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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.

Law of Attraction and Santa Claus: How They’re The Same.

BlogPic-8-10-09 

You know, I like to Twitter. Really, I do. But one thing is getting in my craw and I’m dying to get it off my chest. So without further ado:

Jim Valeri’s Official Rant on The Law of Attraction!

OK, for those of you who don’t know, the Law of Attraction was popularized by the book, “The Secret”. This “Law” basically states that “if you really want something and truly believe it’s possible, you’ll get it”.

Wow, what a revolutionary idea. But then something hit me.

This sounds a heck of a lot like Santa Claus.

So let me get this straight. If I sit and wish with all my heart for something, and I truly want it bad enough, then its going to come my way. Because, see,  “the universe” is going to listen to me, and judge that I want it badly enough, and then decide to give it to me.

I’m starting to think that “the universe” has a Naughty and Nice list.

I’m sorry, but I can’t buy into that.

But wait, Jim! Aren’t you a Christian? Don’t you believe in something similar? You know, that whole faith thing?

You got me there! Thing about faith though, is that its not about me sitting there asking Santa Claus for a handout, wishing with all my might that something will come my way. Its more about faith in God and his ability to forgive sins, heal and provide, and that’s based on, you know, the Bible.

I’m not going to shove my religion down your throat, but I thought an explanation is in order. The difference between “The Secret” and Christianity is that the Secret is NOT a religion. It may be for some, and I suppose that’s fine for them. However, religion aside, I like to look at things a little more realistically and try to give people stuff they can apply to their lives.

My biggest problem with the Law of Attraction is that it doesn’t take into account mental illness of any kind.

Can you think of anyone who has more motivation or more desire for things to get better in their lives than someone who is depressed on a daily basis? Or suffering from anxiety that paralyzes them? Would it not follow that if the Law of Attraction worked, we’d see a lot more people beating the broth out of the alphabet soup of mental illness?

If you buy into the Law of Attraction, are you seriously going to sit here and tell me that if someone wants to feel better enough, that eventually they just will, because the universe will grant them that feeling? Or that the universe will somehow change their chemistry or their past history, and somehow make it all better? Can anyone honestly say that the Law of Attraction can cure mental illness?

The bottom line here to me is “the message of the Law of Attraction” and not the Law itself.

Anyone who has a message is trying to sell you something or change your thinking or behavior. Even I am trying to sell you on the idea that the Law of Attraction is kind of like Santa Claus. Why am I trying to do this? To get you to think. See, I’m trying to change your thinking, and I’m only doing it because I think you’re kidding yourself if you think that wishing your way out of problems is going to make them go away.

This goes with anything else: money problems, relationship problems, personal problems, etc. Most things don’t go away or come your way without a little elbow grease. Anything worth obtaining is worth working harder or smarter for.

If the Law of Attraction puts you in a positive frame of mind, then ignore my little rant here. However, I encourage you to consider what these people are really saying. Anyone I’ve seen saying that the Law of Attraction gets them wealth, isn’t wealthy because of the Law of Attraction. Its mostly because they’re trying to sell you on how to use the Law of Attraction in your life. If they really believed that they can attract this stuff without talking about it, then why not go buy an island in the Carribean, sip Pina Collada, and enjoy their success?

That’s what I’d do anyway, and I’ve been wishing for that million dollars all my life. Hasn’t worked yet.

P.S. – I’m not the first guy to say stuff like this. Jonathan Fields talked about this over a year ago, but with more scientific reasons. And I’m using the picture from his blog post, so special thanks to him.

Give me what you got. Am I reading into this wrong? Talk to me people.

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!

Managing Anxiety and Depression: Being Grateful

Everything’s Amazing, and We’re Still Unhappy.

LouisCK-Conan

The guy you’re looking at above is a comedian named Louis CK, and if you click on the pic above you’ll get sent to NBC’s website, and the video that this blog is about. So go check it out and then come back (and don’t get sidetracked watching more movies  :).  )

OK, so basically Louis goes on a rant about how everything is amazing, and yet, no one is happy. Despite the fact that this show was done almost a year ago, this actually holds true for today. Think about all the stuff we have: iPhones, personal vehicles, computers, high speed internet, plane flight, and all the other ammenities we have. We’re still unhappy aren’t we. He calls this generation “the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots.”

Are you in this category? I know I am from time to time. Complaining about how slow my internet is; or how long I have to wait in traffic; or how annoying my Blackberry can be from time to time. Sometimes I snap myself out of it, and realize that I actually HAVE a Blackberry, and I remember a time when I didn’t have it, and suddenly I’m thankful for it.

So how do we ensure that we’re not a bunch of spoiled idiots? By being thankful for what we have, and being patient with what’s to come. How do we do that? First, think about how much we complain about how things aren’t going our way, or how we are so annoyed with things not going as fast as we’d like. We don’t even take into account the idea that the world really doesn’t revolve around us or our time schedule. Seriously think about what you take for granted, and write them down if you have to so you can remind yourself about what you have . Bear in mind, these do not have to be materialistic…they can be family, friends, pets, and other greatness in your life.

Second, use this list to counter any thoughts of self-pity when you think about what you don’t have. Seriously, life could be so much worse for you, and sometimes you need to take these ideas into consideration in order to change your state about your life. So many times I’ve run into people with depression who had a lot, but because certain exceptions or conditions weren’t met in their life, they feel as though they’re a failure, or that life isn’t good for them. I usually encourage them to think about what they have and what’s good about their life. By changing your perception of your life, you can change your feelings about your life as well.

This isn’t anything new. The Secret goes into this kind of thing with the Law of Attraction. Now I’m not a big Law of Attraction nut, because I think you get what you get by working hard, not by asking Santa Claus for it and wishing really hard. But being grateful for what you have is an idea that’s older than that: A La Counting Your Blessings (for the Christian readers, this is along the lines of Phillipians 4:8).

I guess my bottom line is, if you can use what you have as a way to take your focus off what you don’t, then you may end up being happier in the long run. Don’t wait for someone else to make you happy, find the areas in your life that are already good, and  think about that stuff. Comment welcome.

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