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    I post insights that I have here about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and various techniques that I've used to help people. Cool as that is, you gotta make your own choices. Its no replacement for professional advice or counseling, so just bear that in mind before you go taking my advice.
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Why Are The Holidays Stressful?

So I took a sabatical from the blogging thing to take some well needed rest. From today forward, as long as I can, I will continue with my Monday and Thursday posting schedule. To kick things off, I figure I’d get a handle on one of the most stressul times of the year for most Americans. The holiday season is upon us, and the concept behind the holidays is to take time off and spend it with family, right?

At least that’s what I did, and for the most part, it went pretty good. I also took some time to take it easy and relax, and I think this is lost in the idea of the holiday season. As a result, I think it might be good to ask the question: Why the heck are the holidays stressful?

Well, duh, Jim. Its a no brainer. First, you have the shopping. You have lists from your kids and family members, and you have to go to the store and get those gifts. Not only that, but you also have to get the best price, because money is tight, and you have to make it all count. Let’s not forget the crowds, which, depending on where you go, usually requires you to have some kind of medieval armor on your body to protect you from the shoving masses and their own dreams of cheap gift perfection.

Then there’s the cooking. Holidays always involve food, and heck, someone has to make that too, so that involves more shopping, more money spending, more finding the best deal and more stress. Then the food has to be prepared, which is a job in and of itself.

Thirdly, you have the family gatherings themselves, which, as I mentioned in my last  post, you need a battle plan for. So at the very least there you can be somewhat prepared, but the December holidays always seem to have more punch to them than Thanksgiving.

Between all of these things, you have to maintain a job, go to various school shows, plays and sports, and manage the usual baloney that doesn’t come with the holidays. You also have the weather to contend with, depending on where you live, so that throws an additional monkey wrench into things.

Well what the heck do we do about all this anyway?

Well, here are a few things to manage all this.

1. Shopping: Shopping online is probably one of the easiest and best ways to avoid stores entirely, which means avoiding crowds. My wife and I wanted to go shopping on Black Friday, but we decided that we were going to stay home and shop online instead. Got some great deals and shopped in our jammies. The also allows you to compare prices easier than shopping all over town, and if you can get free shipping, it could very well be time well spent.

2. Cooking: Many hands make light work, so if you can get a team to help you, it can make all the difference.Get your family together and do a family event in preparation for the holidays. Get the kids in the kitchen and bribe them with a trip to the mall or something to get them to help you make cookies. The more you plan in advance the less you’ll have to do last minute.

3. Family Stress: Family can be annoying depending on the setting. The key is to keep it light and fun! Find yourself a game to bring with you to distract from the discussions about politics or religion. Bring some classic Christmas movies over like White Christmas (one of my personal favorites), or Miracle on 34th Street. Have a plan ready for how you’re going to handle your family so that when the time comes, you’re ready for any concerns you have.

All of these issues that come with the holiday season have things you can change, and things you can’t. The things you can change are what you do in preparation for all this, and how you spend your time. The things you can’t change, like the crowds, prices, and family members, will always be there, but how you interact with all of these things is up to you.

Decide to have a “Happy” Holiday, and you will have one. Don’t just wish it, want it!

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Why Coaching Rules and Counseling Drools(?)

TonyAndSiggy

As Bob Dylan used to say, “and the times they are a changin’!” The climate is changing (no matter what your perspective is on who’s fault it is), the economy is changing (or is stagnantly bad, depending on your perspective), and in many respects, we seem to need to constantly be in tune with how times change.

Let’s face it, if you want to get a job now, you have to work substantially harder now than you used to in order to get it. Raising children is different than it used to be and seems to get more difficult. Technology seems to change rapidly, and despite our economic state we seem to continue to be obsessed with what’s next with regard to technology.

You know what else has changed? The desire for therapists to stay in the Mental Health profession.

A lot of therapists are ditching their previous career in exchange for the lucrative profession of “Coaching”. And why wouldn’t they?! After all, being a coach means you join the likes of Tony Robbins, Larry Winget and other “success coaches”. You can charge what you want, say what you want, work with whoever you want. Your previous counseling niche can be your “coaching specialty” and you can work with people who are “less crazy.”

