Clinician Interview – Meet Joe Jaster, LPC

Clinician Interview – Meet Joe Jaster, LPC

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Joe Jaster, LPC

Interview with Joe Jaster, LPC

Check out our clinician interview with the newest team member at IDENTITY, Joe Jaster, LPC. Joe is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing at our counseling and psychotherapy practice, Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC, located in Ann Arbor, MI. Joe is passionate about helping adults and adolescents cope with, manage, and recover from issues relating to addiction and substance abuse. Joe is currently accepting new patients. Contact us today to schedule an intake appointment with Joe. 


What is your specialty?

The primary focus of my practice is substance abuse in adolescents.  However, I do see adults who are experiencing addiction problems as well. Drug craving, seeking and using drugs, and other compulsive behaviors are the essence of addiction. They are extremely difficult to control, and much more difficult than any physical dependence. For an addict, there is no motivation more powerful than drug craving. The task of treatment is to regain control over drug craving, seeking and use.  This is my goal with every one of my patients.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I started my career in the business world and went to school to study Business Management. I spent many years doing all the jobs that you would associate with this occupation. At one point, I had numerous people reporting to me.  Part of my job was to help my people develop and learn new skills. While this was rewarding, I found it did not contribute enough to my feelings of self worth. I decided to return to school and pursue a degree in Guidance and Counseling.  I wanted to help people who struggled through life. This is also my way of giving back to society.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

My first session with a client is called an intake. This is designed to help the counselor determine the severity of the issue and any extenuating circumstances that might help or hinder the process of recovery.  It is also used to begin to establish a level of trust between the client and myself. It is vital for my client to understand that I am non-judgmental, patient, caring and supportive. It is also important to understand that what we discuss is private between us and will not be shared.  After the first session we will work on defining the problem(s), examining the behavioral issues and building a solution to help support recovery.

How have you seen therapy benefit your clients?

Therapy provides a safe place for clients to talk without fear of judgment and practice new ways of thinking about themselves and others. It will hopefully help clients discover their negative behavior patterns, fears and what triggers their particular negative cycles. This type of activity will hopefully lead to the change that my clients’ desire.  It takes courage, dedication and the mindset of “ ‘I’ can do this.” I have seen my clients develop entire new ways of coping, gain a better understanding of their negative actions, increase their confidence and find freedom to enjoy their lives once again.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

Not all therapists are a perfect match for a client. The therapist must be familiar with the client’s type of problem, have outstanding communication skills, patience and analytical and problem solving abilities.  Additionally, the therapist must be able to maintain strict professional ethics, as well as adhere to patient confidentiality standards. The patient must feel comfortable with the therapist. These are all necessary components required to establish that much needed level of trust.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I want my clients to walk away with the tools that are necessary for them to cope with their addiction. They should have an increased level of understanding of their triggers and the necessary actions required to diffuse those situations. My clients should have an increased level of confidence and self trust.  Most importantly, my clients should leave with an “I CAN DO IT” attitude.


Visit Joe’s profile to learn more about his counseling services, or to schedule an appointment.

Clinician Interview – Meet Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Clinician Interview – Meet Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Danielle-Nicholls-Slovinski-Therapist-Identity-Ann-Arbor-Interview
Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Interview with Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW

Check out our interview with Ann Arbor, MI counselor, Danielle Nicholls-Slovinski, LMSW. Danielle is a licensed therapist practicing at Identity Counseling Psychology, a counseling and psychotherapy practice located on Washtenaw Avenue in the heart of Ann Arbor, MI. Danielle is passionate about helping people cope with a variety of mental health concerns and is currently accepting new patients. Contact us to schedule an intake appointment with Danielle.


What is your specialty?

I specialize in working with children and adults who have experienced trauma, or really hard events that made them fear for their safety or the safety of someone else. I particularly specialize in helping families with very young children work through trauma.  Sometimes people feel like they should just “get over” things that have happened to them, but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes we all need more support, especially after experiencing something traumatic.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I first realized I wanted to be a therapist when I was in high school and started learning about the different theories behind behavior and emotional well-being.  I recognized then that I was fascinated with how our brains and bodies respond to our experiences in the world, and how therapy can actually change brain chemistry and processing!  Over time, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my own life experiences, which has shaped the models of therapy with which I resonate most.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

Therapy can feel intimidating at first, and I want all of my clients to have the experience of therapy moving at his/her own pace. It is important that we have time to develop trust in our relationship, and so most of the early sessions are about my getting to know who the client is, what s/he is hoping for from therapy, and experiences that might make it easier or harder to engage in therapy.  With adults this is often a free-flowing conversation over time, and with kids it often looks like engaging in play and other activities that help the child communicate who s/he is and what s/he needs. The beginning of therapy is also a time when clients get to know my style and can ask questions about the process. Over time, therapy sessions can look different for every client because I tailor each session to the needs of the person in the therapy space.

How have you seen therapy be helpful to your clients?

Therapy is meant to be a space of exploration and growth, and I’ve seen that be the case for many people.  I’ve worked with children and families who have been able to deepen their relationships, use those relationships to resolve behavioral concerns, and learn new ways of interacting with each other and the world. Some clients I’ve worked with have talked about feeling like fuller humans through the process of therapy because they’ve gained greater access to their emotions and are no longer preoccupied with hard experiences.  Others have learned that they are worthy of time and attention, and have grown in their sense of self and purpose. My role as a therapist is to create and hold a space for clients to bring anything they need to in order to work through the barriers impacting their lives.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

It’s so important to look for a therapist whose style is a match for the goals you have in treatment. There are lots of different ways of doing therapy and being a therapist, and finding the person you feel you can build a connection with is the most important piece when finding a therapist.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

My hope is that all of my clients grow in their important relationships with others and in their relationship with themselves.  People need other people, and it’s through relationships that we can continue to grow and thrive. When we can understand ourselves and our relationships, change becomes not only possible, but inevitable!


Visit Danielle’s profile to lean more about her counseling services, or to schedule an appointment.

Common Anxiety Issues in College Students

Common Anxiety Issues in College Students

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Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns facing college students today. While experiencing some anxiety during the numerous transitions involved in going away to college is undoubtedly normal, many college students in the United States report feeling overwhelming amounts of anxiety, which can be dangerous and unhealthy. 

Anxiety is characterized by the tendency to: 

  • Worry excessively
  • Feel afraid
  • Experience a sense of panic

There are many factors that can contribute to these feelings for college students nowadays, and major lifestyle changes alone, like going to college, are known to exacerbate the effects of a mental health condition. There are some specific issues that are especially widespread on college campuses right now that seem to be triggering and adding to this rise in anxiety among college students. Below, we discuss some of the most common anxiety issues that are facing college students today.

If you’re struggling with anxiety on campus, you may benefit from the help of a mental health professional. Please do not be afraid to seek help and talk to someone about what you’re going through. Almost all colleges and universities have some form of counseling available on campus to help students with mental health issues. Campus counseling centers can either help treat students or provide an appropriate referral.

Sleep Disruption

Sleep disruption and anxiety go hand in hand, and poor sleep is one of the biggest contributors to anxiety disorders among college students. There are many factors that can significantly impact sleep in college. Aside from things like cramming for exams and partying late at night, even simply living with a roommate for the first time can have negative effects on a student’s sleep cycle. 

The following are some common causes of sleep disruption in college students:

  • Worrying
  • Phone or laptop use before bed
  • Drinking excess caffeine
  • Inconsistent sleep schedule
  • Pulling all-nighters

Some tips for practicing better sleeping habits in college include setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up time each day, limiting caffeine in the evenings and alcohol in general, putting away all electronics an hour or two before bedtime, and avoiding spending time in your bed for activities other than sleep, such as studying. 

Financial Stress

It’s common knowledge that college is getting more and more expensive, but not everyone understands how significantly the financial burden of paying for college affects college students today. Most students leave college with extreme amounts of debt and only entry-level salaries, leaving them in a stressful situation for years after graduation. This predicament has become a source of dread and anxiety for many college students, so much so that the anxiety caused by this financial burden often overrides the happiness and pride that should be associated with graduating from college.

Financial stress is also a source of anxiety for students whose parents pay for college, as this puts an added pressure on them to do well, finish on time, and get a high-paying job. These students experience anxiety surrounding the looming fear that their parents “spent all this money on their education for nothing” or that their parents “wasted their money on them.” Relying on their parents to pay for college can also delay development of important life skills relating to emotional and financial independence for college students, leaving them unprepared and anxious for the “real world” that lies ahead. 

The financial stress associated with paying for college can also make it harder for college students to find the time and space in the budget for doing the things that make them happy. Seeing a movie, going out to eat with friends, joining a gym, these are all things that can help college students cope with or reduce anxiety, but they are hard to do for students who are on a strict budget due to the cost of college, or who have to spend their free time working at a job. 

Loneliness

Loneliness is a common problem for college students, especially for freshmen. One of the biggest sources of loneliness for college students comes from homesickness. Homesickness is defined by functional impairment or feelings of distress caused by an anticipated or actual separation from home and attachments, such as parents, siblings or pets. People who suffer from homesickness often experiences bouts of anxiety, sadness, worry and nervousness and can’t shake their preoccupation with thoughts of home and family. Homesickness is one of the leading causes of loneliness for students who are away at college, especially when they’re first adjusting to the change. 

Social media and technology can also contribute to loneliness in college students, in more ways than one. First of all, social media can get in the way of students, especially freshmen, developing strong relationships with their classmates. Texting and facetiming old friend groups from back home can take away from college students putting time and energy into meeting new people around them in the real world. It can be tempting to stay within the comfort zone of the friends that you grew up with, especially with the ease and instant gratification of social media and modern technology.  But, it’s important for college students to break old habits and branch out when adjusting to their new environment. And, for students coming into college with social anxiety disorder or generalized anxiety disorder already, Netflix, social media and online gaming can become comfortable escapes that hinder their chances of forming meaningful relationships with their peers in real life. 

Academic Pressure

Academic pressure is another major source of anxiety among college students. Academic pressure can lead to generalized anxiety disorder, perfectionism, and test anxiety. Perfectionism, which can also cause or worsen anxiety disorders, is increasingly common in today’s college students. Perfectionism is defined by the need to be or appear perfect in one or more aspects of life. 

Often students feel this pressure to be perfect from:

  • The competitive environment fostered on many college campuses 
  • Financial stress from scholarships or strict parents
  • Comparing themselves to their peers on social media 

Even though some people view perfectionism as a positive trait, especially when it comes to academics and education, it can actually lead to mental health disorders, like anxiety and obsessive behavior, that end up making it more difficult for students to achieve their goals. 

Test anxiety is another big mental health concern for college students that can stem from academic pressure. Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that can be caused by fear of failure. Colleges have become increasingly competitive, and the added pressure to be the best can lead to test anxiety in college students.

