Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Surviving the Holidays.. Falalalala

November 30, 2016

Kaitlyn Gitter, LPC

It’s nearing the holidays once again. That time of year where we sip hot cocoa, enjoy delicious meals, and partake in family traditions. The time of year that is supposed to be warm and fuzzy, where everyone smiles and gets along like one big happy family…or at least that’s the part that people put on facebook. The reality is that for many people the holidays are stressful! Your “to do” list may seem to be longer than ever and meeting the demands and expectations of family members just as unreasonable. We are taught to believe that being with family is something we are supposed to enjoy and look forward to each holiday but if this is not your reality that is OK. Cut yourself some slack, no family is perfect and if seeing Uncle Jerry and listening to him talk about why his kids are better than yours or hearing Grandma Lucile say you never come visit her is mind-numbing, I assure you that you are not alone. We all have unreasonable people in our lives, often times in our family. We may avoid seeing them most of the year but the holidays are a sure way to end up at the dinner table across from them. This holiday season I want to give you a few tips that I discovered in Dr. Alan Godwins book How to Solve your People Problems on how to deal with these unreasonable people. Consider this a gift to yourself this year

1.       Expect the Drama
Go into your holiday get-togethers expecting there to be drama because there was last year and every year before that. Often times we go into a situation expecting and hoping it will be different and then are let down or surprised when our family members simply act the way they always have. By expecting the drama we can prepare ourselves and not set ourselves up for disappointment.
2.       Don’t React
This can be a tough one especially with people that really know how to push our buttons but most of the time reacting only escalates the situation and leaves you feeling more miserable. So when cousin Marie starts talking politics just like she always does chose to not react. Chose to not respond emotionally, not as a way of giving in or letting her win but as a way to make the day more enjoyable for you. Let’s face it, feeling angry or hurt isn’t comfortable. You can choose to not react in that way.
3.       Plan a Response
Since you are planning that your family is going to act the way they always have you are able to plan a response. So when your mother-in-law lays on the guilt trip about you missing last Christmas or that they never get to see the grandkids you can have a planned response that can be presented calmly and respectfully. In this situation something like “I’m sorry you feel that way, you are important to us and we are doing the best we can”, will often take the tension out of a brewing argument.
4.       Set Boundaries
Lastly, set boundaries that work for you. There are different ways of doing this both physically and emotionally. In terms of physical boundaries it is ok to say NO when you are asked to attend four different holiday gatherings on the same day. That sounds exhausting and stressful, setting a boundary that works for you and makes the day more enjoyable. Agree to attend one or two of the parties and find another time to meet with family or friends that you missed on the holiday. Setting emotional boundaries means making others aware when their actions are impacting mental health and well-being. For instance, when Grandpa Joe makes comments about your choice in dating partners or Aunt Carol criticizes your adult child for not finishing school kindly set emotional boundaries. Making statements like, “I appreciate you being concerned about the well-being of me and my family but your comments are often hurtful”. Another option would be “I know that you care but please trust that I am listening to myself and doing what is best for me and my family. “ Then allow yourself to move on from the conversation and to not ruminate about it the remainder of the day. You can chose to not let these interactions ruin your holiday.

So in this season of giving, don’t forget to give a little to yourself as well. Listen to yourself and honor your needs, they are equally as important as the needs of other. We can’t change the unreasonable people in our lives but we can change the way we react to them

Happy Holidays!

Godwin, Alan. 2011. 
How to Solve Your People Problems. 
Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers


Kaitlyn Gitter is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Esprit Counseling and Consulting in Neenah, WI. Kaitlyn believes that human connection and growth are the keys to emotional wellness. She is dedicated to providing a safe, comfortable, and peaceful experience to explore your life story.  Kaitlyn works with children, adolescents, families, and couples and has a special interest in working with individuals who have an eating disorder.  To schedule an appointment with Kaitlyn now, please go to

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What is EMDR?

November 15, 2016

Kathy Thome, LPC

Having been fascinated with how this therapy helps people recover from traumatic experiences, I was recently trained to do EMDR. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a therapeutic tool that seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information that is “stuck”.  These stuck sensations (such as images, feelings, sounds, and smells) can cause people lasting negative effects in their daily lives.
A successful EMDR session has helped people be less disturbed by the memories or triggers that evoke those memories. Traumatic memories become stuck because when someone becomes very upset, the brain does not process information in the same way it does ordinary memories.  That trauma becomes “frozen in time” and each time you remember it, it is as though you are experiencing the memory as you did the first time. 

EMDR allows for your brain to process those memories that are frozen and store them as it would store other information. Each client is different in how they have experienced trauma and how long it takes for them to recover from it.  EMDR is not a “one size fits all” technique.  Each client is adequately prepared to process the trauma prior to having his/her first EMDR session. If you would like to experience a session utilizing EMDR, schedule with Kathy in the bio below.

