Birch Psychology will soon be providing group therapy services. Our initial program will be directed toward emotional regulation and social skills, for children currently in the 3rd to 5th grade levels. In the future, we hope to provide a variety of other groups (including to adults and with a variety of different focus areas).
Dr. Stephanie Miller will be directing the groups taking place within child and family services. Additional information will be provided, as the start date of our first group is confirmed.
Update (10.6.2017): Click here to learn more.
At Birch Psychology we are seeing clients from a host of backgrounds, cultures and traditions. We see people not for their status (e.g. native, immigrant or refugee) but for the person who is in front of us, sharing their story that they have lived. With the recent election many of our clients are faced with a new range of emotions as they look at the future effects of certain decisions that are being made in the oval office, Congress and local legislature. A couple of weeks ago, the 45th President of our country signed an executive order prohibiting entry into the United States if immigrants and refugees were from certain countries, and this was attributed to “extreme vetting.” Many of the practitioners at Birch have parents from other countries, are from other countries themselves, or have a passion of working with immigrants and refugees. We wanted to take a moment to start a conversation about refugees and are going to take the next couple of weeks on the blog to discuss: the refugee crisis that is often referred to in the news; the current process refugees have to go through which was in effect prior to this administration; and what the resettlement process looks like. If there are questions during this series, as always please comment with questions or areas of clarification you would like to see. We hope this is an area we can all seek come clarity around and start a compassionate dialogue surrounding.
First, lets start with the definition of a ‘refugee’ as this term is often used interchangeably with immigrant, which is not accurate. In addition to ‘refugee,’ there are terms including ‘internally displaced person,’ ‘stateless person,’ and ‘asylum seekers’ for people that have had to flee their homes and look for safety. Those definitions can be found here.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a refugee is:
“someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.”
A refugee and his or her family determine that due to the “well-founded fear of persecution,” their futures are no longer safe if they stay at their home, and must flee their country to survive. This is a snapshot, based on the UNHCR data from 2015, of how many people in the world experience this reality (Image 1). Once they flee, refugees must find a place where they can get their basic human rights needs met, rest, eat, get health needs met, and be safe. This is often in a refugee camp, which is set up by a hosting country (Image 1). The following images indicate the growing global problem, and the respective numbers, and top receiving/hosting countries (Image 2).
Next week the current refugee screening process will be explained. Sneak Peak- this process averages between 18 months and 3 years prior to being accepted and entering the United States.
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology
Bullying is a problem that seeps into our children’s schools, our workplace, and social settings. Most individuals think of it as a problem plaguing only our children and teens, but adults face it as well. It is something that appears to be so pervasive in our culture, that one of our presidential nominees has been criticized for being a “bully” himself. What is the prevalence of this in our culture teaching young members of our community?
Previously we could quantify bullying in two different forms - emotional and physical bullying. Now, thanks to rapid technological advancement, there is cyberbullying. This occurs through smartphones, tablets, computers, and any other electronic portal that can transport someone to a public platform. Work e-mails laden with sarcasm and rude comments are keystrokes away. No consent is necessary to post two kids’ pictures with a “who’s prettier?” comment underneath on Facebook. Adults frequently make hateful remarks about others on Twitter because of age, sex, physical appearance, a disability, or religious preference.
This wave of devastating harm has created countless headlines over the years about those that were ruthlessly tormented. Children are feeling there is no reason for them to live any longer, contemplating dying by suicide; and adults are quitting jobs and moving to different towns. I have been doing some research on this topic the past two weeks and I found this 2013 article discussing the technological behind-the-scenes teams that are trying to moderate and eliminate cyberbullying. The most impactful statement during my reading was in this linked article: once confronted with the pain that the bullies were causing the online target, they were baffled that they could cause this person distress. They were taken aback by the human reaction that the victim was having to hateful threats and comments.
While cyberbullying can hide behind the mask of depersonalization, there is in-person bullying that makes the victim very real to the bullies. What is it about typing that creates individuals to remove their filters? The saying “think before you speak” is distorted when individuals that are focused on the instant gratification of typing out their stream of consciousness. In the above mentioned article it is suggested that algorithms detecting harsh words prompt typer’s with a “that sounds harsh, are you sure you want to post this?” This seems like a proactive and/or preventative anti-bullying initiatives, and I am grateful for the innovators that are putting forth efforts into all forms of anti-bullying as it is a dynamic, layered and pervasive global problem.