Test Anxiety can activate the body’s fight or flight response, causing symptoms like:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Nausea
  • Racing pulse 
  • Dread
  • Shaky voice
  • Knots in the stomach

These symptoms end up making it harder for students to succeed and achieve their goals, and for students with chronic test anxiety, therapy, as well as relaxation and mindfulness techniques can be very beneficial.

Social Media

Social Media has become one of the most common anxiety issues for today’s college students. Having constant access to a highlight reel of what their peers are doing can cause extreme anxiety and self-comparison among adolescents. Everyone shows their best selves on social media, so for students who are struggling academically, socially, or with their body image, comparing themselves and feeling lesser-than is inevitable when looking at the pictures and videos of peoples’ greatest, most showoffable experiences. There is also worry that comes along with seeing that you’re being excluded, or feeling like you’re not living life to the fullest or experiencing college to the extent that you should be based on what “everyone else” is doing. In these ways, anxiety and worry become compounded by social media use. 

For students who already have anxiety, the positive reinforcement of getting “likes” and instant feedback on social media can help put their minds at ease, but negative feedback, lack of feedback or comparison to others, all which are bound to occur on social media, can actually end up causing more anxiety. Students prone to anxiety can also feel anxious from being disconnected for too long when trying to stop using social media. Often, students tend to make the connection on their own that social media is exacerbating their anxiety, leading them to try to take breaks from or “quit” social media altogether. This, due to social media’s addictive nature, can lead to more feelings of fear and worry about being disconnected from the world. 

How Therapy Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan that specializes in working with college students and helping patients manage anxiety. Our licensed counselors are experienced in treating anxiety and are passionate about helping students navigate the college experience and cope with academic concerns. If you’re a student seeking counseling in the Ann Arbor area, contact us today for an intake. Our office is located in the heart of Ann Arbor, next to Bearclaw Coffee, where Washtenaw Ave and Stadium Blvd split. 


Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy

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What Is Psychodynamic Therapy?

Psychodynamic Therapy is a longstanding form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, performed by a mental health professional like a therapist, psychologist or counselor. Psychodynamic Therapy aims to help patients become more self-aware, confront inner conflict, and understand the foundation and formation of their psychological processes and behavioral patterns. Unlike more goal-oriented therapeutic approaches, Psychodynamic Therapy is open-ended and less structured, allowing the patient to lead the conversation and explore their emotions, relationships and past experiences in an authentic and uninhibited way. 

Psychodynamic Therapy is rooted in Freud’s 19th century theories of psychoanalysis, and although it looks much different in modern practice, Psychodynamic Therapy still uses techniques informed by Freudian thought and psychoanalysis today. Psychodynamic Therapy’s unique focus on understanding how and why psychological issues and dysfunctional patterns were developed in the first place, rather than simply on trying to cope with and change them, has been beneficial to many patients over the years, especially when it comes to seeing long-term results and overcoming trauma. 

What Does Psychodynamic Therapy Treat?

Psychodynamic Therapy has been helpful for many patients, as it addresses a variety of factors that are known to cause or exacerbate mental health problems. Through the exploration of topics such as early childhood experiences and attachments, current relationship issues, coping and defense mechanisms, and distressing  feelings, urges and thoughts, Psychodynamic Therapy allows patients to get to the root of and move past the hurdles in their lives.

Psychodynamic Therapy has been known to reduce symptoms for the following mental health issues:

Psychodynamic Theory

Although Psychodynamic Therapy has been updated and simplified over the years, the theories and core concepts that support it can be traced back to Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. While not all of Freud’s ideas are still relevant in today’s practice, a handful of his core theories are central to Psychodynamic Therapy and inform its most popular techniques.

The Unconscious

Freud believed that the human mind has multiple levels. There’s a conscious level of the mind, which contains the things that we can remember and are aware of, and there’s an unconscious level of the mind, which contains the things that we cannot remember and are unaware of. According to Freud, the unconscious mind holds things like our early memories, our gut instincts, our deepest urges, fears and desires, our patterns of thought and behavior and our psychological processes that were developed during childhood. 

Psychodynamic Therapy places a large emphasis on the unconscious mind, where we tend to push feelings and thoughts that are too painful to face, and memories and beliefs that we might be ashamed of. However, these emotions and impulses still affect us and influence our behavior even though they are outside of our awareness. For example, a person might avoid romantic relationships that bring up painful memories of their parents’ divorce without realizing they’re doing so, keeping them from reaching important milestones in their lives like starting a family or falling in love. A trained Psychodynamic Therapist knows how to recognize these patterns of behavior and help patients confront the contents of their unconscious mind that might be holding them back from reaching their full potential. 

By encouraging open discussion and reflection, the Psychodynamic Therapist is able to pinpoint important themes and topics in a patient’s life, probing them with follow up questions and opening up their minds. The goal in Psychodynamic Therapy is to make the unconscious conscious, helping patients to take back control over the harmful feelings and dysfunctional patterns that have been holding them back. For catharsis, or relief from psychological distress, to occur, the client must gain the self-awareness to confront unresolved conflicts, repressed emotions, and maladaptive behaviors. 

Inner Conflict (Id, Ego and Superego)

Resolving inner conflicts is a major goal in Psychodynamic Therapy. Oftentimes, inner conflicts exist in the unconscious mind without our knowledge, but still manifest in our everyday behavior and emotions, taking a toll on our mental health. Freud theorized that there are three components of the human mind, two of which are constantly acting in opposition to each other, and one of which is meant to mediate that opposition.