For more information about EMDR, go to:

Kathy is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Esprit Counseling & Consulting in Neenah, WI.  She has extensive experience working with individuals, couples, and families who want to make changes in their lives.  Kathy believes that you possess the tools necessary to make positive changes in your life, and she offers a comfortable, open, and supportive setting in which to do so. Kathy's experience as a teacher and school counselor also offer a unique perspective when working with adolescents and their families. She is currently accepting new clients. To schedule an appointment with Kathy, please go to and schedule online today.


Thursday, November 3, 2016

How to "do" Mindfulness

November 3, 2016
Jennifer Olkowski, LPC CSAC

In my practice, I am often recommending mindfulness as a tool for the “tool belt of life”.  I usually get one of three reactions.
         What is that?
        I’ve heard of it but it sounds “new agey”.
        I’ve tried that and I’m terrible at it.
So let’s address each of those reactions, one by one. 
First, what is mindfulness?  Many people assume that mindfulness is about “emptying the mind” or “being clear of distractions”.  In my experience, nothing is farther from the truth.  Simply put, mindfulness is “entering into the present moment without judgement”.  It is noticing what is happening, from our observing self, while working to suspend judgement about what we are noticing.  For example, sometimes as a therapist, I have therapy sessions that don’t go well at all.  The kind where the client gets up to leave, or the client that shuts down because of something I’ve said, or the couple’s session that literally leaves me sweating with stress.  My mind will relentlessly tell me that “you are a terrible therapist”, “see, people have figured out that you don’t know what the hell you are doing”, “your reputation is ruined and no one will want to come back to you after that session”. 
A few short years ago, I would ruminate and spin with those thoughts for days at a time.  I would drive my husband crazy, seeking reassurances that I was still a good therapist.  When I started practicing mindfulness, it eventually allowed me to see those thoughts as just that “thoughts and only thoughts”.  I have learned that my mind is a problem solving machine and when I am in pain, my mind’s number one job is to identify the source of pain.  Most of the time, our minds identify us as the source of pain, with clear and haunting detail about how we aren’t “good enough”.  When I practice mindfulness, I am able to see how my mind is working and it helps me to take the thoughts much less seriously.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have those thoughts and I still don’t like them, but they actually happen less frequently and certainly with much less intensity than they used to.  Now, when they show up, I don’t ruminate for days but rather just a few minutes, and then I  thank my mind for trying to problem solve and then let it go.
The second response that I hear is that mindfulness is “weird and new agey”.  The practice of mindfulness has been around for over 1,000 years.  We tend to think of mindfulness as a “Buddhist” thing but the Buddhists didn’t invent it, rather it was cultivated by Buddhists and grown into a practice.  While meditation has been in America for a very long time, it became a part of the medical field in the 1970’s, when Jon Kabat-Zinn, a student of mindfulness, brought it into the medical field as a way to cope with chronic pain.  Since his groundbreaking research, there is so much more research to prove that it is an effective tool in coping with many medical illnesses as well as a great tool for every day life.
Third, (and this is probably the most often heard one) is that “I’m not good at it” or “I can’t stay focused”.  What I believe is one of the most awesome facets of mindfulness is that is literally no way to fail at it.  The gist of mindfulness is this:  pay attention to something in a present moment and non judgmental kind of way (like your breath or while eating).  When you do this, your mind will quickly get bored and start to think about everything (except what you want to be paying attention to).  At some point, we realize that we have “drifted” and are no longer paying attention to the present moment.  That moment is considered “waking up”.  When you wake up, “boom” you are back in the present moment. Then 5 seconds later, you have probably drifted again.  Again, we realize it and then “boom” you are back in the present moment.  In the span of doing this for 1 minute, you might drift 500 times.  That is perfectly acceptable.  The idea is that you bring yourself back to the present moment 501 times.  Each time we drift is an opportunity to wake up.  Sometimes we catch that we have drifted right away, and other times we might drift for very long moments (kind of like when you are day dreaming while driving and you miss your exit).  No matter, each time you “wake up”, you are back in the present moment.  There is literally no  way to fail.  We drift, wake up, drift, wake up, drift, wake up.  We repeat this over and over.  Eventually we start to “build a muscle” in our brain so to speak that starts to be able to drift a little bit less often.  That muscle allows us to be able to see things more clearly too, with time and practice.
Why not give this some practice now?  There are so many ways to practice being mindful:  breathing, eating, listening to music, driving, showering, walking, etc.  Don’t worry about doing it for 20 minutes a day.  That is too overwhelming.  Just do 30 seconds here, 1 minute there, and over time you will start to notice differences.  You will become more aware of how your mind works.  You may even start to see your mind as your ally, rather than as your enemy.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

Jennifer Olkowski, LPC, CASC is a counselor and co-owner of Esprit Counseling in Neenah, WI. Jennifer is passionate about a variety of therapy styles including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. More recently, Jennifer has dedicated significant time to become proficient in the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  She has more than 15 years of experience working within the Fox Valley Community and is currently training her 3 month old Samoyed, Denali, to be a certified therapy dog. To schedule an appointment with Jennifer, please go to