Mathematics are able to prompt accountability and slow impulse control down so that we realize streams of consciousness, though typed, could affect those on the receiving end. Initially my thought was ‘what is being left out of our conversations, interactions, and expectations that is not only perpetuating this devastating cycle, but fueling it?’ Later, while discussing this topic with Dr. Badwan we circled back to developmental appropriateness of impulse control skills and empathy depending upon age. It may not be that the conversations are not being had, or expectations set, but people are accessing means of communications and connection at so young of an age these skills have not been fully developed or refined. Or it could be the combination. Regardless of the “why” I am curious about the “how” in how we slow it down, and reduce the harmful effects cyberbullying is having on individuals receiving the brunt of it.
Thanks to Dr. Hancock, here is a site that supports parents in keeping kids safe with the internet, tech choices, and offers psychoeducation about the digital culture we find ourselves in. It also offers interactive-educational tools for children and providers, so that we can all utilize the “positive resources for parents, educators and policymakers who teach youths how to use new media devices and platforms in safe and healthy ways.” Prevention starts with education about how layered this problem can be, talking regularly about the online issues, and setting appropriate boundaries. If you or your child have been the target of cyberbullying, seek support from a professional to work through the pain it causes, especially if emotional or behavioral changes are noticed. This website is a resource for documenting and reporting the cyberbullying so that it may be addressed appropriately. As always, if there are additional resources that people have found helpful in navigating such a difficult experience, please pass it along to firstname.lastname@example.org so that it can be shared with the rest of our Birch community.
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology
Although I am at a pause with my education at the moment, ‘the school year’ still holds an air of adjustment and change. Parents have to juggle extracurricular activities, help out with homework, feed the family, all while trying to find some “down time” to encourage an adequate amount of rest before getting back to the grind. For those without children we dodge the school busses and Denver traffic while trying to squeeze in family, friends and self-care in the short respite of our time off or weekends. The pace of our communities and relationships seem to be increasingly rapid. It often appears that the check-lists are running the day and we don’t experience the luxury of enough deep breaths or moments of gratitude. Many go through their day half here, and half in the next place. Fall brings a sense of urgency to balance work/school and self-care, yet it naturally constricts us as the sun dips below the mountains earlier and earlier. Before we know it, the holidays will be upon us, and 2017 will be right around the corner.
This fast-paced lifestyle is something that is welcomed by many but leads to exhaustion for others. We can’t realistically change the pace of our community but we can tap back into our body and savor a slow breath. I have noticed myself craving two exercises throughout the day in the past week. Perhaps it is because when I practice them I feel a sense of defiance towards the pace of my day. More likely, it’s because I am nurturing and tapping into my deeper sense of self. Regardless, I would like to share two favorite exercises that I practice frequently in an effort to encourage a couple more “self-care” moments in your day.
Like there are 4 sides to a square, there are 4 elements to this exercise. Breathe in, hold the breath, breathe out, and repeat.
-Get in a comfortable position, and if it is safe for you, close your eyes.
-Breathe in through your nose like you are smelling a flower, and count to 4. You want to belly breath; filling up and expanding your diaphragm and feeling it lift as you breath in. If you want a noise to focus on, you can tap on the desk or table each time you count.
-Hold that breath as you count to 4.
-Exhale that breath through your mouth, as if you are blowing the seeds of a dandelion. Continuing the belly breath, notice your diaphragm sink, and your belly dropping down to your pelvis.
-To deepen the relaxation of this exercise, make a humming sound as you exhale.
Why it’s awesome: The increased oxygen to your brain and the counting stimulates your frontal lobe. The frontal lobe (or the “wizard brain”) improves your focus, helps you feel more present, clear-headed and grounded to your surroundings. Using the vocal chords activates the vagus nerve, which indicates to your body that the parasympathetic nervous system, or your calming system, should be activated. This is the opposite of your sympathetic nervous system (the “lizard brain” responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze response), and releases ant-stress enzymes and neurochemicals.
Mindfulness Guided Imagery
While I am not going to give an exact example of these exercises, depending on your personal preferences there are multiple options. The guided options give you the opportunity to have someone lead you, so you can fully participate instead of reading, immersing yourself, then glancing at the instructions again. There are some online, in the app store on you phone (Guided Mind has free meditations), or CDs . Once you find one that takes you to a place you feel safe and recharged from visiting, it is easy to incorporate that into your square breathing moments throughout the day, heightening the neuro-stimulation. If someone wants to read a mindfulness guided imagery you have found online in your home, try switching between facilitating and experiencing so it can become a household relaxation experience.
If you have other breathing or grounding exercises you incorporate into your day, as always, we would love to hear about your favorites so we can share with the rest of our Birch community.
Jordan Huber, M.A.
