Kids Need Convincing

Kids Need Convincing

Children, just like any other human beings, are often self-determining, self-willed, even self-ish. According to child development theory, this self-centeredness is normal, appropriate, and hard-wired until midway through the school-age years.

As parents who want to raise kids who care about others and the world around them – or who simply behave and do what they’re told – this can unfortunately lead to expending a lot of energy trying to convince them to listen or do what we say.  (more…)

Parenting After Divorce

Parenting After Divorce

Divorce is never painless and is rarely a simple process. The practical and emotional difficulties faced, however, are compounded when there are children involved. Parenting after a divorce can be described as trying to share what you treasure most with someone you no longer want to share anything with at all. Having worked with countless parents during and after divorce, I have great respect for the courage it takes to make decisions taking into account their children’s needs as well as their own. (more…)



This three-letter word, so small yet so powerful, is among those most often expressed in my counseling office. This little word comes in many forms. Why did this happen to me? Why is he like that? Why did she do that? Why won’t he change? Why can’t I change? Why am I addicted to this?

What do we do with the Why questions? Here are some ideas that I find myself returning to in many of my counseling conversations…

I’ve heard stories about a man named Jim Kelleher who, as director of Grant Hospital’s Alcoholism Treatment Program in the 1970s, played a big part in bringing substance abuse treatment to the Northside of Chicago. As legend goes, in his office at the hospital there hung an embroidered plaque, the kind your grandmother might make for you. Except on this plaque read the words, “There is no f***ing reason” (minus the asterisks). Jim was so tired of having to say it, he had the plaque made so he could just point to it.

Whether the sentiment of the plaque – that reasons behind problems don’t exist or don’t matter – is accurate is probably debatable. I’ve seen cases where answering the “Why?” question unlocked important clues that were needed to solve a problem. I’ve also seen many times, however, where chasing that answer became an endless rabbit hole of a distraction. What I know for sure is that this little word echoes like a resounding bell in the minds of many as much today as it did back in Jim Kelleher’s day.

So what do we do with the Why questions? Here are some ideas.

Would you be OK if this problem got better and we never answered the Why question?

This is worth asking yourself. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say no to this. The urgency of wanting to find the reason behind a problem really stems from our burning desire to find relief from the problem. Despite our long-held assumption that to solve a problem we must understand its cause, many times we can take practical steps toward bettering our lives without ever knowing a problem’s cause.

If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, for example, you may be plagued, wondering why this person treated you that way. More than likely the abuse you suffered had nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. “Why does he do that?” might not be nearly as important as “How do I avoid toxic, unsafe people?” or “How do I recover my sense of self-worth in the aftermath of what happened?” Even if you never get a concrete answer on why he did what he did, answering the latter questions can lead to recovery and healing.

Focus on How instead of Why

Asking “How?” rather than “Why?” immediately puts us in a more proactive position. Sure, it’s helpful when the answer to the Why question reveals itself. But despite “Why?” being unanswerable in many cases, “How?” is almost always answerable. How do I move forward now? How do we repair trust in our relationship? How do I stay sober? How do I stay safe? These questions almost always move us toward action whereas “Why?” often immobilizes us.


If you could answer the Why question, how would it be useful?

This is a very specific How question that can be very effective. It can provide important clues to what’s really behind the Why question. If you feel tyrannized by a Why question, ask yourself how it would be useful to know the answer. One of two things is going to occur. On one hand you might realize that answering the Why question wouldn’t be very useful at all. I’ve witnessed the relief wash over the face of many of my clients, probably much like those who read Kelleher’s plaque, as they realized the futility of the question, thus nullifying its weight over them. But the other possibility is that this will lead you to something more important than the Why question, itself.

For example, I remember a woman saying to me that she needed to know why her ex-husband had been so abusive. She knew enough not to blame herself anymore, but she felt this burning need to know why someone she loved so much could do such awful things to her. Why did he do it? Why is he like that? As we talked, and as we looked for the usefulness of the question, she said, “I thought I was safe with him, but I wasn’t. I need to know how to stay safe.” All of the sudden she tapped into much more answerable questions. How do I recognize a toxic relationship? How do I set healthy boundaries? How do I regain trust in my own intuition after being hurt like this? None of these questions rely on answering her initial, sincere but distracting, question, “Why did he do that?” But it was this Why question that led her to the important How questions.

Spirit, Time, and Purpose Revealed

gain-loss-smallI received a card once that read, Gain is not more than loss. Only time can tell what each is for.

I don’t know the origin of this saying and a Google search didn’t help. But I love how it puts gain and loss on an equal footing. It suggests that they both have value in our lives. It also suggests the purpose for each is not revealed right away, but over time.

For many, the pursuit of purpose – including the reason behind a loss or a problem – is spiritual. In my pragmatic suggestions above, I don’t mean to negate the importance of this in any way. Often, understanding the spiritual purpose behind hardship motivates one toward healing of self and compassion for others. Rather, as we pursue both the spiritual and the practical answers, it’s important to not let the differences between the two questions – How and Why – undermine the process of healing and change.

Doubt After a Marriage Crisis

Doubt After a Marriage Crisis

When a couple goes through a significant crisis, such as one partner having an affair or even struggling with an addiction, the breach of trust in the relationship can be devastating. Trying to pick up the pieces and heal the marriage, you can often feel paralyzed by the doubt or distrust created in the aftermath of your partner’s (or even your own) actions. However, what many couples don’t realize is that doubt needn’t only be seen as an obstacle, but can be transformed into an essential part of the recovery process.

Doubt is not the opposite of trust. Doubt is actually a necessary aspect within the dynamics of trust. The root of the word dynamic in ancient Greek is strength and power (similar to the word dynamite). Though it sounds contradictory, some sense of doubt is necessary to strengthen and bring power back to trust that’s been broken.

Doubt means that you are thinking. And thinking is good. Before this crisis you may have had the luxury of not thinking, of not evaluating. While you may miss that luxury, rightly longing for the days when your emotions weren’t so on guard, a crisis draws your attention to things you may have taken for granted. Things that very well may need your attention. And the right amount of doubt can bring much needed consciousness, perhaps even wisdom, into your life and your relationship.

If you are the one that broke the trust in your relationship, it’s important to understand that trust takes time and the doubt you feel from your partner must be passed through, experienced, and navigated patiently and successfully on the road to rebuilding the trust you desire.

Doubting your marriage after a crisis doesn’t necessarily mean you are walking away from the marriage. It may mean that you are walking away from the image of the marriage that you held before the crisis. That image may need to be walked away from in order for the marriage to repair.

Doubt may mean that you are walking away from the belief that your marriage is something that you can control. While having some sense of control over our lives is essential, there are many aspects of our lives – and our marriage – which we simply can’t control. Letting go of the illusion of control, however, does not mean letting go of expectations, boundaries, and choice.

Whatever else doubt is, it is indicator of transformation. A transformation in belief, in understanding, in knowledge, in perspective. The transformative power of doubt is often a necessary dynamic in repairing a marriage and rebuilding trust after crisis. And a marriage that has experienced crisis is often in need of transformation.

One thing I hear time and time again is couples telling me they wish they had sought out therapy earlier in the wake of a crisis. Honestly, many times I wish they had, too. Don’t wait until things get worse. Get the support and tools you need in order to begin healing the wounds and repairing your relationship.

New Prairie Counseling Center

Breathe. Touch. Move.

Breathe. Touch. Move.

When we find ourselves stressed, angry, anxious, or depressed we often feel ungrounded, like a ship without an anchor. Overwhelmed by the what if’s of the future or stuck in the what happened of the past, being ungrounded makes it difficult to act from a calm, rational perspective.

Sometimes being ungrounded makes us react poorly to situations, often escalating the difficult emotions that ungrounded us in the first place. For many, being ungrounded can be overwhelming. For some, it simply feels like being spaced out, disconnected, or not really present.

When I think of being ungrounded, I think of my kids in a candy store: frenetically driven by powerful emotions, overwhelmed by all the options, pulled in too many directions at once, reacting thoughtlessly rather than mindfully responding. Unlike the candy store, however, the stressors that typically leave us ungrounded are anything but fun.

Grounding puts you, rather than your emotions, back in the driver’s seat. Grounding helps us to stay in the here and now, so we can interact effectively with the present. Grounding also helps us heal from the past and prepare for the future.

Here’s a simple grounding technique that’s handy to have at your disposal. You can use it in a room full of people and they probably won’t even notice. There are three parts to it: Breathe, Touch, and Move…


Not rushed or forced breathing, frantically trying to relax. Rather, the ‘sigh’ type of breathing that happens naturally when you are relaxed. Start by taking a relaxed, deep breath in through the nose, filling up your abdomen, not your chest. Try to breathe in such a way that you almost produce a snore sound (almost!). Then, as you release your breath, let the air deflate from your mouth like you’re releasing open a bag. As you release let your whole body relax (I focus on my arms, shoulders, and legs when I do this). Repeat a couple times and notice how good and natural it feels.


Then right after that deep breath, Do something tactile. Maybe something as simple as rubbing your thumb and fingers together in each hand simultaneously, or gently turning your head from side to side. This could even be giving a big stretch, like when you’re tired. Tapping your fingers lightly on the table might even help. This simple gesture, whether unnoticeable to others (like picking up a small stone) or more obvious (like cuddling a dog for a minute) not only awakens nerve endings in our skin and activates our senses, it also connects us to the here and now in a tangible way.


If the situation allows, take an opportunity to stand up or walk around. In some cases you could even walk out of the room, get a minute of fresh air, even if it’s just walking calmly to a drinking fountain. As you walk you can practice the breathing and touch exercises described above. If you go for a walk, it’s best to do so with the full intention of grounding – getting connected back to the present. In other words, taking a walk with a coworker to discuss a project probably won’t give you the mental room you need to become grounded again. They say that one of the best grounding techniques is to take your shoes off and walk barefoot outside in the grass. On a nice day, with plenty of fresh air to breathe, this simple act could accomplish all three components – Breathe, Touch, Move – at once.

New Prairie Counseling Center