By the way, every time I use quotes, just picture me doing finger quotes. Its much funnier that way.

Who wouldn’t want this job? Especially as therapists, working with people who are considerably healthier than most counseling clientelle seems really sexy. Not having to worry about insurance companies, and jet-setting across the country and around the globe to speak with hundreds of people seems like a really great idea.

There’s just one problem with that.

Anyone can be a coach. Anyone.

Hell, I’m a coach. My name’s coach Jim, and welcome to my coaching website! You don’t need to be certified and if you have good life experience, you can pretty much work with people. Whereas therapists have to go through 7 years of school, 3 years of additional work before you’re licensed, and then continued maintenance of that licensure in order to keep it in check.

I’m not knocking the coaching profession at all, as I think there is real value in the coaching process. My big issue is with therapists converting to coaches because its “quicker, easier and more seductive.”

So what’s the big deal? How does this affect you? Well it certainly doesn’t help if you are looking to get treated for Anxiety or Adjustment Disorder, ADHD or Depression.  But those are those really bad mental illnesses aren’t they?

So what’s the point? The point is that I got into the counseling gig because I wanted to help people. If I got into the coaching profession, I’d still be interested in helping people, and would probably use much of the same, if not exactly the same methods I use when I work with people. How is that possible? Because instead of doing the “And how do you feel about that?” gig, or the “tell me about your mother” gig, I do the, “how the heck can I get you feeling better and living better as soon as possible” sort of gig, and I do that now, with my counseling clients.

In case you didn’t know, this is a coaching approach, and not a counseling approach. 

This isn’t just about me. This is about you. Would you feel more comfortable going to a therapist/counselor? Or is it more hip and cool to go to a “success coach” or a “stress management coach”?  I think its important to understand this, because if the times truly are changing, and people are feeling less comfortable admitting that they need a “counseling”, then perhaps a change of a different kind is in order.

What do you think? I’m going to put in a poll for this too, because I think its important to have a conversation about stigmas, the process of therapy vs. coaching, and what that means to you. Talk to me people.

How To Manage Financial Stress

DollarSign

So a friend of mine from college decided to do what I do for a living: help people. Only instead of helping them the way I do, he helps people get out of debt and determine if they should go into banruptcy or if there’s another way out. Personally, I think that’s pretty dang cool, especially considering the Economy we’re in.

As a result of our recognizing we have the same focus (you know, helping people) we talked about doing a bit of cross-blogging to bring home similar ideas on how to manage the same problem. Him with the finances, and me with the mental and emotional stress.

OK, so let’s assume you’ve got money problems. Heck, I’ve got money problems myself, and yet my wife somehow manages to make things work out well in the end (fortunately for me). However, when you have money problems, its all you think about. The feeling is overwhelming, and with everything that comes with money, there are also the related areas: where you live, what your family eats (or if they do at all), gas in your car, inability to find a job. All of these things contribute to feeling financially overwhelmed, and if you don’t keep your wits about you, it could affect these other areas of your life.

So here are some methods you can use to manage the stress of feeling financially overwhelmed. Bear in mind, this is to manage the stress, not the financial situation itself. They may seem like the same thing, but they’re not. How do we tell the difference? Let’s break down how your brain processes information, shall we?

See, your brain takes in information, processes it, sends it to your Core Value System. This is all the stuff you believe about what’s right and wrong with your life, and with the world. Once that information is sent there and tested, its sent to your Emotional Control Room. This takes all its cues from the Core Value System, and you start feeling whatever emotion is connected with that belief. If people charging you late fees on your card because you were 2 days past due is wrong, you may start to feel anger, or frustration.

Now that we know the process of how you start feeling something, now we can apply it to these stressors. Let’s get you out from feeling overwhelmed, to feeling like you can at least manage the emotions of your situation. Remember, sometimes you can’t change the situation, but you can change how you feel about it or how much you think about it.

1. Don’t think about these problems all the time. When you think about nothing but problems, you don’t leave room for anything else. Furthermore, you allow the feelings associated with these problems to affect other areas of your life, including how you communicate with family and friends.