It is one of the most basic needs that all humans and animals incorporate into their daily routine. It is something that is as basic as drinking water, yet our schedules rarely allow for adequate amounts of it. We understand the need for it, but it is not ranked high on the importance-list for many. Difficulty sleeping, inconsistent bedtimes, and hitting the pillow late because of other life variables are common trends clinicians frequently see. This is one of the basics I try to review with my clients in private practice, and the crisis walk-in clinic. Our bodies must have the basic needs covered before higher and more executive functioning can be executed (read up on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). Difficulty with behavior at school or focusing at 3 PM at work? How is your sleep? What is your pre-sleep routine? I’m going to make a case for sleep today, just try to stay awake for it.
Babies’ circadian rhythm does not fully develop until they are approximately 6 months old. This is why newborns are unable to understand mom’s desire to count some sheep after the sun goes down. We often coach newborns and young children the necessity of following the circadian rhythm by implementing a bedtime routine. The baby’s brain starts noticing the consistent cues of the environment; there is less light from the sun, there’s pre-bed bath time, the temperature in the room is cooler so a blanket is given, and a story is read. If this routine is conducted consistently enough, the baby’s body starts activating the self-soothing center in the brain, and she gets drowsy as she is being put into PJ’s before the story is read. Routines allow our bodies to wind down, prepare for sleep and start moving away from activating the executive functioning areas in our brain.
During sleep the brain is able to do things it cannot while awake because external stimuli is finally paused and the brain heals itself, consolidates the day’s happenings, moves experiences to the memory area of the brain, and most importantly grows. Not only does the brain reap benefits, but the body does too. Cells and bones are regenerated and repaired, metabolic functioning is able to re-balance, and our body finally gets to rest. Studies have been conducted for decades, and all indicate the same thing - sleep helps improve mental health, performance at work and school, and the well-rested are more capable of handling negative experiences and experiencing lower levels of stress. The amounts of sleep needed for children differ significantly from infants to 18 year olds. To get a better understanding of appropriate amounts to allow the body and mind of your child to grow, reference this link to the American Academy of Pediatrics suggestions table (below).
So now we’ve been reminded of why sleep is important, and I want to circle back to the newborn’s routine mentioned earlier. This routine is called a sleep hygiene routine, and there is no age limit for implementing this daily. One of the main reasons is because of consistency, and it allows our bodies to tap back into the learned importance of giving ourselves the ability to wind down, slowly ease the mind into relaxation, and let the mind and body rest. Some professionals recommend this routine be started approximately an hour and a half before desired sleep time. One of the most important elements to this routine that I cannot stress enough to my clients is that this routine completely limits screen time. No TV; no laptop; no iPad; no phone screen. It may seem like a scary Halloween prank I am pulling here, but the screens stimulate the areas in the brain that need to wind down for fully reparative rest. Some other suggestions that can help create an ideal sleep-mosphere are cooler temperatures, winding down with a warm shower or bath, reading, having soothing noises (such as a noise machine or your favorite natural element CD playing in the background), and lowering the room’s lights. While these are all suggestions that work for some, they don’t necessarily work for all, and each routine should be tailored to the needs and preferences of each person.
Maybe as this school year is in it’s early stages, the whole family can try implementing a sleep hygiene plan. Remember, they are as unique to each person and family as your pajama preference, so get creative and listen to the suggestions (as appropriate) of your little ones. Below is a PDF of additional tips to try. If you have any suggestions or favorites for you or your family we would love to hear. E-mail me tips or elements of your plan that work for you at Jordan.Huber@birchpsychology.com and I can compile them for other individuals and families to try!
Jordan Huber, M.A. | Birch Psychology
Maslow's Heirachy of Needs:
How do we, as human-beings, learn? Does it differ? What is the best way for us to learn?
Of course these are culturally dependent questions, but primarily focusing on Western cultures, these are the precise questions that Western scientists have set out to answer. They begin by studying and collecting data based on children's behavior in the classroom, and then standardize the results for the age-appropriate population as a whole, and then consider that "normal". And we, as parents, listen to the "experts" without question; if the experts say our children should reach a milestone at this particular age and they do not, then automatically there is something wrong - why are they not the same as their peers? They're the experts, right? The fact is, that each generation discredits previous generations proven scientific "facts" while that they impose their newly proven "truths" onto our progeny. While some children are able to function and perform well under the newest rigid academic demands, others are often lost and have their natural gifts and inclinations suppressed through the learning templates the school systems have adopted. If we take a look at the learning styles around the world, many other cultures do not have a single, standardized way to learn. Many other cultures understand and appreciate that children learn and develop in a stair-like pattern, leap forward, plateau, and leap forward again, but at their own pace . There is no correct way to learn and they often let their children blossom into their own natural unique gifts when they are ready.
