery, constantly striving one day at a time to experience change and wholeness.

How to Cope with Trauma and Triggers with Katie Whiting

At a recent live presentation at our office in Spanish Fork, Utah, Katie shares how individuals can understand their trauma, triggers, and meaningful ways to cope. Katie is experienced at helping individuals and couples identify their traumas and how they can care for themselves.

Katie utilizes EMDR and Internal Family Systems when working with her clients to overcome their trauma.

How To Communicate as Couples with Iesha Gibbons

Recorded from a live event at Hope Therapy in Spanish Fork, Utah. Iesha shares how couples can communicate and better respond to each others needs in healthy and safe ways. This presentation isn’t just a great resource for couples, Iesha teaches ways on how we can all communicate in effective and safe ways.

ABC’s of Parenting

By Katie Whiting

Whether the kids are five or fifteen, using the ABC’s of parenting can help foster emotional intelligence in our children and help us respond to their emotional needs. This is one of the first techniques I teach and help parents to practice in working with their kids, no matter the reason they are coming in to see me.

A is for Acknowledgement: Here the parent’s role is to acknowledge either the emotion, the situation that has happened or both. Depending on the age of the child, parents ask the child to identify the emotion behind the situation or to describe what has happened. Children receive validation as they hear acknowledgement from parents about what they are experiencing behaviorally and more importantly, emotionally.

B is for Boundaries/rules: Often when parents or another adult steps in it is because something happened that was not okay, inappropriate or not acceptable. After validation, parents can establish or emphasize a family boundary or rule that the child needs to operate within. Children need to know what the limits are, otherwise they feel insecure about what is expected and their behavior reflects this confusion. Children thrive with healthy structure. It is the job of the adults in the child’s life to clearly communicate what is and is not okay in a non-shaming way.

C is for Choices: What options do children have to express their emotional needs within the bounds of the rules or boundaries of the family, the person, or social situation? If the child is older, parents can ask questions to have the child come up with a couple of different options. If the child is younger, parents can present the child with at least two options where they can express their emotions freely while respecting the boundary that has been set.

Example: Jonny (five year old) hit Mom after being told to pick up his toys.

Acknowledgement

Mom “Jonny, you just hit me, are you feeling angry?”

Jonny “Duh!”

Mom “What else are you feeling?”

Jonny “I want to play with my toys!”

Mom “Ah so you are feeling angry because you are not able to play with your toys right now.”

Boundary/Rule

Mom “You can honor your anger. It is not okay to hit people. If you want to touch them, in this family, we ask permission before touching people.”

Jonny “But I want to punch something.”

Choices

Mom “If you want to punch something to express your anger you can punch a pillow or smash a banana in a Ziploc bag. Otherwise you can also express your anger by talking to me about what is going on. What do you want to do to express your anger?”

Jonny “Where is a pillow?”

This can be really quick and simple. If parents have or want to spend more time on the “A,” they can explore what that emotion is trying to tell the child and help them ask themselves, what is their emotional need? Doing this can help increase the child’s emotional intelligence and awareness. Going more in-depth with emotions can also create space to come up with creative “C” options. The role of emotions is often to bring attention to an unmet need, a boundary that has been crossed or an expectation that has not been met. As a child’s brain develops, parents can increase their child’s ability to communicate needs within effective boundaries, through utilizing the ABC’s of parenting.

For more parenting skills or to learn how to apply the ABC’s specifically to your family’s situation, give us a call to schedule an appointment with Katie Whiting. And look for a future post by Katie on an in-depth description of children’s emotional needs.

Improve Your Communication in Four Easy Steps

By Iesha Gibbons, AMFT

All couples have disagreements, arguments, and even fights. It’s just part of being in a long-term, committed relationship. But how can two people have a healthy disagreement, argument, or fight? What can they do? Healthy communication, while it looks differently for different couples, it generally involves listening to understand, speaking from your own perspective, self-awareness, and openly expressing your emotions.

Listening

            When disagreeing, arguing, or fighting with another person we all have the tendency to listen only enough to have information we can use to support our point. In our romantic relationships this can be damaging since we are not listening completely to the other person. We need to fight against this automatic tendency and try to listen to the other person. Listening to understand is not a complicated process. It simply means when another person is talking, we are focusing on what they are saying so we can be 100% sure we understand. That may mean that we need to not interrupt or be focused on what we are going to say next. We simply need to actively listen so we can fully understand and follow the other person. When we do so we can more accurately speak to what another person thinks or feels, and they feel understood. Our conversations will then be more productive because we are working together.

Speaking from your perspective

            The second part of having healthy communication involves speaking from your own perspective. This means you are saying what you think or feel and not speaking for another person. Instead of saying, “You think we should just blow all of our money” speaking from your own perspective would like, “It sounds to me like you want to spend all of our money”. Speaking from your own perspective allows you to express how you think, feel, or perceive another person without attacking them or telling them what they are doing. You are still saying what you want or need to say, just without hurting someone you care about in the process. Conversations will be more productive because you are expressing yourself and allowing the other person to do the same.

Self awareness

            Self-awareness is a vital ingredient in healthy communication. Self-awareness means just what it says: you are aware of yourself. In the context of communication, this means you know what you are thinking and feeling and are using that to help you have a productive conversation. Knowing your feelings means you are not caught off guard when you are angry or hurt by the other person. Instead, you recognize those feelings and use that information to help you express yourself. Knowing your thoughts means you recognize what your opinions and perspectives are, and you use this information to more clearly express yourself. Without self-awareness, we often let our emotions and thoughts control us instead of using this tool to helps us communicate.

Express emotion

            Effective communication often means that we can openly express our emotions to the other person. Emotions give us important information about how we are being impacted by others. Emotions also drive a lot of our interactions. When we are aware of these emotions, we can then openly express those to important people in our lives. This means that we tell others when we are hurt, angry, sad, or scared. When we name these emotions, they lose some of their control over us because we have acknowledged that they are there, and we are not fighting against them. When we tell another person what we are feeling they then have an idea what is going on for us. Without us telling others how we are feeling they will not have a very accurate idea because other people cannot read our minds. We must clue them in on how we are feeling. Once we do so they then have some idea how to proceed in the conversation. For instance, if we tell another person we are angry they might give us space to calm down before continuing a conversation that will only make us angrier. Healthy conversations require us to be open with another person, especially one we have a romantic connection with.

            Now, the next time you get into an argument, disagreement, or fight you know what you can do to have a healthier interaction. Keep in mind that these skills take practice to develop, so as you try to implement them in your relationship things might not change drastically at first. But the more you try to listen to understand, speak from your own perspective, be self-aware, and be open with your emotions the more connected you will feel, the easier conflicts will be to manage, and the happier you may be in your relationship.