2. Set aside an hour a day to think about the financial issues, and then choose to think about something else. By setting boundaries with your thought life, you get rid of the “all or nothing” attitude. You can’t not think about the financial concerns, because they are very real and affect you in a dramatic way. If you think about them all the time, this causes undue stress which can cause heart problems, anxiety and panic attacks. So we need to make time to think about it, so you can organize your thoughts, and then go about your life.

3. Live and Learn, or think about the choices you made that contributed to this financial difficulty, and see what you can do to change them. We have some influence on our financial situation. For example, my wife and I bought our house right before the housing market fell. We can’t get out of it, and we realized that we would have been better off in a lot of ways if we had stayed in our apartment and waited a year or so. Write down these mistakes, not to stress you out, but to look at them in a thoughtful way so you don’t make the same mistake again. Its like that person you dated that you thought was “the One,” but then they did something really crazy or stupid that made you run screaming. You don’t want to make the same mistake there, and you don’t want to make more bad financial mistakes that put you in the hole even deeper.

4. Use the stress to your advantage. Take an hour a day to destress (alright, I know I’m asking you to take a lot of time, but much of this takes time. And how can you have time if you don’t take time?). Sit down and write, talk to a friend, or excercise. Do something that gets your creative juices flowing, or the blood flowing, either way. All that built up stress needs a release, and some of the best music, art, and literature are made through hardship.

This is just stuff I do to manage what I have. I have to do these things myself, because if I don’t, it will show and I’ll start transferring my stress to them, and they have enough of their own.

To manage the functional element of financial stress, you might want to go to a guy who knows what he’s talking about. Check out my friend Jim Kutkowski, who is an expert in managing financial debt for people, and giving them solutions that work best for their situation. Check out his post to get the other side of managing financial hardship.

Should You Do What I Want You To Do, Or Should I?

So I’m racking my brain to try to think of something to post. I was dead tired last night and I couldn’t even think straight, so I wasn’t about to try to write something legible for you to read because it would probably look like a combination of rants and long 3 syllable words.

Needless to say it would be terribly boring.

So I think I’m going to talk about something that has been a theme for the week in my sessions and in my social networking. Its a funny concept called “should.”

It all started with the crazy Facebook messages I started getting last Thursday. The posts went something like this:

“No one should die because they don’t have healthcare, and no one should go broke because they get sick.”

Well that sounds awfully nice, doesn’t it. Very altruistic. Then I thought about something.

The word “Should.”

Should is a funny word. Webster’s fourth definition of should defines should as “used to express what is probable or expected.”

What is probable or expected depends on the person saying it. Clearly, this instance was blatant and shameless plug for the new healthcare reform bill that is currently in the senate. I’ve already said my peace about that, so I won’t get into it (nor do I want to have a political discussion. I’ve learned when you talk about religion and politics, its like poking a lion at the zoo). Anyway, the thing that ticked me off the most is someone telling me what should and shouldn’t be based on certain conditions of what they believe.

Well, heck! Why stop there! Let’s keep going with this “should” thing shall we. For example: No one should be allowed to use the “N” word, but Kanye West and Jay-Z do it all the time. No one should be without a job when they need work, but we’re at a 9% unemployment rate. No one should be mean to each other, but lets face it, that’s never going to change. No one should treat the people they love so poorly that it makes people wonder if they love that person at all.

See, two can play at this should game. Sadly, should is not just a funny word, its a funny concept.

Its called FantasyLand. If should is what is probable or expected, it is probable or expected according to my own point of view. When you ask a society to do something based on should, you’re basically asking them to take on your worldview and agree with you long enough for the rest of the world to make change.

Wow. That sounds like a tall order. Not saying its impossible, but if you’re looking to do this, you had better have enough money to not work for a while, because that’s probably all you’re going to be doing (this is basically saying that this stuff is in the Outside World, which is usually stuff you can’t control).

However, there is something you can change. You.

Yes, that’s right, you. When it comes to should, you have direct control over what you should do. Let’s take a look at my should statements, and instead of saying “no one” I’ll put “I” instead.