This begs the question if our own culture invests too much time and energy into the immutable word of the scientist rather than investing in our own children and their unique gifts. Read this intriguing article to find out more and decide for yourself.
Kate Rogers, Psychometrist and Administrative Assistant
One of my earliest loves was a good story. “I’ll Love you Forever,” Nancy Drew-anything, a great series, I was all about reading as a kid. I was asked in elementary school why I loved it so much and responded with “you can go anywhere and never leave your chair!”
I still love good stories, and have always wondered why they always make me feel and experience a neurological sense of wanderlust. When I started studying the brain, I realized a story does not stop at the words that are printed on the page, or how we read those strings of words… stories activate parts in our brain that remind us of experiences related to the events that take place in the story.
Have a look at this article and think about what makes you really experience a story- what you feel, what you perceive, and what you catch yourself daydreaming about later. Maybe this summer you can get lost in a story, or share some of your favorites with those you love most.
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology
I've been reflecting, with the help of some suggested readings (from those kind enough to share with me recently) on the issue of busyness. I know that many of the clients I work with struggle in this area. I can even sense that many of the behavioral and relational challenges experienced are contributed to by the reality (for all of us) that we are trying to pack too much into a day, a week, etc. This article was recently shared with me - and there are many others writing on the topic (from differing perspectives, e.g., perfectionism/imperfection, wholeheartedness).
Ous H. Badwan, Psy.D., M.F.T.
"The Disease of Being Busy"
How Full Is Your Tank?
If you haven’t heard this quote already, please read it aloud and let it sink in:
“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.” – Christopher Germer
What does this bring up for you? Do you feel relieved telling yourself that you deserve the same kindness you give your child or loved one? Or do you feel like it is an unattainable idea you simply cannot fit into your schedule?
Often times as caregivers or parents we are under the pressure of constantly giving and putting our own well-being and self-compassion on the back-burner. Being attentive to our own well-being with nurturing compassion and making it a priority is often called “self care.” It tends to our emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, helping us feel replenished and rejuvenated. Below are links to brief articles that touch on the importance of self care, and how to improve your compassion towards yourself during your day. Maybe make it a challenge, and try to incorporate one next week!
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology
For all of us: https://www.utdallas.edu/counseling/selfcare/
Here is a link to an article about foods and how diet affects mental wellness, especially in youth. It links certain foods and supplements to improvements in mental health conditions. There is also a link for the UK's Mental Health Foundation's podcast by Dr. David Peters about diet and mental wellness. As both indicate, these are resources to raise awareness, and a doctor should always be involved when making significant dietary changes.
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology
Diet in youth-
Throughout our lives we hear time and again how vital sleep is for our well-being. However, when our lives become busy, sleep is often sacrificed in favor of more waking hours. Kids especially love to stay up late and parents frequently fight bedtime battles.
We know sleep is important, but what we often do not realize is just how important it is and what the implications are if we do not get enough. If you are looking for an incentive to reinforce early nights to bed, watch this video from TED:
Aubrie Musselman, Birch Psychology
As adults we are often able to communicate verbally, and sometimes forget that children are still developing this form of communication. This is often why therapists working with children will use play-therapy; children can express their feelings and communicate them, but they often struggle with accurately “naming” or associating words to their feelings. This is developmentally appropriate, and can be affected by disturbing or tragic events that they witness or survive.
Upsetting events for children may vary from child to child, or even child to adult. In the first link, Dr. Steven J. Berkowitz, MD, discusses the subjective experiences of a child, and how they may interpret certain events as being traumatic. It is important to keep in mind that witnessing or experiencing a distressing event can affect the child, but they may not always be able to verbally communicate it to parents, caregivers, or adults. In the second article, Child Mind Institute trauma expert Dr. Jerry Bubrick discusses some of the signs of trauma adults can look for in children. Understanding the non-verbal messages the child may be communicating can lead to early detection of how the child is coping with the experience. This can also help the care-giver determine if additional support and professional help is necessary to assist the child in healing cognitively, psychologically, and emotionally from the experience.
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology
A sensory processing problem is often associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD, however it can be much broader than that. Sensory processing is a term that refers to a person’s nervous system receiving and interpreting information that is received by the senses and translating it into “appropriate motor and behavioral responses”. When the sensory signals in the brain don’t get organized appropriately, the individual’s brains finds it difficult to process and respond to the incoming stimuli. According to occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, this is often referred to as a “neurological traffic jam that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.” This can result in over or under response, and interfere with relationships, motor coordination, school performance, and completing basic routines. A 2009 study estimated that 1 in 6 children experience a sensory processing disorder that affects multiple areas of their daily life.