  • The Id – Freud theorized that the Id is the most primitive part of our mind. The Id resides in the unconscious mind, containing things like repressed desires, shameful memories, sexual drive and aggressive urges. The Id is motivated only by pleasure, and Freud believed that it was the only active part of the human mind during infancy and very early childhood.
  • The Superego – According to Freud, as children grow and begin to experience the world, they eventually develop the Superego. This is our moral conscience, and it enforces the psychological processes that are necessary to exist in civilized society. The Superego contains our value system, feelings of guilt, knowledge of right from wrong, and the standards to which we hold ourselves and others. 
  • The Ego – Freud held that the Id and the Superego are in constant conflict, and the Ego is the mediator between the two. The Ego allows for rational decision making and drives the ability to satisfy the impulsive needs and urges of the Id in a way that is acceptable to the Superego. For example, if we are upset at work and our impulse is to cry, but we know that crying in the office is considered unprofessional, we might decide to go to the bathroom and take a moment to cry privately, returning to work once we feel better.

In Psychodynamic Therapy, patients examine why they want what they want and how they behave to get there, taking a more objective look at their own processes for dealing with conflict and satisfying or coping with the urges of the unconscious mind.

How Does Psychodynamic Therapy Work?

Psychodynamic Therapy is based on the Freudian principle that our deepest and most formative emotions and memories are buried in our unconscious mind, meaning that without self-awareness and guided self-reflection, we usually don’t even know that they exist are or how they affect us. Psychodynamic therapists encourage open, uninhibited discussion, drawing out painful feelings, early memories and unresolved conflicts during therapy sessions that might have been otherwise forgotten or avoided. This process can take time and requires an especially strong patient-therapist relationship, as the patient won’t achieve true vulnerability until he or she feels comfortable opening up to the therapist. This is why Psychodynamic Therapy tends to last longer than other forms of counseling, usually requiring anywhere from 6 months to 2 years of weekly 1 hour sessions. In Psychodynamic Therapy, the therapist looks for patterns of thought and behavior that recur throughout the patient’s life and points them out to the patient, sharing their insights and encouraging the patient to make relevant connections. By helping patients confront the early experiences, unresolved conflicts, and repressed emotions that impact their present-day lives, Psychodynamic Therapy gives patients the self-awareness to take control of their feelings, reactions and relationships.

Transference

The relationship between the therapist and the patient is uniquely important in Psychodynamic Therapy, as it is used as a mirror through which the therapist can gain insight into how the patient navigates relationships in the real world. Freud theorized that humans learn how to interact with others from their early-life attachments and relationships with their primary caregivers, and that this is then reflected in their adult relationships. 

Transference refers to when a patient projects feelings for family members or loved ones onto the therapist during counseling sessions, and can demonstrate how a patient interacts with others in the  real world. Transference is a useful tool for therapists as they try to understand the early life experiences and psychological processes that affect their patient’s present-day lives. A good Psychodynamic Therapist is aware of transference and looks for patterns in the therapist-patient dynamic that mirror some of the patient’s other interpersonal conflicts. The therapist then shares these insights with the patient to help them become more self-aware. 

Defense Mechanisms

Oftentimes, patients are held back from reaching their full potential because they’ve developed defense mechanisms to avoid dealing with memories or emotions that cause them pain or distress. A Psychodynamic Therapist is trained to recognize unconscious defense mechanisms and help patients break them down so that the underlying issues can be addressed and made sense of.

Below are a few common defense mechanisms:

  • Denial – Refusing to believe a truth or face an emotion that is too painful to accept. 
  • Regression – Returning to an earlier state of consciousness, like childhood, to minimize or avoid distressing situations. 
  • Repression – Subconsciously pushing painful memories or thoughts out of conscious awareness and forgetting that they ever happened or existed. 
  • Sublimation – Channeling the energy from a distressing or painful situation into something else to avoid dealing with the original negative event. 
  • Rationalization- Attempting to logically justify immoral, upsetting, or socially unacceptable behavior to avoid having to deal with the causes for that behavior.

Free Association

Free association is one of the most important parts of Psychodynamic Therapy, and helps set it apart from other therapeutic approaches. Free association refers to how the Psychodynamic Therapist allows the patient to lead the discussion during therapy sessions. This practice encourages the  patient to tap into his or her emotions and thoughts in the most authentic way, and ensures that the therapist is not leading the patient in any particular direction. A patient’s unconscious desires, memories and patterns will not be revealed during therapy unless the patient is able to be fully vulnerable and true to themselves.

Types of Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy can come in many forms, including more traditional counseling methods like individual talk therapy and family therapy, and more abstract approaches like art therapy and music therapy.  Below are some common types of Psychodynamic Therapy that differ in style and execution, but are all grounded in the overarching principles of psychodynamic theory.

  • Brief Psychodynamic Therapy – Brief Psychodynamic Therapy tends to last around 25 sessions and enables the patient to examine and address unresolved conflicts, such as childhood trauma, or mental health issues and symptoms, like agoraphobia and somatic pain. 
  • Long-term Psychodynamic Therapy – Long-term Psychodynamic Therapy usually requires at least 2 years of sessions and is meant to change dysfunctional psychological processes that were developed during childhood and are ingrained in a patient’s adult personality, holding them back from reaching their full potential. 
  • Psychodynamic Family Therapy – Psychodynamic Family Therapy tends to be more long-term and addresses chronic problems within a family, emphasizing the importance of exploring relationship issues and patterns of conflict throughout a family history. 
  • Psychodynamic Art Therapy – Psychodynamic Art Therapy can be used in a variety of ways and doesn’t require any artistic talent or experience. Patients can express feelings through the creation of art, discuss the emotions evoked by certain pieces of art, find and discuss personal meaning in pieces of art, and connect pieces of art to different events from their childhood. 
  • Psychodynamic Music Therapy – Psychodynamic Music Therapy can be beneficial for patients with high levels of anxiety or fear who have trouble opening up to a therapist verbally. This approach does not require any musical background or knowledge and encourages self-expression and communication through music. The therapist pays attention to how the patient goes about creating music and the patient can use music as a form of emotional release.

How Identity Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan made up of a group of passionate, licensed therapists that are trained and experienced in Psychodynamic Therapy. Identity helps adults and adolescents cope with and manage mental health issues like anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, and relationship issues. If you live in the Ann Arbor area and are interested in, or have questions about Psychodynamic Therapy, please contact us today.


How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

cognitive-behavioral-therapy-identity-counseling-psychology

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular form of talk therapy performed by a mental health counselor or therapist. CBT is a highly structured, goal oriented approach to psychotherapy, meant to help patients problem-solve and work through specific target issues. The goal of CBT is to help patients understand how their thoughts, perceptions and feelings directly impact their responses and behavior in challenging situations.

CBT is based on the principle that our thought patterns shape how we see the world, and when our thought patterns are negative or incorrect, this can lead to unhelpful behaviors and emotional or psychological distress. Through CBT, patients are made aware of inaccurate and harmful ways of thinking so that they can view challenges more clearly and react to them more effectively.

What Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treat?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be a helpful tool for anyone. Not everyone who benefits from CBT has a mental health condition, but it can be used to treat mental health conditions. These can include:

CBT can also help people address emotional challenges, such as:

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is grounded in the idea that perception is, or at least strongly impacts, reality, and that a person’s beliefs surrounding a challenging situation or experience determine their emotional and behavioral response to that situation or experience. A Cognitive Behavioral Therapist’s goal is to help patients pinpoint inaccurate or dysfunctional thought cycles that may be causing or adding to a distressing challenge that they’re facing, and then encourage them to adjust those thoughts. This can be difficult, as thinking patterns are often deeply ingrained in us and established in childhood. Through CBT, patients are assisted in gradually recognizing and changing harmful cognitive distortions, allowing them to perceive distressing situations more clearly and handle them more confidently in the real world.

Common Cognitive Distortions Addressed in CBT

Cognitive errors, or disruptive, inaccurate thought cycles are often pinpointed and worked through during CBT. Common cognitive distortions that are addressed in therapy include:

  • Viewing the world in extremes – believing that things are black or white with nothing in between.
  • Excessive self-blame – believing that when bad things happen, it must be your fault.
  • Overgeneralizing – believing that if something is true in one setting or one experience, then it must always be true.
  • Taking details out of context – forming conclusions based on isolated (usually negative) details of events or experiences while ignoring the rest of the context and positive aspects.
  • Personalization – believing that the things that other people do and say are always somehow related to you, causing you to take everything personally.  
  • Jumping to conclusions – assuming that you already know the thoughts, feelings and motivations of others without asking them directly, or automatically predicting the worst outcome of a situation or event.
  • Mistakenly seeing situations as catastrophic – expecting disaster or tragedy to strike at any moment and giving greater weight to the worst possible outcome of a given situation.

Changing Automatic Negative Thoughts

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works by helping patients recognize and change automatic negative thoughts. If people learn negative or destructive ways of thinking at an early age and repeat these thought patterns throughout their lives, they can begin to think this way automatically, regardless of situation or context. When these negative thoughts surface impulsively and are accepted as true, they can have a tremendous impact on a person’s mood, despite not being based in reality.

In CBT, therapists work with patients to identify any automatic negative thoughts that may be contributing to or exacerbating emotional distress. Patients are encouraged to examine these thoughts compared with evidence from the real-life situations and events that surround them. Then, they must confront whether or not reality supports or refutes their way of thinking, allowing them to take a more objective look at the thoughts that contribute to their negative emotions.

Becoming aware of automatic negative thoughts that are unrealistic and impact your mood is the first step in engaging in healthier thinking patterns. Through goal-setting and practice, CBT therapists aim to gradually adjust how patients think, feel and react in challenging situations, transforming any thought patterns that stand in the way of productive or positive outcomes. By changing automatic negative thought patterns that cause patients distress, that distress decreases and patients can begin to feel better.  

What Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Look Like?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy typically begins with your therapist or counselor learning more about you. This period of gaining background knowledge is less structured, and usually consists of a few sessions in which you’re asked questions about your goals, challenges, present situation and past experiences. Because CBT is goal oriented, it’s important for your therapist to have a deep understanding of you and your concerns in order to determine the best plan of action to make the most out of your sessions.

Steps in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy consists of four core steps.

  1. Identifying challenges in your life. These can vary widely. Some examples could be, divorce, grief, a medical condition, or a mental health disorder. Your mental health counselor might spend some time with you prioritizing these challenges and helping you decide what goals you want to work on.
  2. Becoming aware of how you think and feel about these challenges. Your therapist will encourage you to reflect on and share your beliefs, self-talk, interpretations and perceptions regarding the issues you’ve identified.
  3. Recognizing negative thought patterns and behavior. You will be asked to pay attention to your emotional, physical and behavioral reactions in challenging situations, and reflect on if and how they may be contributing to your distress.
  4. Reshaping inaccurate and harmful thinking. Your therapist will help you confront whether or not your perceptions and thought patterns regarding certain events or situations are accurate and realistic. Established ways of thinking about yourself, your life, and others can be difficult to examine objectively, but a trained mental health professional can help you see things more clearly. Eventually, new, healthier habits and responses can be formed, and with practice, become second nature and replace the old ones.

CBT Learning Tools

There are a variety of tools and techniques implemented by therapists in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help teach patients how to identify and adjust harmful negative thinking. These include:

  • Journaling
  • Mindfulness
  • Relaxation
  • Social, physical, and emotional thinking exercises
  • Regular discussion
  • Role-playing activities
  • Gradual exposure to things that cause fear
  • Homework assignments

Homework Assignments

It may sound odd, but homework is a crucial part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Since CBT is a short-term therapeutic approach with a limited number of sessions, homework assignments help reinforce what was learned in therapy. It’s one thing to identify and understand negative thought cycles, but it’s much harder to adjust those cycles and implement new thinking and behavior in the real world. Homework also gives patients the tools to continue bettering themselves and strengthening their positive thinking after they’ve completed their sessions and CBT has come to an end.

Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might not cure a mental health condition or make a distressing situation go away, but it does help people cope with challenges in a healthy and constructive way, as well as help improve their confidence and self-esteem. A growing number of mental health professionals are using CBT on a regular basis or have begun incorporating it into their practices alongside other therapeutic approaches.

There is much to learn from CBT, and even if it can’t fix life’s issues, there are many benefits of going through the process. The following are some common positive takeaways for patients after completing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

CBT can help patients through…

  • Establishing and meeting attainable goals
  • Letting go of self-blame
  • Facing fears
  • Seeing problems more clearly
  • Challenging assumptions
  • Distinguishing between facts and irrational thoughts
  • Understanding how past experiences shape present beliefs
  • No longer fearing the worst
  • Seeing things from a new perspective
  • Becoming more aware of their moods
  • Avoiding generalizations
  • Focusing on the present
  • Better understanding the motivations and behaviors of other people

How Identity Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan made up of a group of passionate, licensed therapists that specialize in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Identity helps adults and adolescents cope with and manage mental health issues like anxiety, depression, stress, and relationship issues. If you live in the Ann Arbor area and are interested in, or have questions about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, please contact us today.

Clinician Interview – Meet Tim Wilkins!

Clinician Interview – Meet Tim Wilkins!

Tim-Wilkins-Identity-Counseling-Psychology-Ann-Arbor-Michigan-Therapist
Tim Wilkins, LPC

Interview with Tim Wilkins, LPC

Check out our interview with Ann Arbor counselor and owner of Identity Counseling Psychology, Tim Wilkins. Tim is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) practicing psychotherapy in Ann Arbor, MI.  Click here to schedule an intake with Tim.

What do you specialize in?

Mainly, I specialize in anxiety disorders and issues related to identity.  My passion is to help others learn to listen to their mind and body in a real way. Through cultivating this type of mindful awareness, I believe that we can access what needs to be accessed for real change to occur. People that I commonly see struggle with things like anxiety, panic attacks, life transitions, sexual or gender identity concerns, life crises, and spiritual issues.

What made you want to become a therapist?

Growing up, I always thought that financial security would greatly contribute to my happiness (I know…). However, like many things in life, once I achieved this, it only made me realize that this was mostly an illusion. Many fantasies are this way. We think fulfilling the fantasy will make us satisfied, so we pursue them relentlessly only to be left with disappointment or worse. This experience, along with a powerful experience as a summer camp counselor, ignited in me the desire to help people in a real and direct way. My own internal work around how I wanted to do this ultimately led me to the field of counseling.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

First and foremost, they can expect a space of non-judgement. The counseling room is different than the rest of life. It is a time and a space set apart from normal life in which clients can engage with themselves in an honest and genuine way. A typical session lasts just under an hour. Therapy is highly individualized based on clients’ needs, however, it generally will consist of a check in, a main topic for the session, a possible intervention (such as a mindful breathing exercise or a guided meditation), and a discussion about the plan going forward. I use evidence-based practices from psychodynamic and existential theoretical frameworks. It is important that therapy be grounded in theory yet have the flexibility to adapt to client needs each session. Clients will hopefully find my style to be warm, inviting, and empathic.


How have you seen therapy be helpful to your clients?

Therapy is often a drastic interruption to one’s habitual patterns. Cultivating a new level of self-awareness can often lead to a trying time. For this reason, many may have the experience of things getting harder at first. This is likely because real work is being done and clients are facing their struggles head on, maybe for the first time. The good news is that there is often light and air on the other side of the mountain. Therapy is about vulnerability on many levels, so engaging with it authentically will often lead to a new way of being in the world. It will hopefully awaken clients to their deeply rooted defense mechanisms, sub-personalities, fears and passions, and ultimately to their inner self. I believe this type of work is helpful and will hopefully lead to the type of change my clients are interested in, but it takes courage and is not easy.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

All the research suggests that regardless of the theoretical orientation or therapeutic style, the most important ingredient in the therapeutic process is the real relationship that occurs between the therapist and the client. Though there are professional boundaries, it is a relationship similar to other relationships. Clients may find that the issues they face in their relationships outside of therapy could often pop up in therapy between the client and the therapist through a process called transference. If this happens, it is a sign that we are truly getting somewhere helpful.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope my clients walk away with a deeper sense of self and self-awareness that they can integrate into their relationships and work in the world. If there is an acute presenting problem such as recurring panic attacks, I want my clients to walk away with tools to cope with their symptoms. However, more importantly, I want my clients to walk away with the ability and willingness to listen to their symptoms and to allow the symptoms to mobilize them toward genuine transformation.

Visit Tim’s profile to learn more about his counseling services or schedule an appointment.

Clinician Interview – Meet Ariana Thelen!

Clinician Interview – Meet Ariana Thelen!

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Ariana Thelen, LMSW

Interview with Ariana Thelen

Check out our interview with therapist, Ariana Thelen. Ariana practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is currently taking new clients.

What do you specialize in?

I specialize in older adults and their associated issues. This ranges from adults struggling with caregiving for an aging spouse or parent, cognitive changes, physical changes, dementia issues, to figuring out how to live well in times of grief and transition.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I always wanted to help people in some way, and when I went to college I majored in psychology and knew I wanted to focus on the wellbeing of people – how can I assist in people living well? The more I learned, the more I realized I wanted to reach people on a deeper level; more so than in a clinic, or in groups of people, or in classes. I wanted to talk one on one or in small groups and reach people on a deep level.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

For my first session, I like to focus on background and who have you been up to this point of coming to therapy. Basically – what makes you who you are, what brings you into therapy, your primary concerns. I like to go all the way back and start off in childhood, and discuss relationships with siblings and parents, and how those relationships evolved through school, marriage, having your own kids, etc. I may ask what stressors you’ve experienced as you’ve gone through life so far and what strengths you’ve found about yourself. Your personal history, relationships, etc. are very informative on what you can work on in therapy. A good base from the first session can cause subsequent sessions to focus on the ‘now’ and can pull from that base.

How have you seen therapy benefit our clients?

I really like to see when my clients have lightbulb moments or ‘aha’ moments themselves. The therapist is really there to help in self discovery or self understanding. It’s not the therapist’s job to say, “This is what you need to do.” It’s best when a client comes to me and says, “Between sessions I was able to see this point and it helped me to understand that maybe I need to change my attitude for this particular thing,” or “I was able to notice this thing from our last session and I wasn’t able to do anything about it,” at least they’ve realized something and applied what they’ve been learning.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

It ultimately has to be the right fit and feel. It can be hard to know if a therapist is a good fit for you or not if you are just judging it by what you see on paper. You need to find a therapist that reports working with the specialties you are seeking assistance with or interest in the topics you plan on discussing, and give it a minimum of two chances, or better yet, three if you can. After three sessions you should know if your therapist is a good fit for you or not.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope my clients walk away with the feeling of being less burdened. So many people I see, whether it be depression, anxiety, transition, or grief, have so much on their shoulders and you can really see that they feel that weight. My goal, as a therapist, is to work with the client to find ways to make that weight less heavy. If they have tools to help manage their stress and handle things better, the weight can get a little lighter.

Visit Ariana’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

Clinician Interview – Meet Lauren Proux!

Clinician Interview – Meet Lauren Proux!

Lauren-Proux-Ann-Arbor-Michigan-Therapy-Therapist-Grief-Anxiety-Depression-LGBTQ-College-Students
Lauren Proux, LMSW

Interview with Lauren Proux

Check out our interview with therapist, Lauren Proux. Lauren practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is currently taking new clients.

What do you specialize in?

I focused my graduate studies and subsequent clinical training on bereavement. Talking about grief often opens doors to other areas of concern, so I have additional expertise working with issues connected to a client’s family-of-origin and relationships (romantic and peer). I further specialize in a range of anxiety and depression disorders.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I initially attended college and studied psychology in order to become a therapist. My life took a left turn and I followed another love of mine: writing. After completing my graduate degree in creative writing, I taught college writing courses. Students often shared with me their personal issues. I had to maintain boundaries in my role as their instructor, but I wished we could talk more and work toward resolving their concerns. After taking time for my own introspection, I decided to return to my roots and pursue that path.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

In our initial session, I will ask a lot of questions about their background and what prompted them to start treatment. It is important that clients are honest and forthcoming from the beginning, but I understand how it might be difficult for them to share these details. I do my best to gauge the client’s comfort level and go from there.

In subsequent sessions, I ask more open-ended questions and expect that the client will do most of the talking. My therapeutic approach encourages and prompts deep exploration. By the time I am sitting across from someone, they have had decades of lived experiences that I want to learn about and extract understanding. From there, we will work together in challenging destructive patterns, learning skills to tolerate distress, and reaching a place of acceptance.

How have you seen therapy benefit your clients?

Early in my career I was surprised when clients said how much better they felt after the initial session when I’ve done little more than ask questions and encourage them to share. It made me realize how much comfort exists in simply being heard. Therapy provides a safe space for clients to talk without fear of judgment and practice new ways of thinking about themselves and others. As a result, I’ve seen my clients develop a deeper understanding of themselves, inner calm, and confidence.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

First, research has shown that the relationship a client creates with their therapist plays a large role in the client achieving their desired outcomes. This relationship is developed over time by establishing trust and working toward agreed-upon goals. I would encourage clients new to therapy to have at least a few sessions before deciding to try someone else.  

Secondly, it is important to work with a therapist skilled in the client’s specific area of concern. All therapists receive similar training, but some have expertise based on additional training and experience. For example, I specialize in grief and have worked extensively with college students. Therapists with additional knowledge about a client’s concern will provide more targeted tasks and goals.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

The first goal in therapy is to reduce distress, so I hope my clients learn skills that will increase their resiliency. Depending on the length of time I work with a client, we will either start the initial steps or walk far down the path of self-discovery. Regardless of the time we spend together, I hope that my clients develop a deeper understanding of themselves and continue to value self-reflection. Finally, I hope my clients walk away with motivation to continue nurturing their own emotional well-being. It can be difficult to prioritize our mental health, but I want my clients to know they are worth the time and energy it takes to live happy, fulfilled lives.

Visit Lauren’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

Clinician Interview – Meet Nicole Frasier!

Clinician Interview – Meet Nicole Frasier!

Nicole-Frasier-Identity-Counseling-Psychology-Ann-Arbor-Michigan-Therapist-Anxiety-Depression-Women-gender
Nicole Frasier, LLP

Interview with Nicole Frasier

Check out our interview with therapist, Nicole Frasier. Nicole practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is currently taking new clients.

What do you specialize in?

I specialize in the treatment of anxiety and depression, improving relationships, women’s issues, and greater self-fulfillment for adolescents and adults.

What made you want to become a therapist?

From very early on, I have been drawn to all things psychology. I always knew I wanted to be in a profession of helping people. In college, I had two incredible professors that opened my eyes to the world of psychology as a career. From then, I was set on making this my path. I absolutely love what I do!

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical session like with you?

This is a great question and one I imagine many people have when thinking of starting therapy… When clients come to therapy with me, I strive to provide a comfortable and safe space to explore all thoughts and feelings. I aim to be as authentic and down-to-earth as possible. A typical session with me is filled with empathic listening, attentiveness to detail, and some humor when appropriate.

How have you seen therapy benefit your clients?

I’ve seen therapy be helpful in a multitude of ways. Feeling heard and understood are two important things we need in life. This is what I strive to provide in therapy. Having this unique relationship allows clients to get in touch with their true needs and wants in all relationships, including the relationship with themselves, while gaining the self-esteem, confidence, and understanding of innate worth to pursue those needs, leading to a healthier, more fulfilled life.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

I’m a believer that we all give off “vibes” and energy. With this being said, I think it’s really important that the client feel at ease with the therapist. If you don’t have a solid connection with your therapist, the disconnect would inhibit you from exploring all your thoughts and feelings, leading to less forward movements in treatment.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope my clients walk away with a better understanding about themselves, greater life satisfaction, and a sense that they are important and valuable. I also hope that they feel confident in their learned coping skills and are able to put them to use in their daily lives as struggles appear (and possibly reappear.)

Visit Nicole’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

11 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Without Medication

11 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Without Medication

At IDENTITY, we often see clients who have been on medication before. While there are times when medication may be necessary for psychological health, most people find that they experience side effects and desire to reach a point where they can thrive in life without using medication. It’s common for many of our clients to have the goal of getting off of their anxiety or depression medication. I am passionate about partnering with my clients to achieve this goal.

Below are 11 common ways to reduce anxiety without using medication.

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  • Sweat
    • Exercise—it’s a natural mood booster
    • Go for a walk outside
    • Go swimming
    • Do yard work
  • Fuel your mind

    • Eat more leafy greens, whole grains, and antioxidant rich foods
    • Less caffeine
    • Less alcohol
    • Drink more water
  • Words of affirmation

    • Leave yourself little notes where you know you will see them
      • I can do this!
      • This too shall pass
      • It’s not a bad life, it’s just a bad day
  • Get creative

    • Listen to music
    • Journal your thoughts
    • Paint/draw/color
    • Join a pottery class
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  • Vent it out

    • Talk to someone
      • Friend
      • Trusted colleague
      • Family member
      • Talk with a Therapist
  • Focus on breath and remain present

    • Take a few deep breaths when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed
    • Calm yourself with positive words of affirmation
      • I can do this
      • I acknowledge my self-worth
      • I love myself
      • I am strong
      • I am brave
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  • Create a peaceful environment 

    • Light your favorite candle
    • Diffuse essential oils—Lavender/Frankincense/Chamomile/Citrus
    • Take a bath
  • Furry friends

    • Pet animals—they are naturally calming
    • Volunteer at your local animal shelter
    • Take your own pet for a walk
    • Snuggle your pet
  • Sleep

    • Use your bed as a place of serenity—only use it for sleep related behaviors
    • Get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night
  • Reward yourself

    • For everything you accomplish/do that you don’t like, treat yourself
      • Go to the movies
      • Watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix
      • Go out with a friend
      • Buy/make your favorite meal/dessert
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  • Unplug

    • Reduce your internet/phone use
    • No Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat for a full day
      • If this isn’t “possible”, start with an hour and gradually increase your time away from electronics

I would love to partner with you on your journey towards reducing your anxiety. If you are interested in coming in to begin the process of therapy, or if you have any questions for me, feel free to contact me via the contact form below!


About the author: Nicole is a therapist at Identity Counseling Psychology in Ann Arbor, MI. Nicole specializes in working with people who experience anxiety and who feel stuck in life. Nicole is passionate about helping clients go from feeling stuck to feeling empowered, from feeling trapped to feeling free, and from feeling worried to feeling relieved.

Nicole is a Limited-License Psychologist (LLP) practicing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Nicole graduated with a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology from Madonna University.