What’s in a Dream?

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I woke up the other night, believing that the dream I had was totally real. I even told myself that I needed to go wash my hands. Then I chuckled at the dream my brain had developed to help me process what was happening in my life. Our brains are very inventive and our subconscious (where much of our dream content is produced) loves to communicate in symbols.

Of course, I know I’ve piqued your interest in what this dream was about from that little introduction. I will share later. First, I want to talk about the purpose of dreaming. I like to say we dream for about 3 different reasons (of course, I’m sure there could be more, but I prefer to keep things in neat little categories when possible).

Reason #1: To Process The Events Of The Day/Recent Past

I like to think of our brains as having a little scientist inside, who also performs administrative duties, like filing away memories and information gathered during the day. As you move through your day, you are gathering information from everywhere, whether or not you are aware of doing so. Our mind is active at night, processing what has happened during the day and our recent past. The scientist is filing away all of that information gathered throughout the day into the appropriate files for safe keeping. So, for example, if you are leaving a doctor’s office and 2 people in the waiting area are discussing the most recent flavor of Oreo cookies as you leave, you may have a dream that night that you have discovered the world’s largest double stuffed cookie. Though you did not consciously acknowledge this conversation or actively participate in it, it was picked up by your brain and needs to be filed away neatly, usually while you are sleeping.

Reason #2: To Practice For the Future

You can look up the research yourself, but reason number 2 for dreaming is to practice events or skills that we use in our waking life, which can actually improve our performance. The examples I give of this are having dreams about work related tasks, or if you have been playing a game or doing an activity that day and it shows up in your dreams later, you are practicing. Some research shows that performance is actually improved the following day if a practice dream occurs. Like I said, look it up yourself.

I also group dreams that have the theme “what would I do if…” in this category. Like, what would I do if someone broke into the house or I forgot my lines in the school play? I think dreams that are connected to our primitive mind can go in this category also (i.e. animals chasing us, which is something our ancestors truly had to worry about).

Reason #3: Your Unconscious Mind Is Sending You A Message

This is the category everyone loves the most. This is the Sigmund Freud “The Interpretation of Dreams” kind of stuff. These are the dreams that bother you all day long. Where you ask yourself “what does it all mean?” Those are the dreams that you should look into and see what your unconscious mind might be saying to you.

There are symbols in those dreams. Some of which are universal symbols — like if you had a dream about a light bulb turning on, most people would say that represents having an idea. Then there are symbols that are unique to you — things that mean something to you personally but not necessarily anyone else. Those are a little harder to identify and that may be a whole different blog post. In the meantime, I love this site for looking up meanings: DreamMoods.com

My Dream

So, back to my dream I promised to share. I dreamed that I was in the bathroom of the house where I grew up. I don’t know why but all of a sudden the toilet started spewing feces everywhere. I mean it was coming out like a water out of a pot that is boiling over. I was trying desperately to contain the feces; to corral it if you will. But to no avail. That was it. I woke up briefly and remember thinking “don’t touch your face with your hand because it’s got poop on it” and went back to sleep. When I woke up again, I realized that the dream was just a dream and that’s when I began laughing. Immediately I knew that my brain was processing my feelings around all the “shit I’m trying to manage.” I’ve got my job, and a doctorate that I’m working on, and my personal life and a million other things that I’m trying to manage and Monday I was feeling like it was a lot; a lot of shit. My brain responded by illustrating that feeling in that dream. Isn’t our mind a wonderful thing?

Until next time! Sending you peace, love and happiness,

ep

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Therapy: What’s it really like?

By: Erin B. Patterson

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We’ve all seen therapy happen in the movies or on television, but is that what it’s really like? I often tell my clients on their first visit that it doesn’t really happen like it does on television. I mean, you can talk about your mom if you want to, but you don’t have to lie down & do it.

So, I thought let’s write a blog about what it’s like with me. Every therapist doesn’t do it the same way but knowing what to expect can help calm our anxiety about a new thing significantly. Let me tell you how it goes in my office.

 

The First Visit

After you reach out, our receptionist will get you set up with a 60 minute appointment, which we call an intake session. At this appointment, I collect your payment for the visit and have you fill out paperwork about yourself. This paperwork usually includes things like your address, who lives with you, where you work, medical history, etc. I go over some of the specific policies that we have about confidentiality, fees, cancellations, and myself (i.e. where I got my training, what my experience is and how to get in touch with me). Then we begin the assessment.