So do we approach treatment from a mind or brain perspective? Those two options are often the only ones considered… after all it is a neurological connectivity problem, right? What about the physical limitations that sensory processing difficulties affect? We frequently talk about the heart-mind connectiveness which influences the type of treatment that we seek, but we often leave out the body component. All three of these elements of self are interconnected, and all three are equally affected by something as significant as a sensory processing disorder. Occupational Therapists (OTs) are health providers that are often not considered resources to call upon when children or adults struggle with a sensory processing disorder. But these disorders affect activities of daily living (ADLs), and efficiently executing ADLs is what OTs specialize in. In the attached fact sheet you will find the interventions OTs can address across the developmental lifespan through neuroscience-based interventions. To honor the whole person and the entirety of the disorder they suffer from, don’t forget to approach treatment in an integrative way.
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology
 Ben-Sasson, A., Carter, A. S., & Briggs-Gowan, M. J. (2009). Sensory over-responsivity in elementary school: prevalence and social-emotional correlates. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 37(5), 705-716.
An interesting article about an fMRI study that Yale researchers did surrounding ADHD and the identification of measurable, brain-based differences in individuals with the condition. We hope this can some day improve our own diagnostic accuracy, as well as benefit the social dialogue around what ADHD really is. At the core, individual's with ADHD possess cognitive differences that manifest as behavioral symptoms. The understanding that these brain based differences are physiological and not related to motivation, drive, parenting, etc., will hopefully provide more support and understanding to children and families struggling with these issues.
Jordan Huber, Birch Psychology
We asked Aubrie Musselman, our administrator and psychometrist (meaning that she also helps administer and score psychological assessments), to write about her experience with applying (and being accepted!) to graduate programs in the field of psychology. Here is what she wrote:
Depending on one’s perspective, an educational end goal can take on many different forms. For many, learning to read and write is a monumental accomplishment that will precipitate many important opportunities in life. For others, obtaining an undergraduate diploma is a sign of academic achievement and completion. For a smaller population of individuals, possession of a graduate degree is the ideal academic destination.
Motivation for obtaining graduate level training is always multi-faceted and for psychologists, there are several poignant reasons why they spend countless hours in pursuit of their academic and professional goals.
When applying to psychology graduate programs, many essay prompts ask individuals to identify reasons they want to study psychology beyond a desire merely to help people. However, when we get to the heart of why psychologists do what they do, the answer truly is to help others. Although this simple answer is applicable to all mental health professionals, this desire to help can be broken down to smaller factors and is manifested in many different ways.
Aspiring psychologists pursue professional training because they have an ever-present thirst for knowledge. Matriculation through graduate training programs is not an easy feat and only those truly dedicated to a lifetime of learning successfully complete their training. This desire to constantly add to their knowledge base enables psychologists to successfully serve their clients at the highest level.
In addition to career-related and academic motivators, psychologists do what they do for relational and existential reasons. Psychologists have a deep seeded hunger for creating meaning in their lives. They achieve this meaning through building relationships with their clients in which they have the ability to help guide decisions and provide insight. For many psychologists, this desire stems from personal experiences that they realize they could have navigated in a more effective way and therefore strive to help others change their own situations. For others, the drive to create meaning in their careers is propagated by someone who helped them and they seek out a profession in which they can pay the service forward. Psychologists strive to serve their clients but clients often do not realize that they too influence and benefit their therapists. Psychologists are people deeply invested in self-improvement and self-inquiry. In relationships with clients, therapists witness and observe growth and they grow in turn. Through client-clinician relationships, the omnipresent goal of bettering society is evident.
Ultimately, each individual psychologist has a unique answer in explaining why he or she chose to pursue higher education. Their respective experiences vary greatly but there are always common threads in their answers. This unity in core motivators is a testament to the solidarity of the profession and it is manifested through the work that psychologists do every day.
In many forms of therapy, whether with children or adults, learning and practicing relaxation techniques is an important component. In some cases, a well-learned coping tool can provide an individual with a sense of power and control over their own anxiety and distress. In other cases, relaxation techniques can allow an individual to delve more deeply into difficult material. There are a number of techniques that can help facilitate the process of deep relaxation. For instance, a child in therapy will often hear the phrase "smell the flower, and blow out the candle" to help encourage a flow of breathing in and out, slowly and deeply. The link below is intended to be used in a similar fashion: breathe in and out with the unfolding and collapsing icon: