Wellington Counseling Group

Wellington Counseling Group

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, affecting nearly 17.3 Americans according to data from the National Survey on Drug Use & Health. That's approximately 7.1% of adults in the country at any given time. It's also estimated that as many as 15% of individuals will experience depression at some point in their life. All that's to say, if you're struggling to manage your depression, know that you are not alone and that effective treatment is available. Here's what you need to know about your options for depression treatment in Chicago. 

Forensic psychology is a specialized field within the psychology profession and psychologists trained in forensics play a key role in the betterment of society at large. This discipline leverages psychological theory to any situation where mental health interacts with the functioning of our legal system. Most forensic psychologists will work with perpetrators and victims throughout their experience in the legal system to provide value to all parties involved. At Wellington Counseling Group, we provide forensic psychology services, applying them in a wide variety of applications, including immigration, civil rights, employment, and criminal law. There’s a lot of value to be gained through forensic psychology assessments in Chicago, so let’s dive into some of the key benefits to be reaped.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020 12:10

Maintaining Mental Health in a Pandemic

THE POWER OF PANDEMIC PASTIMES

At the beginning of pandemic lockdown, baking flour and jigsaw puzzles flew off the shelves. Folks dusted off their bikes and rollerblades. They signed up for virtual dance classes and online foreign language lessons. Clamoring for fun hobbies wasn’t just a way to fill the time, in many ways it was self-preservation kicking in.

In times of stress, hobbies can provide an important outlet for us to take care of ourselves. Hobbies provide a mental escape from troubles along with much-needed stimulation to the unstimulated. And, when so many of our usual options for entertainment hobbies and engagement are shrinking -- live music, the arts, dining out, having friends over -- it is important to continue adding delight, structure, and purpose to our days.

In addition, engaging in a hobby naturally helps us to set time schedules, and it shifts our attention to something that feels meaningful and fun. When done over time, hobbies truly enrich our sense of personal identity.

For some of us, these new hobbies were all well and good for the first 15, 30, or 45 days of our new normal. But as the pandemic wore on, our enthusiasm for our newfound hobbies has waned. Maybe we started sleeping a little later. Stepped away from Zooming with family and friends. Left puzzles half done and instead binged hours of TV with bags full of Flaming Hot Cheetos instead.

It’s understandable that some of our initial “can-do” enthusiasm diminished over time and it’s ok to take breaks. We need them. It’s important to cut ourselves some slack, to be gentle with ourselves, and recognize that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Some things just aren’t going to be, or feel, “normal.”

As guardians of our own mental health during the pandemic, we also have to pay attention to when we see ourselves losing interest, feeling lethargic over long periods of time and dramatically reducing our ‘feel good’ activities. Now -- as 2020 draws to a close, yet this pandemic rages on -- is a great time to recalibrate. Perhaps commit to a new hobby: perfecting a smokey eye and a dramatic lighting set-up for Zoom calls; crafting our own greeting cards; virtual fencing; setting the alarm to watch the sunrise.

A great question asked by one of our clients was, “Are there hobbies we should avoid?”

Yes. For starters, we’d say, anything that feels rigid -- too much like a “should” than a “want to.” It’s important to stay active and engaged, but if we start to feel bad or guilty if we aren’t that excited about knitting anymore or gratitude journaling - don’t do it.

A word about screens. By all means, yes, enjoy those occasional Netflix and video game binges, but remember that screen time is best in moderation. Mindlessly scrolling on social media or in front of even great TV isn’t ideal for our mental health.

Nutrition and fitness, in particular, can be slippery slopes. Of course, we want to eat healthy food and move our bodies so we don’t become too sedentary. But, we also don’t want ‘health’ hobbies to become yet another stressor. If we don’t run 30 miles a week, or drink our 80 oz. of water each day, it’s ok. In fact, as therapists, some of whom work with individuals who struggle with disordered eating, we were troubled by the narrative out there that quarantine was the ideal time to get fit, lose weight, become their “best selves,” etc.

We want you to find pastimes that make you feel mentally and physically good, but not put undue pressure on yourselves, particularly during a really stressful time when we may also be feeling isolated and worried.

Here are some of the hobbies WE picked up during quarantine!

Susan Silver

A lot of hiking, tennis, and reading! I find I’m exercising more to compensate for my decreased movement going from place to place for errands and appointments. It’s important to focus on activities that make me feel good. With all the sacrifices required of us in this pandemic, hobbies should feel energizing or engrossing, not something to cross off a list.

Former Wellington Staff Member

I picked up drawing and watercolors again. I don’t particularly have talent, but I do love the process! I find it to be so meditative and time just flies when I’m engaged. Also, right before lockdown, I bought myself a little drone. I have really enjoyed flying it around and making short films. And, flying it was a great distraction because I had to be SO focused on not crashing it into a tree!

Former Wellington Staff Member

My daughters shared their love of craft with me--inspired me to try cross-stitching, great for that particular type of relaxation that comes from repetition. Fitness has always been important to me, so I quickly sought out ways to do that from home; In my case, virtual group-workout classes. I found I was connecting to others even if only through a screen. We have to remember that movement is great not just for our physical health, but our mental health and cognition, too. Which is not to say you have to ride your bike for 50 miles. Even just a walk around the block or jumping rope for a few minutes can release those endorphins.

With a COVID-19 vaccine released, and hopefully good news in the near future, we may not have to rely as heavily on our hobbies as we have the past several months. But, maintaining a bank of pastimes is a nice way to remember to slow down and mix things up from time to time -- to keep ourselves learning, relaxing, and experiencing new things.

Everyone’s therapy experience is unique and personal to them. Choosing the professional to support you through the therapy process is equally as personal a decision. Some people find the perfect therapist for them within the first few appointments. For others, it takes a little longer to find a personality match that works for you and your needs. We understand the pressing nature of finding the right fit quickly. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you navigate the process of finding the right West Lakeview therapist for you.

The city of Chicago serves nearly half a million students. With public, private, and gifted options, you want to find the right fit for your child, because when it comes to your child’s education, the stakes are high. With a less than stellar public perception, the public school system in Chicago is often something that parents are apprehensive to jump into feet first. The price tag on our private school offerings also have many families shying away and some of them moving away. The selective enrollment programs within CPS, however, have a lot of merits that make them a highly attractive option for parents whose children are eligible for them. This is where gifted testing in Chicago comes into play.

We all live in a high-pressure environment. The world around us is fast-paced and the stakes feel high in nearly all personal and professional settings. Balancing all of the responsibilities on your plate is challenging. For many people, everyday life takes a toll on mental health and well-being. It’s not uncommon to find yourself feeling compromised as you try to manage personal, professional, social, and familial obligations. If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone and our Northbrook counseling services can help you take back control of your life, your mental health, and your general well-being.

Grief is a normal response to a profound loss. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, an unexpected separation from a partner, or a dream slipping away, it can be difficult to understand what’s happened and find healthy ways to cope with the loss. If after six months of bereavement, you still feel caught in a cycle of despair and profound sadness without signs of some degree of relief, you may be experiencing complicated grief disorder. If this is the case for you, grief counseling in Chicago can help. 

The COVID-19 outbreak and resulting economic downturn have negatively affected many people’s mental health. If you are feeling increased levels of anxiety and stress, know that you are not alone.

Between stay-at-home orders, school shutdowns, business closures, and rising unemployment levels, we are all dealing with extreme amounts of uncertainty. If you’re already living with an anxiety disorder, your symptoms can be much harder to manage.

Here at Wellington Counseling Group, we want to equip you with the knowledge and tools to better manage anxiety during this difficult and unsettling time. Here are some top tips.

Keep things in perspective and remind yourself that your fears are legitimate

Keep in mind that these are unprecedented times; very few people living today have seen such an upheaval in society. Anxiety can stem from fears of getting COVID-19 and becoming sick, or related fears of being asymptomatic and unwittingly passing it on to a vulnerable person who could die as a result. As Chicago and Illinois slowly begin to reopen, some worry about going back to work and getting a coworker sick, or bringing the illness home to their family as silent carriers. For others, the fear of whether or not they’ll still be valued in this re-shaped world and economy is beginning to creep in. 

  • Find someone who will listen to you without invalidating your fears, such as a therapist or a friend or family member who “gets” you.
  • Create a clear set of rules for your family about what is and is not safe (at home and outside the home). You can adjust these, together, as things evolve outside.
  • Be kind to your mind and remind yourself that there was no way to prepare for such circumstances.
  • Remind yourself the rate of reopening is guided by science to ensure maximum safety.

Stay informed, but take a break from watching, reading, or listening to the news 

Staying informed is important so that you can follow safety precautions and do your part in preventing the spread of coronavirus. However, there’s a lot of misinformation and constantly checking the news can actually do more harm than good.

  • Follow trustworthy news sources like the CDC, WHO, and local public health experts.
  • Limit how often you check the news. Checking too often can further fuel anxiety and fear. If you start feeling overwhelmed, consider unplugging for awhile.
  • Schedule time. If you find yourself struggling to limit your consumption, schedule 30 minutes a day to check the news and social media.

Focus on what you can control

Right now, a lot of things are out of our control. That’s a difficult reality to accept and it can quickly become overwhelming. When you notice anxious thoughts and feelings creeping in, focus on the things that are within your control. 

  • Frequent hand-washing for at least 20 seconds
  • Following social-distancing guidelines and staying at least 6 feet apart
  • Avoid any non-essential trips such as shopping, errands, and travel
  • Wear protective gear such as face masks and gloves

Take care of your body 

Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of our bodies. Prioritizing self-care and physical health can help ease anxious thoughts.

  • Get adequate sleep. Try to get to bed and wake up at the same time and shoot for at least 7-8 hours per night for adults; more for younger people. 
  • Eat nourishing foods. Aim for incorporating a source of carbs, protein, and healthy fat in every meal. Try to get as many servings of fruits and vegetables as you can and avoid processed, fried, and sugary foods. 
  • Stay active. Movement is medicine. Exercise helps relieve stress, manage mood, and boost serotonin levels. Even ten minutes of light exercise can help. Recommendations for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exertion, within limits, have been made by medical professionals.

Spend time outside

Spending time outside quite literally gives you a breath of fresh air. Sunshine and a change of scenery are good for both the body and soul.

  • Go for a walk and think of three things you’re thankful for.
  • Have a picnic if you have access to parks or grassy areas.
  • Get out in nature and unplug from the everyday stressors in your life.
  • If you have a therapist, ask about how to have a session outside when the time feels right to do so.

Practice stress management strategies 

Stress management strategies can help you feel grounded when it all starts to feel like too much. 

  • Try deep, diaphragmatic breathing. Lie on your back and place a hand on your chest and the other on your belly, between your upper belly and rib cage. Breathe in for a count of three seconds. The hand on your stomach should rise as your diaphragm fills with air. Release for a count of six and repeat ten times.
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness can increase calm and overall emotional well-being. Download an app or follow a guided meditation on a streaming service if you’re new to meditating.
  • Do a yoga flow. Yoga can release muscle tension, decrease stress, and promote positive thoughts. You can access flows on exercise apps or streaming services.

Stay connected with family and friends

It’s easy to feel isolated and alone during this time. And that can further exacerbate anxiety and stress. Humans are social beings and it’s important to stay safely connected however we can. 

  • Schedule time to talk to family and friends. It’s easy to retreat when feelings of anxiety start to mount. To ensure you stay connected, schedule regular phone calls and/or FaceTimes with loved ones.
  • Video chat when you can. Face-to-face communication is like a vitamin for your mind. Texting can be convenient, but it doesn’t replace the benefits of video communication with all of the communication that occurs using the expressive human face.
  • Follow along on social media. Social media can help remind us that we are not alone. These are trying times for everyone and a sense of community can help ease stress.

Seek professional help if you’re struggling to manage anxiety during COVID-19

If anxiety is affecting your quality of life, reach out to us at Wellington Counseling Group. Our team is dedicated to helping those struggling during this difficult time. Contact us today to learn more about telehealth or in-person therapy.

In the news: Dr. David Rakofsky 

Dr. David Rakofsky, president and founder of Chicagoland’s Wellington Counseling Group, was recently interviewed by WGN9. To hear first-hand how he recommends dealing with the threat of COVID-19 and the rise of anxiety, watch his interview now.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019 13:16

Children and School-Related Stress

School. As a parent, what feelings were elicited for you as you read that word? Was it excitement? Worry? Dread? Stress? Pressure? For some, school is all about fun, friends, and an ease of fitting in with peers. While there can surely be excitement surrounding the social atmosphere, a genuine feeling of love of learning, and of being challenged academically, for many, school brings about feelings of anxiety and/or dread. The school setting can be an awkward environment for many students. For some, this anxiety is experienced as an internal dialogue: “Is the teacher going to call on me again,” “This class is impossible,” “Everyone but me seems to get what we’re doing,” or, “Will I have anyone to sit with at lunch today?”

Although anxiety around attending school is usually rooted within a deeper issue, school refusal affects 2-5% of school aged children (www.adaa.org). No parent wishes for their child to experience feelings of discomfort or alienation when going somewhere where they will spend the majority of their formative years. As parents, we hope our children will spend their school days engaged in learning and developing as social beings, comfortable in that ever-shifting set of demands and opportunities.

Some reasons students experience anxiety or fear about attending school may include:

1. Social Media. Technology can be a great and wonderful tool. Many schools encourage students to use technology for homework, projects, and even class work. While the benefits to using technology are numerous, there are complexities and negative aspects to its ever-growing use in schools, as well. Navigating social media as a pre- teen/teenager can be emotionally fraught and can exacerbate the feelings of stress and anxiousness a teenager may already experience.

2. Academic Stress. Stress for students during the academic year is understandably higher than during the summer months. Academic pressure--whether emanating from the home environment or the demands of the child’s program--can start to mount at a very young age and typically continues well into the college years for many students. Stress of this magnitude will affect a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing if not appropriately managed in a healthy way. In one related study, students self report having unhealthy levels of stress. Not only are they stressed to elevated levels, but students are also reporting they are unsure of how to appropriately manage that stress, which for some becomes chronic and year-long.

3. Social Conflict. Pre-teens and teenagers are at a developmental stage where friends play a more crucial role in their everyday lives and development than ever before. Your child will be testing limits while trying to negotiate new autonomy, independence, and a sense of who they are; this is developmentally normal, even desired. In doing so, however, there can emerge new family conflicts, intensification of emotions, and misconstrued communication that can leave previously happy households feeling like hormonally-fueled war zones.

At Wellington Counseling Group, we are committed to helping your young person navigate this difficult and confusing time in their lives. Our summer group titled, The Journey From Summer to Fall & Everything After, will tackle topics that pre-teens and teens are interested in discussing, and this summer, we will be running two separate groups: One for students in grades (entering) 6th-8th and one for students in grades (entering) 9th-12th.

Our group leaders foster a safe and inviting environment where pre-teens and teens can feel comfortable opening up with peers their own age to have honest discussions about their school experiences and how to manage and navigate the everyday challenges they encounter and will face in the Fall.

For more information, please contact Ashley Hodges, MSW, LCSW by phone at: (312) 738-8285, or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Resources:

Nieghmond, Patti. National Public Radio. School Stress Takes a Toll on Health, Teens and Parents Say. December 2, 2013.

Shaffer, Leah. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Social Media and Teen Anxiety: How parents can help their kids navigate the pressures of their digital lives—without pulling the plug on the positives. December 15, 2017. https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/12/social- media-and-teen-anxiety

Shapiro, Margaret. The Washington Post. Stressed-out teens, with school a main cause. February 17, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/stressed-out- teens-with-school-a-main-cause/2014/02/14/d3b8ab56-9425-11e3-84e1- 27626c5ef5fb_story.html?utm_term=.80366ff47907

Wednesday, 20 November 2019 13:06

How to Help a Friend Who is Suicidal

This is the final story in a 3-part series about depression and finding support. This installment is directed primarily at those who have an affected person in their life, whether family or friend.

Every day, 123 Americans take their own lives, making suicide a leading cause of death in the United States and an undeniable public health crisis. The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that the rate of suicide has increased by 30% since 1999. Forty-nine states saw a rise of suicides in 2016.

While the data paint a grim picture, there is hope. One of the 12 known warning signs of suicide is isolation, which means that loneliness is a significant risk factor.

This is where your friendship comes in.

Before continuing, I want to emphasize that anyone who is suicidal needs to contact a medical or behavioral health professional for immediate evaluation and treatment. This article isn’t about your being a proxy or saving the day. Rather, it’s about giving you the tools to be a key member of your friend’s support system. Your role as a friend is to be there even if you’re not asked to be, and to address the topic of suicide and discuss it openly because that’s one of the most helpful things you can do.

Here’s how you can make a difference:

Be an Advocate: What to Say to Someone Who You Think is Suicidal

Few people know your friend better than you, which puts you in a good position to recognize if her behavior is out of the ordinary. Some warning signs and suicidal thoughts are clear as day: if your friend is talking about wanting to die or kill herself, it’s a red flag that requires immediate attention. Other signs, like withdrawing, or sleeping too little or too much are not so obvious or definite. If you’re worried, open the dialogue using these recommendations from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen, allow expressions of feelings, and accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.

In addition, ask the following questions:

  • Do you have a therapist?
  • Have you seen your therapist this week?
  • When are you next seeing them?
  • Do they know about your thoughts on this?
  • Are you worried that you might hurt yourself?
  • How long have you been feeling like this?
  • What are things that have helped you in the past when you feel this way?

Offer to sit with your friend as she calls her therapist, or if she doesn’t have one, help her find one. If you happen to know her therapist, you can contact them directly to inform the therapist that you are worried and to please follow up with your friend (note: There is no privacy law that prohibits the therapist from taking a call from you, listening, or taking action regarding the message you might leave with them, which might take the form of a check-in to your friend. But, without an authorization from your friend, they simply won’t be able to acknowledge they are treating them, nor will they offer information about the treatment).

My Friend Sounds Desperate. What the #%$@! Do I Do Now?

In an acute situation where your friend is on the verge of a suicide attempt, call 911. If you can physically be with him, stay by his side--and safely store any medications and/or firearms--until an ambulance arrives. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here’s what you can expect in either scenario:

Calling 911:

  • Share all the information you can with your 911 operator. Tell the dispatcher that your friend is having a mental health crisis and explain his mental health history and/or diagnosis.
  • When an officer arrives at the home, say "this is a mental health crisis." Mention you can share any helpful information, then step out of the way.
  • The officer or paramedic can often talk to a person who is upset, calm him down and convince him to go to the hospital voluntarily.
  • In certain circumstances, police can compel a person in crisis to come to the hospital involuntarily for a mental health evaluation. The laws vary from state to state.

Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • First, your friend will hear an automated message featuring additional options while the call is routed to the local Lifeline network crisis center.
  • A trained crisis worker at the local center will answer the phone.
  • This person will listen to him, understand how his problem is affecting him, provide support, and get him the help he needs.

It’s important to note that, as a friend, there’s only so much you can do. You are not responsible for saving your friend, but you can help him to safety. To use a boating metaphor, If someone falls overboard, you don’t have to be a strong swimmer to save them, but you can throw the life ring to them. Being present and not just a bystander is significant.

Checking In: Staying in Touch Can Have a Tremendously Positive Impact

You can't be with your friend at all times, and she may not always be in imminent danger. She may still be at risk, however, which is why checking in with her is important. You can tell her, “Listen, I’m going to keep calling you everyday, and if you don’t pick up, I’m going to worry.” You can also involve other friends and create a calling/texting chain to demonstrate your support.

Check on the welfare of your friend if you are worried about her or can't reach her. Call 911 to reach the first responders in your community and explain why you are concerned. Ask them to conduct a "welfare check." It is very important to consider the wisdom of conducting your own, in-person welfare check: It is my recommendation that you defer the welfare check to the professionals in your community, in order to protect your own emotional well-being in the unfortunate instance where you may be the first person to discover the aftermath of a “successful” suicide. The traumatic aftermath of discovering that a loved one has ended their life can leave life-long emotional scars.

Conclusion

Be there. Be there for your friend. You are not an expert but a conduit to the proper professionals in a time of crisis. You should know that the love and support you express is immeasurable and can help your friend during the worst of times. Understand the resources that are available to your friend, including his/her therapist, other friends, and emergency services. Be mindful of the warning signs, and always check in. Don’t be insulted if your friend thinks you’re being a pain in the ass--that means you're doing your job.

Postscript

  • One of the most stunning paradoxes of suicidality is that, sometimes the suicidal person is actually happiest during the days just preceding a suicide attempt and can appear quite up-beat. He’s reached a tonic point and is at peace because he’s made a plan. He has a new sense of hope that his pain will disappear and that his life and the people around him will all be better off for his choice. Be aware that this is not spontaneous recovery, but a red herring of the deadliest kind.
  • Nine of out ten people who attempt suicide and survive do not go on to complete suicide at a later date. It is not uncommon for survivors to gain perspective upon seeking treatment and go on to live wonderful lives.

Dr. David Rakofsky is a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and the founder of Wellington Counseling Group in Chicago and the northern suburbs.

Page 6 of 7