I should never use the “N” word, even though Kanye West and Jay-Z use it all the time. I should never be without a job when I need work, despite the 9% unemployment rate. I should not be mean to anyone. I should not treat the people I love so poorly that it makes people wonder if I love that person at all.

Suddenly, should isn’t FantasyLand so much, is it? Suddenly should is something attainable. What happened? Personalization. We personalized the statement so it is applicable to our own lives. Imagine what you can accomplish if you think about what you should be doing, versus what you are doing right now.

This can be a building block for what you want to do with your life and who you want to be. I should be able to do this, and if I’m not, what’s going on there? It allows you to take an honest look at what your core values are, and how you can apply them to your life.

So before you ask others to agree with your should statement, ask yourself if you’re doing all you “should” to be the best person you could be.

So what do you think? Is should applicable to all peoples, or is it better served starting with oneself. Talk to me.

The HR3200B and You: Is This Kind of Thing My Bag Baby?

So I’m a bit late with my posting. I usually post at around Midnight the night before, just so you can read this while you’re drinking your coffee at work or whatever it is you do in the mornings. However, I didn’t have all my information right, and I wanted to make sure that I had enough information to post before I go blathering on about something really really serious, and probably mostly boring. Whenever you’re combing through 200 pages of legal jargon, it tends to get a little tedious.

Anyway, I’m here to talk about really serious business. Mainly the HR3200B, which in case you didn’t know, is a bill being proposed in the House of Representatives to reform health care, and namely health insurance, as we know it. It sounds like its providing a “public option” for healthcare, which would allow people to buy a federal form of health insurance to cover themselves.

Frankly, until this weekend, I hadn’t heard anything but what the pundits have to say about it. I could not with good conscience sit here and take a side about it without reading it over myself. I’ll condense it down so you don’t have to go nuts reading it yourself, because after all, that’s probably why your reading this anyway.

OK, now why do I give a crap about this anyway? This isn’t a politics blog, right? This is about helping yourself and touchy feely stuff! Very true. However, its also about counseling, and how I help others, and how I help you. Since counseling really IS my bag, I stopped to realize that this bill could affect how I do counseling, how I run my business, and how much I get paid. Suddenly, it was clear that this bill became VERY important to me. Even though the ACA (American Counseling Association) is behind it, I figured I needed to know what it meant for me, and also for you.

Why is it important to you? Well, if you are going to get counseling using your insurance, it does make a difference if the rules are going to change about insurance. So I think its worth mentioning, and telling others, because no one else is doing it; I know, I’ve looked.

serious-cat

OK, time for serious business. Without further ado, here’s how I think the HR3200B will affect counseling as it stands:

1. The bill allows LMHC’s to bill for Medicare: Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, only Licensed Social Workers and Psychologists could take Medicare. This bill seems to change that to include Licensed Counselors, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. Why are they doing this? Because according to the bill, you can’t provide service under the public option unless you can accept Medicare. Makes sense

2. The bill pays out at the same rate as Medicare: I guess that’s ok, I don’t know what Medicare pays (but the bill explains something like 75-80% of what is billed). I’m not sure if that involves the billed amount or the allowed amount (yes, these are two different things). If its the allowed amount, that may not be very much fun for me, but probably fine for those seeking counseling.

3. Employees can opt out of the plan offered by Employers: I might be wrong about this, but it looks like employees can opt out of the employer offered plan if they want to go with the Public Option. You’ve got 30 days, but that’s it. Then the employer is required to enroll their employees into a health insurance plan.

Ok, let’s stop here and take a look at just this stuff. Sounds OK so far, but I have a few concerns.

1. If the federal system is like the state system, then we may be in for some trouble. I have many reasons why I don’t accept Masshealth, the state run health insurance in Massachusetts. Here are some of the reasons why:

– The require that children and adolescents take a test that asks them about their sexual history, and all kinds of other prying questions. They probably have a reason for this, but I think its in poor taste. Understandable in some circumstances, but it could be a turn off for some parents.

– They audit charts every quarter or every half year. If they don’t like the way I write my progress notes, or conduct my charts, they take money back. Not to mention the invasion of privacy.

– They take about 3 months to pay, and take every day of it to do so.

– Did I mention that they don’t pay very well.

OK, don’t get me started, but those are the main reasons why I don’t take it. I hope to heck that Medicare isn’t this way, because as a small business, I wouldn’t be able to keep the ball rolling.

2. How will this affect my business, and businesses on the whole? Honestly, I don’t think anyone has the answers to this question. A lot of people are thinking that the Public Option will reign supreme and that it will ruin the insurance industry. However, Masshealth has been in Massachusetts as long as I can remember, and the other companies are still competing. I think it will depend on how the Public Option goes, the ability to choose providers and whether or not providers get on board with it or not. My main concern is with the cost of the public option going down, the private costs will go down to compete, and the rate that providers (like me,…Hi) get paid will go down. Which determines whether or not I can keep helping people.

How does this apply to you:

1. The world is not going to end. Whether you think this is a good idea or not, the world will go on much as it always has. No one knows for certain what this will do to other insurance companies, but there will always be something they can offer that the Public Option does not.

2. Read the Bill and figure it out for yourself. Listen to other people and what they say if you want (like me, duh), but its always best to educate yourself. Yeah, yeah, I know that involves reading, but no one is going to sit there and tell you what it says without having their own agenda in mind. I mean, I have my own agenda too, but its in my effort to save my own butt.

To bring it all home, I started researching this because I felt fear about my ability to provide for my family. I was concerned about how this would affect my life and my overall livelihood. Then I realized as much as this bill could change the way I do business, there really isn’t much I can do about it. Sure, I could learn more about it, and I could teach you guys about it, but that’s about it. If it goes through, and things change, then I must change with it.

The point is flexibility with things that you can’t change. I can’t change what happens, but I can change what I do about what happens. Its got the WATER Method written all over it. So here’s me applying my own stuff to my own problems. I hope it helps you too!

Are You Sure You’re Making The Right Choices?

I’m not a marketing guy at all, just an average Joe trying to make his mark in life. I help people though, and I guess I’m good at that, but every now and then something hits me upside the head and gives me a halfway decent thought. Today I’ve decided to do a little post on marketing, because quite frankly, I’m a little fed up with what a lot of the “smart people” are telling me about marketing my business online. This is also applicable to everyday life, so if you’re here for that, this post is for you too.

Anyway, the story goes a little something like this: the Mrs. and I went one Saturday to a big box store. You know the type: you by 25lbs of sugar because its cheaper to do that than buy the lousy 5lbs they give you at the grocery store. Same thing goes for virtually every other product they sell you. Nothing small, always big. On our list was coffee, and we needed it in a big way! Just so you know, I would be considered a coffee addict. I have a cup when I wake up in the morning, and I have a cup or two at work.

Also little known fact: big box stores tire the hell out of me. I don’t know if its the really high warehouse ceilings, or the rows and rows of isles filled with stuff, or the dirty floors you can skate on if you have the right shoes…but something about them makes me really tired.  Well, when we hit that coffee aisle, I couldn’t have been more encouraged!

There they were in their giant orange plastic bags: 10lbs of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee! Moreover, my wife exclaimed that she had a coupon for said coffee! Bonus! Overwhelmed by the enticing aroma of coffee, we greedily snatched a bag, threw it in our cart, and sped to the register.

When we got home, I ripped that bag open, sloshed some water into the coffee maker and immediately made a fresh pot of coffee. Ah, exlixir of life! It was delicious, but somehow we were still tired. We chalked it up to a long day and took a nap.

Now we went to the store specifically because she was going to school all week and we wanted to be prepared. So the first morning she goes off to school, I got about 6 hours sleep, but I made the coffee and sent her on her way. Later on, I went off to work, and at around noon I had a wretched headache. I chalked it up to getting very little sleep and cursed the new schedule. I stomached through my clients and figured I would just go to bed early and make sure I got enough sleep this time around.

Next night, got 8 hours sleep. Same routine: go to work, splitting headache. This new schedule really is handing out the beatdowns! A few days later, I finally go through a day without headaches, so I figure I must have gotten my sleep schedule on target.

So we go on for a few weeks having coffee in the morning, but we notice that when we headed out to work, we were both drained. We figured it was the weather, because for the last few weeks, it had been raining almost every day. Here in New England, people get Seasonal Affective Disorder all the time, so we figured it was our turn to be bummed because of the weather.

Then one day I go about my routine and make the coffee. Only today, I did something a little different. I read the label. Just for the heck of it. And there it was in bright pink letters.

Decaf Coffee

For the last month, my wife and I had been drinking decaf coffee, without even knowing it. Moreover, we bought the coffee in our desire to wake up from our day. We were so caught up in trying to get what we wanted that we didn’t even take the time to read the label carefully enough. After all, only an idiot like me would buy Decaf Coffee (could someone please tell me what the purpose of decaf coffee is, because I have yet to understand it) and not intend to. (By the way, the wife didn’t get headaches because she packed Starbucks Mochas with her, so her caffine intake was just fine.)

Not only did we not believe we made a mistake, but we blamed everything under the sun BUT the coffee! We thought it had something to do with the sleep schedule, the weather, just being busy in general. We were so convinced that we made the right choice in coffee, that we didn’t even factor it into the equation.

So aside from the fact that I’m a complete moron, there’s a moral in here somewhere:

1. If something isn’t right, it might be because YOU made a mistake. Its so much easier to blame other things than it is to blame ourselves and the dumb choices we make. Don’t be so confident in your choices that you end up kicking yourself down the road. Be sure you are making the right choices for your life or your business, and if it isn’t producing the result that you want, then you may need to do something different.

2. Carelessness can create far reaching consequences. If I had taken just a couple more seconds to read the label, I would have saved myself from days of headaches that didn’t need to be there. I also would have been a lot more alert for my clients and I likely would have been a better counselor to people (try being empathic when you feel like you have a knife in your skull). Careless choices can cost you time, money and effectiveness.

3. Get all the details on a “great deal.” It might look good, and sound good, but it may not be what you want or need. Remember that any great deal is only there to sell product. We fell into the marketing hook, line and sinker. We needed coffee, they had it, and with a coupon! They sold us coffee, which is what they were trying to do to begin with.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, be careful, and know what you’re getting yourself into, especially with your business. Advertising is of course, a crap shoot, but other than that, understand the time or money demands on a project before you get into it. If you don’t know, there are plenty of people who do, so ask around. Also, ask people to critique your stuff. Maybe you think its totally awesome, but that’s because you like yourself and believe in yourself (all good things mind you). However, getting some constructive criticism can prevent those far reaching consequences.

Life is the same way. You may think you’re making all the right choices, but something doesn’t seem to be right, and no matter what, you end up with bad results. You’re miserable, but you’re not sure what you have to do to make things better. So try something different, and take a look at what you could be doing wrong.

Don’t be stupid like me. Discover what you might be doing wrong, and fix it before the headaches ensue.

Top 4 Things You Can Do To Manage The Tough Economic Times

Top 4 Things You Can Do To Manage The Tough Economic Times

4. You can Panic!
I have seen people depressed, angry, anxious and frustrated over the state of the economy. A lot of people seem to be doing this, and it doesn’t seem to be working very well with them.

3. Stick to your job and pray that you don’t get laid off. Or, conversely, you can keep your eye out for new jobs in the event that you do get laid off. This way you are prepared and ready in the event something occurs.

2. Have a plan. Having a plan in place in the event disaster occurs can help you stay one step ahead. For example, having a savings account with some cushion money might be helpful, or deciding what areas of your life need to cut back in order for you to survive and meet your needs.

1. Keep it real and stay calm. Remember that with the news “If it bleeds it leads!” The news will always report bad news, so if you allow it to affect your emotional state, this could lead to panic, which is #4. How is the economy in your state? In your city or town? How are things with you and your family personally? This might allow for a better perspective.

Remember that you can only affect your own sphere of influence…meaning that you can only change your thoughts, feelings, actions and words. Everything else is out of your control, until it becomes an area in your control through opportunity or some other shift. I encourage you to use your energy to stay focused on what you can control and what you can’t. And maybe, just maybe it will allow you to breathe a bit easier too.

www.NewHopeCounselingOnline.com