During the assessment, I will begin by asking you to tell me what’s going on that has brought you to therapy. There’s no right or wrong way to answer this question. Just tell us what’s going on. I will ask more questions as I need to in order to determine a diagnosis. A diagnosis is necessary if you plan to use your insurance to pay for treatment, otherwise we will skip to the last step. I may use assessment tools during the first or second sessions to determine your level of anxiety, depression or other symptoms you report.

Finally, we will determine a treatment plan. The treatment plan includes what goals you want to accomplish by coming to therapy, what methods I can provide to help you accomplish those goals, and how often you’d like to attend appointments.

 

Follow-Up Sessions

I tend to provide a relatively laid back approach to your therapy. Usually in the second session I review the cognitive model (cognitive behavioral therapy), which is used in some form during most of our sessions. After that, you are in the driver’s seat. You get to determine what we talk about and what we work on. I will work to provide tools for you to put in your toolbox so that when life throws problems your way, you have a tool to use to solve the problem. Sometimes we’ll do worksheets, sometimes we’ll watch videos, sometimes we’ll write on the white board. We will always be working on helping you achieve those goals you set up in the beginning and if those goals change, we can change directions.

 

Graduating from Therapy

The amount of time therapy takes is different for everyone. Some people come in and have very specific short-term goals they want to accomplish. Some have harder stuff to sort through. Some folks feel better in as few as 4-6 visits. Others need a little more time. The goal is for you to keep making progress. As long as you are moving forward, we are on the right path. Most people start out with a session once a week or once every other week. As you feel better, the frequency will reduce and the sessions will become more spaced out. Once you get to a place where you are feeling stronger and more confident, we can move to an as needed basis. I call this graduating from therapy! I like to be fired because someone feels better!

Occasionally, people want to come back every few months for a bit of a booster shot, as I call it, or if some big issue surfaces. There’s nothing wrong with that. Therapy is a service that is provided for you and you have a say in how it goes. I always encourage my clients, and anyone seeking therapy, to discuss with your provider if you feel things are not working. I’d rather the provider have a chance to do something different than you just quit therapy because it isn’t working. But always keep in mind that the therapist is providing you a service, and if you are not satisfied, it’s worth talking with them about!

 

Sending you peace, love and happiness,

~ep

Introducing Our New Providers for 2019!!

Introducing Our New Providers for 2019!!

I am so excited to announce that we are expanding our practice and we now have more providers to offer you help for today and hope for tomorrow!

I know it has been some time since I have written in here. I admit; I prefer to post via Instagram than on the blog but sometimes there is just too much to say! I’d like to introduce these amazing and dynamic providers to you all!!

First let’s meet Alysia Leak!! Alysia Leak is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy Associate (LMFTA) trained in the practice of individual, couple, family, and group therapy & providing services in our Gastonia office on Saturdays. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Alysia attained a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pfeiffer University – Charlotte.

Alysia has facilitated music groups, academic support for people with mental health and medical disabilities, and SAMHSA Anger Management (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Treatment will vary by situation, but approaches include identifying client strengths, empowerment, options, and reasoning, helping clients move forward in their relationships and lives.

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Next, let’s meet Wendy Johnston, LPCA!

Wendy Johnston is a licensed professional counselor associate trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) & hypnosis, among others. She is providing services in our Gastonia office & takes a holistic approach to helping clients work through issues in a compassionate and caring way.

Offering individual counseling for adults suffering from depression, anxiety & panic, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, trauma & sexual abuse, grief & loss, chronic illness, and auto-immune disorders.

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And finally, in our newly opened Durham Office, let’s meet Ericka Thomas! Ericka is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in North Carolina.  She earned a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Liberty University. Ericka works with teenagers and adults experiencing anxiety, trauma related symptoms, and stress. Ericka uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral therapy to treat symptoms. Ericka focuses on being supportive, providing encouragement, and empowering each person. Ericka enjoys watching movies, yoga, and traveling during her free time.

Ages served for Individuals: Adolescents 14-17; Adults 18+

Ericka is available on Fridays from 11 am to 2pm for appointments. Saturday appointments by request.

I am so excited to welcome all these wonderful providers to our practice. We really do pride ourselves in providing the best services possible and each of these providers are hand-picked and their work critiqued prior to being offered a position with our practice.

We hope you all have had a wonderful 2018 and here is to the best year ever in 2019!!!

Sending you peace, love and happiness,

ep

My Experience with Cranial Electro-Therapy Stimulation

By: Erin B. Patterson, MA, EdS, LPCS, NCC

A few months ago, I saw an advertisement for a small device called Alpha-Stim® in one of my professional magazines. The advertisement claimed that this device helped people naturally manage anxiety, depression, PTSD, insomnia and pain symptoms. Naturally, I was intrigued as I am always looking for natural ways to help clients manage their symptoms. While I understand pharmaceuticals have their place in treatment at times, I like to explore as many natural means with clients as possible before turning to medication.

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I began doing some research about the benefits and risks of Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation. I found tons of research supporting improvement in pain of tension headaches, fibromyalgia, etc. I also found articles that a few dentist offices were using this as a low-cost and highly effective manner to treat anxiety of patients while in the office.

I wasn’t able to find any risks except for people who had implanted devices that were electronically regulated (i.e. pacemakers, etc.).

With that, I wanted to try it for myself. I spoke with a representative at Alpha-Stim® who recommended that I use the device on the “sub-sensory” level. And so I began. The first evening, I set the device for .5 and 20 minutes. I did not feel any shocking sensation going through my ears or my head. I did feel a tiny heartbeat sensation on one of my earlobes. But other than that, nothing. I watched television and just sat there. About 15 minutes into the 20 minute treatment, I began to feel sleepy. Now, full disclosure, I had a glass of wine at dinner and determined that it could be the wine that was making me tired.

The next night, I made sure that there were no outside variables that would contribute to any tired or false warm fuzzy feelings. I set the device at .5 for 60 minutes and sat down to watch television. At about 40 minutes into the CES, my husband asked me if I was alright. I simply nodded and then realized that he must be noticing something that I should also take note of. So, I asked him “Why what are you noticing?” He simply replied “You’re just really quiet over there.”

I was feeling quiet. I was feeling peaceful. I wasn’t really feeling like talking. I just felt like staring at the television and siting. Peacefully. It was an odd sensation. I occasionally would have this feeling but this time, it did appear that this device created this sensation.

So, I followed up with the Alpha-Stim® representative and found out more about what was going on biologically through this CES. The picture below shows the changes in neurotransmitters after one 20 minute session of CES with the Alpha-Stim® device.

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As you see, what was happening to me biologically was that my cortisol level was going down, my serotonin, beta endorphins and melatonin levels were increasing, accounting for my peaceful quiet feeling.

I was shocked (pun intended)! I entreated one of my close friends, while we were at a social gathering, to give it a shot and see if her results were similar. Prior to her 40 minute session (at the same .5 strength that I used), I assessed her level of stress and pain on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is the highest. She stated that her stress level was at a level 5 and she did not have any pain in her body at the time. After about 20 minutes, I began to notice a physical change in her face. She had what I call sleepy eyes. They were a little watery looking and her face looked very relaxed. And so, I asked her how she was feeling. She simply nodded. At that time, I reassessed her stress level and she reported that her level was down to a 3 out of 10 and others began observing that she was “pretty quiet over there.” At the end of the 40 minute session, my friend indicated that her stress level was down to a 0 and she was feeling “really relaxed.”

It wasn’t just me! My friend had a similar response to this device! I now use the device several times a week for 60 minutes at a time on the .5 setting. I have noticed that when my neck is hurting from tension, the pain disappears during CES. I have noted improvements in my sleep and if I’m ever feeling particularly stressed, I just hook up and go about my business.

I have to say that I am a firm believer in the benefits of this simple and natural treatment. I hope we will be able to provide this for people in our community at some point so that others can experience the benefits of this natural treatment. Of course, I will write more as my experience continues using CES. If you are looking for natural methods to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, PTSD or pain, this is definitely worth considering!

Sending you peace, love and happiness,

~ep

My ADHD Life: Chapter 1; Non-Negotiable Life Rules

Non-Negotiable Life Rules

By: Erin B. Patterson

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On Friday, I did a video talk about ADHD & Anxiety in Women. In the video I talk about my journey to discovering my own ADHD diagnosis and ways to manage it. If you didn’t get to see the video, you can watch it here. One of the things I mention, and probably one of the more important techniques I use, is what I call non-negotiable life rules. I got this term from Peter Shankman in a Webinar I attended last year called “How to Make ADHD Your Superpower.”

I thought as a follow up to the video I could share with you my list of rules for my life so you could have examples for your own life. The key is to start with one or two rules at a time and focus on making them part of your everyday routine. Then these things that will need to be done will become second nature. You won’t have to remember to do them and by doing small things daily, help yourself from becoming overwhelmed and beginning the anxiety/depression cycle.

Here are my rules (I’m going to go in order of the day):

  1. Every morning, I make the bed. To make this job easier, we only sleep with a quilt. No flat sheet. Just spread the quilt out over the bed. Fold my extra blanket at the foot and throw the one throw pillow in the middle. Takes 30 seconds. Looks great.
  2. After brushing my teeth, I rinse the sink out and use the towel to wipe off the edges of the sink and the faucet every time. When I notice spots on the mirror (which is about every 3 days), I use the towel and wipe the mirror down.
  3. I have a “brain book.” I use it to remember things. If I need to do something I write it down on the list. I do things in the order they appear on the list because otherwise I will avoid doing the unpleasant or the boring tasks. That’s the nature of ADHD. Seek out the things that are interesting, avoid all things not.
  4. If someone asks me to do something, and it takes less than 2 minutes to complete the task, do it immediately.
  5. Always put a paper towel over whatever you are warming up in the microwave. It keeps you from having to ever clean it… totally worth it!
  6. When I get home, I go to my room, take my shoes off and put them away immediately. I also hang up my sweater.
  7. Toilets get cleaned on Mondays – put the cleaner in, swirl it around before work and it will be nice and clean in the evening.
  8. I vacuum every morning (if I run out of time in the morning, I do it in the evening and then again the next morning). I have 3 dogs. There’s a lot of hair in my house.
  9. I dust and clean the glass on Sundays.
  10. Plants get watered on Thursday.
  11. Take the trash out when it’s full. Clean the bottom of the can out once per month with the hose pipe and Clorox.
  12. If you notice something is gross, go ahead and take 5 minutes to clean it up.
  13. Get enough sleep! Not having enough sleep makes us more forgetful and distracted. It also makes handling stress more difficult. 7 to 8 hours minimum. I don’t sleep well, so I need to be in the bed a little longer to ensure I get the required number of sleep cycles. I wake up about 4-5 times per night and so, I need to ensure that I get the opportunity to have the amount of sleep cycles a person who sleeps for 8 hours straight through the night would. Sleep matters!

Those are mine. Yours might be very different but it gives you an idea. The following are some of Peter Shankman’s Non-Negotiable Life Rules from his webinar, which he says he does daily because if he doesn’t “bad things happen.” *Disclaimer: I took these notes while he was talking so they are in notation format. I hope you can get the meaning. 🙂

  1. Removal of choice whenever possible — too many choices overload the brain – i.e. clothing, intermittent fasting (not eating until a certain time of day) – allows you to ignore things that don’t matter and focus on what matters more.
  2. Goal-orientation: X to Y to get to Z – How can I most quickly and effectively do one thing to get to the next to get to the end?
  3. True sleep (disconnecting) – 7 to 8 hours of night. Go to bed early and wake up early. Studies show that ADHD is magnified without the right amount of sleep.
  4. The night-before plan – sleeping in workout clothes, etc.
  5. Early to rise/early to bed
  6. Automation of routine tasks
  7. Working out/eating right – writing down how you feel when you’re too full – then when you have a craving you can re-read it and choose if you want to eat a whole pizza or maybe a salad. You’re not thinking about the consequences of the decision to overeat. Do you change when you drink? Should you eliminate alcohol from your life (removal of choice)?
  8. Clean environment – distractions out and about will distract you. Keeping it clean will avoid things in line of sight to distract you.

I hope this helps give you some guidance on how to start incorporating some of these types of rules into your life. Just start with one or two at a time and go from there. ADHD is manageable and it doesn’t mean that you are broken. It just means your brain works a little differently and you need to make a few adjustments to make life a little easier. Here’s to an easy life!

Sending you peace, love and happiness,

~ep

Affirmations: It’s all in your head

Affirmations: It’s all in your head

By: Erin B. Patterson, LPCS

I was introduced to affirmations about 7 years ago by one of my colleagues. It was haphazardly through his recommending a book to me in passing, but the book opened my mind to the possibility of a natural way to deal with anxiety, depression, stress and many other negative states that set up in the human psyche. That book was “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne and while this book has been the focus of many people wanting to attract success to their lives, for me it was a guide to controlling the thoughts that led to negative mental states. I realized that if I could control the negative thoughts, I could control the negative feelings. And so I began learning more and more about affirmations and implementing them into my daily life.

So for those of you who may not be familiar with them, what exactly is an affirmation? The history of affirmations dates back to ancient eastern religions, when they were called “mantras.” Mantras were sounds or words repeated over and over to facilitate meditation. But the current idea of affirmations has evolved over the past century. French pharmacist, Émile Coué, did work with “conscious autosuggestion” in the early 1900’s, which involved individuals using suggestion and imagination to impact their health and wellbeing positively.

Today, affirmations are sentences that we say to ourselves that focus on positivity, and lead to self-empowerment.

“More specifically, an affirmation is a carefully formatted statement that should be repeated to one’s self and written down frequently. For an affirmation to be effective, it needs to be present tense, positive, personal and specific.” (Wikipedia)

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Kathryn J. Lively, PhD wrote a wonderful article on affirmations in Psychology Today, explaining what they are how they work, and gives a recipe on how to write them for yourself.

I know first-hand that affirmations can make a significant impact on your emotional well-being and this is why I recommend them so frequently in my practice. I utilize them in my own personal life on a daily basis, several times a day actually. If I find that my emotions are becoming negative, I take time and refocus on positivity using affirmations. They are hands down the thing that has helped me naturally overcome the struggle of depression and anxiety in my personal life. The success of affirmations on changing thoughts and helping improve a sense of self is now being observed in brain scan studies. So affirmations are not just helpful because it’s “all in your head,” it’s actually observable as helpful in your head! That’s exciting!

I strongly urge you to learn more about this and implement this practice in your own life. Sometimes it is easier to pick some affirmations from a list, and for that my go-to place is Che Garmin’s website “Affirm Your Life.”

Sending you peace, love and happiness,

~ep

Approval Not Needed

Approval Not Needed

By: Erin B. Patterson

Why do we need other people’s approval? That seems to have been the theme of this week, in my professional life and personal life. I have talked to several people, from kids to adults, over the past several days about this need that we have for the approval of others.

I’m not so sure I’ve figured out where the “seed” for this distorted thinking comes from exactly but I have some ideas. First, let me start by saying that I like to call it a “seed” because I think it is something that we all have present in our psyche, however it seems that some people water these thoughts and allow them to grow, while others are able to get rid of them like weeding a garden. My idea is that we all start out in this magical place, where we love ourselves and think we are amazing.

I mean, consider a 2 year old. They want you to watch and look because they are “super-fast” and they can do everything so well. But then something happens. We start to get contaminated. We start to hear that we aren’t good enough. Or we can’t do that. People start telling us that we aren’t so great. It could be family members or other kids at school, but we start to receive these messages little by little. This is the beginning of low self-esteem. We start to believe these messages and to hold them as truth. But these messages and these beliefs are not truth! The truth is that we are magnificent. Period. We just lose sight of that when continually exposed to these types of messages. The seeds are thrown out. The weeds spread.

It is in this process that we start to search for the approval of others. This is a common phenomenon among young children and adolescents, which unfortunately remains with most people through adulthood. We want to fit in. Somewhere. Preferably with the majority, but if not there, then somewhere. We don’t want to stand out. In order to accomplish this fitting in, we need others to approve of our clothing, our likes and dislikes, our preferences in music and art. Anything and everything. Because when we get disapproval, we feel bad. So we desperately try to avoid that feeling at all costs.

I have worked diligently in my adult life to declutter my psyche of those false messages that I am anything but magnificent and that I need the approval of others to matter in some way. This week, I had to work extra hard to snuff out a distorted thought that developed in response to finding out that someone was making judgmental and harsh comments about me. Now, mind you this person has never actually spoken to me or had a conversation with me, but felt justified in judging me openly to others while I was not present. I was surprised that it even got any of my time & energy, but just like that, I was transported to a time when I intensely needed the approval of others. For me the peak of that distorted thinking was in middle school.

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So, I had a little bit of therapy with myself and reminded myself that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about what I like to do, or how I behave, or what I wear, or how smart I am or any other thing about which they could possibly make a judgment. The truth is that I do what I want to do because I want to do it. I wear what I want to wear because I like it. I go where I want to go because I enjoy going there. I could keep going but you get the picture. And the truth should be the same for you! None of us need the approval of others to matter, to be worthy, magnificent, happy or successful. When you can truly liberate yourself from this distorted thinking, you can experience freedom. No longer will your time be spent worrying about fitting in or people liking you, or if you are making someone mad by telling them “no” about something. No longer will you spend time feeling angry or offended that someone doesn’t like what you did or what you wore. No longer will you be a slave to feelings that are negative. You will be free to live in the beauty of your innate magnificence.

I will leave you with this quote from Guy Finley’s book “The Secret of Letting Go”

“Neither the approval nor the disapproval of any individual or group makes any real difference in the quality of your life… Why do you want the approval of those who don’t even approve of themselves?”