Us and Them: Prejudice, Awareness and Understanding

By: Dr. Jan Hittelman

Whether we realize it or not, we are all prejudiced. That’s because our brains are wired to categorize and think in stereotypes based upon our experiences and perceptions. If we have limited experience interacting with individuals who are different than us in some way, we have to base our expectations on other information, like what we see in print and on television. That’s why the portrayal of various groups in the media is so important because it can shape our attitudes and biases. Similarly, we are all vulnerable to “Us and Them” thinking. That’s why we have gridlock in Washington, D.C. and ongoing international clashes throughout the world. Regardless of our ethnic, racial, or political views, most of us would agree that mutual understanding, respect, and world peace are important and admirable goals.

While Boulder is often viewed as a progressive, liberal bastion, the truth is that we have a long way to go in terms of our own understanding, respect, and perceptions of people who are different than us. Just ask a member of any minority group in our community about how they feel perceived by others when walking down the street or going into a store. Think about how most adult Caucasians might feel walking down an alley at night and coming upon a group African American teens. While we may not like to admit it to ourselves, all of us our vulnerable to prejudice and “Us and Them” thinking.

The solution starts with acknowledgement of the problem. Once we are aware of our prejudices we can change them by learning more truths about others to replace stereotypes, which are based on limited, distorted information. The best thing you can do for your children is to seek out diverse social opportunities for them so that they can have real experiences with folks that are different from them. Let’s shift from distrust, based on lack of knowledge and experience, to inclusion and acceptance. That way we all benefit.

Hot Under the Collar

8 Common Anxiety Symptoms and a Few Ways to Begin to Cool Off

By Rachael Bonaiuto, LPC

When you have anxiety, it’s easy to feel like others don’t understand what you’re going through. Anxiety itself can make you feel as though you’re suffering from symptoms, worries and concerns that are not only pronounced – they also feel inherent. Despite how personal this anxiety is to you, the truth is that anxiety is surprisingly common. I witness anxiety symptoms in most people I encounter on a daily basis – clients, students, friends, and family – in the store, at the bank, even at a red light.  Anxiety is uncomfortable at best, and can become paralyzing and defeating.  And it is common…. so incredibly common.

You are at home, preparing to go to a dinner party with work colleagues. You don’t want to go, you dread it, you think of reasons not to go, fantasize about your favorite elastic-waisted pants and the flavor ice cream that would accompany the movie night you’d rather have. You finally surrender to going, but begin to notice tightness in your chest.  As you stare, hot and bothered, at your closet of ‘not quite right’ clothes, your neck begins to hurt and the pain causes even more fear. You snap at your partner, who gently reminds you that you need to get going. You ignore the texts from co-workers asking you if you’ve left your house yet. You can barely breath and you are frozen.  You are experiencing anxiety and it is profoundly challenging.

So, what are some common symptoms of anxiety? Below are eight typical symptoms of anxiety and a few ways to manage this persistent condition.

  1. You feel constantly worried, tense and on edge
  2. You are plagued by fears that you know are irrational but just can’t shake
  3. You avoid situations/activities because they cause you nervousness & stress
  4. You have difficulty thinking, speaking, and following conversations
  5. You experience pain, stiffness, tension, pressure, soreness, or immobility
  6. Your body temperature increases or decreases without external reason
  7. You feel chest tremors, pounding heart, and/or labored breathing
  8. You don’t feel like yourself, detached from loved ones, emotionally numb

Many common anxiety symptoms show up in your body. You may first experience a knot in your stomach, and then you realize you are totally freaked out about an upcoming presentation. You feel a rapid heartbeat and tightness in your chest and later notice that you are completely anxious to drive in snowy weather.  Your jaw is clenched and your breath is constricted just before you unleash the pent up worry and resulting irritability toward your child.  If you can begin to notice the signals from your body that suggest you are anxious, you may find opportunity to take pause, check in, and navigate what you need in the moment.

Here are a few body-oriented tips for how to deal with anxiety:

1.     Pause:

  1. Find pause through breath. Inhale. Exhale. Feel your belly rise and fall. Notice the air come in through your nostrils and exit out your lips.
  2. Find pause through your senses. Pause to notice what you see. What do you hear and smell? Can you feel your clothes against your body? Experience your feet in your shoes, on the floor. Can you taste the salt on your lips or the flavor from your most recent meal?
  3. Find pause through movement. Go for a walk. Put on your favorite song and dance. Shake it out. Stretch your arms wide. Spread your legs and feel your feet rooted into the earth. Put your hands on your heart or give yourself a massage.

2.    Check In:

  1. Notice what is happening with your breath, senses, movements
  2. Notice, without judgment, what thoughts and feelings you have
  3. Simply observe what is happening in your inner landscape
  4. Scan your body for tension, tightness, fear, irritability, disorientation

3.    Take care:

  1. Ask yourself what you need? Remind yourself (or have someone else remind you) that it is okay to have needs.
  2. If you are having trouble accessing what you need, take another pause, a longer pause, lie on the earth and feel it beneath you.
  3. If you are in need of support, ask for help – from a friend, a loved one or a professional.

Anxiety can negatively impact your quality of life – the way you show up for others and for yourself. Knowing the common symptoms of anxiety can help you recognize when you or a loved one is experiencing unease. When you realize you feel anxious, it can be so valuable to pause, check in and take care of yourself in the moment. Building a deeper understanding of the symptoms and an awareness of what is happening in your body can provide access to your available resources through breath, sensation and movement. When you have access to your internal resources, you can also appreciate more deeply when you need additional support and when you are able to navigate your internal terrain on your own. This self-awareness provides empowerment, freedom and a deeper sense of compassion for self and other. Most importantly, if you are experiencing significant anxiety, seek professional help. Psychotherapy can be very effective in providing relief from the debilitating symptoms of anxiety.

Unique Challenges for LGBTQ Youth

 By Jan Hittelman

Every two years, the Boulder Valley School District participates in the countywide Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provide reliable local data on risk behaviors among our high school students. A variety of risk factors are considered, ranging from wearing bicycle helmets to suicidal behavior. Within the population of high school students assessed, there are always certain subgroups that are at greater risk. One such group is teens that identify themselves as having a GLBQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning) sexual orientation. In the most recent 2011 data, this unfortunate trend continues to be observed. Here are some examples summarized in the chart below:

Health   Behavior Heterosexual   Youth LGBQ Youth
Harassed on school property 25.5% 57.3%
Felt sad or hopeless 23.2% 60.2%
Seriously considered attempting suicide 12% 49.3%
Attempted suicide 4.7% 37.3%

You can download all of the local YRBS results by going to: http://www.bouldercounty.org/family/youth/pages/yrbsresultslinks.aspx

LGBTQ Counseling for Teens

LGBTQ Counseling for Teens

Is Your LGBTQ Teen Struggling With Identity and Social Issues? 

Has your teenager communicated that he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning if he or she may be? Or, do you suspect that your teen is wondering about his or her sexual identity and is unable to talk openly about it? Even if your teen is communicating openly, does he or she seem to be struggling to make sense of his or her identity and how sexuality and sexual preferences fit into who he or she is? Does your teen appear anxious, overwhelmed, depressed or seem challenged in certain social situations? Are you doing your best to help your child feel supported, understood and accepted, but fear that you may be doing or saying the wrong things? Are you worried about stereotypes or how and where to get your teen appropriate and supportive resources? Do you want to learn how to help or get your teen connected with someone who can?

The teen years are the time when our children figure out how to be adults. They are learning who they are and how to relate with others. Working out personal identity and social issues are what defines the teenage experience. And, it’s not easy. Add to that questions concerning sexuality, community and communication that affect LGBTQ teens and the typical teenage self-esteem, social and identity issues can be compounded. While some LGBTQ teens seem to handle this added layer of stress with relative ease and clarity, for others it can feel really hard. It’s not unusual for some teens to become anxious, socially isolated, highly stressed or experience depression-like symptoms.

Many LGBTQ Teens Struggle With Identity, Social and Communication Issues

Even the most well-adjusted and supported LGBTQ teenager will, at some point, experience anxiety or relationship and communication issues connected to his or her sexual identity. It’s a normal part of questioning sexuality and the “coming out” process. However, rather than dealing with fears in healthy ways, some teens can make risky choices or self-medicate in order to cope with confusing and conflicting emotions. Thankfully, experience show us that therapy can be extremely effective for LGBTQ teens who are struggling more than others with the typical teenage identity and social development issues. A BPS therapist can help your teen work through these issues, along with the added questions, concerns and fears that can arise for today’s LGBTQ teens.

Therapy Can Help Your Teen Accept and Celebrate His or Her Identity and Choices

Your BPS therapist can help your child get clear on who he or she is (or wants to be) in the world. Together, your therapist and teen can discuss what your teen needs to feel happy and what choices he or she can make to feel more confident and calm. These choices can include when and how to come out, how your teen wants to be and feel in relationships, and what kinds of friends and activities can make your teen feel happy and be successful. Your teen can also learn how to navigate difficult social situations, a lack of acceptance by others and potential school issues. Learning these valuable skills now can prepare your teen to handle negativity in healthier ways, as well as to accept and celebrate his or herself for the unique and beautiful person he or she is.

Your BPS therapist can also provide you with education and resources. Your therapist can offer support, guidance and advice on how to communicate with your teen about LGBTQ issues in more effective and helpful ways. You can learn how to have difficult conversations in ways that minimize potential conflict and, instead, lead to a more connected and understanding parent/child relationship.

Therapy can provide a tremendous amount of support for both you and your teen. Dealing with the emotions that being LGBTQ can create becomes a very different and more positive experience when your teen has an expert who is understanding and accepting to talk with. Your BPS therapist can help your teen navigate social and personal identity concerns and make healthy choices, which can help your teen feel much better sooner. Usually, LGBTQ teens do not need years of therapy. Rather, even a little time with an accepting and trusted BPS therapist specializing in LGBTQ counseling for teens can provide immediate and positive relief.

But, you still may have questions or concerns…

We think that therapy could help, but I’m concerned about costs. .

This is your child’s life and wellbeing. Addressing your teen’s LGBTQ issues now may prevent a host of life-long problems and patterns from occurring as he or she leaves your home and enters adulthood. The investment in your teen’s emotional health may not only address the related identity, relationship and self-esteem issues, but also alleviate future struggles and keep potential unhealthy coping patterns and behaviors from being entrenched. Addressing identity and social issues in therapy now can help your teen feel better about his or herself and strengthen his or her ability to develop lasting, healthy relationships now and throughout life.

Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with adolescent LGBTQ issues or who their teen couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a referral assessment and match your teen with a therapist who is trained and experienced to work with LGBTQ teens and whose personality is a good match for your child’s. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to your teen may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine your child feeling and functioning better on a regular basis – now and in the long-term – and ask yourself what that’s worth.

If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find a resource to help offset cost.

My teen is already so guarded about his or her sexual identity. I think my child may be afraid to come out to anyone – even a therapist – because of a fear of being judged.

The fear your teenager is experiencing is a normal part of the coming out process. However, it’s important that your child feels empowered by the process and recognizes that the decision about how and when to share these personal details is up to him or her. Finding the right therapist is key, and your child should be involved in the interview process. It’s essential that your teen find a therapist who he or she feels accepted by and can trust. BPS is committed to helping you and your teen find the right therapist.

With the right therapist, your teen can learn that letting go of judgments – whether real or perceived – is a big part of the coming out process.  And, part of letting go of fear of judgment may happen naturally once your teen feels accepted by his or her therapist. While your teen may feel hesitant about opening up now, your BPS therapist can become a trusted advocate for your teen, help him or her overcome internal struggles and set the groundwork for long-term self-acceptance and confidence.

My teen says that therapy will be a waste of time, and that he or she can manage okay without help. 

This is a typical teenage response to the idea of therapy, and one way that your teen is asserting her or her own power. Although your teen may now feel that he or she can handle emotions without help, many teens find that therapy has tremendous benefit and provides a lot of relief. Once in therapy, your teen may realize that there is great comfort in having a confidential relationship with someone who is understanding, accepting and whom he or she can talk to about anything without judgment.

Encourage your teen to attend one or two sessions and to be open with his or her BPS therapist regarding feelings, doubts or fears about therapy. You may be surprised how quickly your teen opens up to the idea of therapy. Once he or she actually meets with a therapist who is specifically trained to work with teenagers and who understands and appreciates LGBTQ issues, your teen may embrace, rather than reject, this support.

We encourage you to schedule a referral assessment with a BPS therapist, trained by BPS Director Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your teen’s specific issues are and to ensure a good match between you, your teenager and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with teenagers and LGBTQ issues.

BPS therapist Jennifer Key, LCSW helped create the content for this page. Jenny has been working with adolescents on LGBTQ issues since 2000. She practices traditional therapy methods, such as psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral techniques, but has also found that many teenagers experience significant, positive change while interacting with animals. Jenny’s practice includes equine and animal therapies.

LGBTQ Counseling for Young Adults

Do You Want To Feel More Confident About Your Sexuality, Identity And Choices?

Are you gay, bisexual, transgender or wonder if you might be? Do you worry about being rejected by friends or family or have you experienced actual rejection because of your sexual orientation? Are you having a hard time accepting yourself or has your sexual identity created unease in relationships?  Are you confused about who you are, how you want to be in the world and how your sexuality impacts the way you relate with others? Have you been feeling anxious, frustrated or doubting yourself and your decisions? Do you wish you could really love and accept yourself just as you are and that others could, too?

Many LGBTQ Young Adults Struggle With Identity and Relationship Issues

Exploring sexuality is a very common part of the young adult experience. And, being LGBTQ can add another level of complexity to this personal exploration. It’s common for LGBTQ young adults to wonder where they fit on the sexual continuum, experience discomfort talking about their sexual orientation with certain friends or family members and grapple with self-acceptance. During the oftentimes challenging transition from teenager to adult, it can be so helpful to have a strong support system and a firm grasp on who you are sexually. But not everyone has the needed support or knows themselves and what they want yet. So, while some LGBTQ young adults seem to experience confidence about their sexual orientation, others may need a little help to work through the complex issues that being LGBTQ can create.

Therapy Can Help You Accept and Celebrate Your Identity and Choices

As a young adult, it can be so helpful to have a therapist – someone who doesn’t judge, offers guidance, can provide a sounding board and really accepts you for who you are. And, if you’re struggling with the transition from teen to adult, trying to figure out who you are sexually, how to communicate your choices to the people in your life, have a weak support system,  and/or are grappling with self esteem issues, therapy can provide so much help and relief. Therapy is a place where you can totally be yourself and feel accepted and supported.

Your BPS therapist can help you figure out who you are (or want to be) in the world. Together, you and your therapist can discuss what you need to feel happy and what choices you can make to feel more confident and empowered. These choices can include when and how to come out, how you want to be and feel in relationships, and what kinds of friends and activities promote wellbeing.

Your therapist can also help you recognize negative thoughts and learn how to replace them with healthier ones. You can work on developing better self-awareness and self-confidence. You can develop stress reduction, calming and breathing techniques, and learn how to feel more centered and mindful. Learning these valuable skills and developing increased self-awareness, confidence, and resiliency can help you handle negativity or uncertainty in healthier ways. You can also begin accepting and celebrating yourself for the unique and beautiful person you are.

But, you still may have questions or concerns…

I think that therapy could help, but I’m concerned about costs.

This is your life and wellbeing. Addressing your LGBTQ issues now may prevent a host of life-long problems and patterns from continuing into adulthood. The investment in your emotional health may not only address the related identity, relationship, and self-esteem issues, but also alleviate future struggles and keep potential unhealthy coping patterns and behaviors from being entrenched. Addressing these identity and social issues in therapy now can help you feel better about yourself and strengthen your ability to develop lasting, healthy relationships now and throughout life.

Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with young adult LGBTQ issues or who they couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a referral assessment and match you with a therapist who is trained and experienced to work with LGBTQ young adults and whose personality is a good match for yours. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to yourself may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine feeling and functioning better on a regular basis – now and in the long-term – and ask yourself what that’s worth.

If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find a resource to help offset cost.

I don’t think that my social or family problems can be fixed in therapy. I’m gay and I’m going be gay. Therapy can’t “fix” or change that.

The purpose of therapy is not to “fix” or change your sexual preference or your identity. Rather, what therapy can do is to help you work on self-acceptance, celebrating your choices, and creating healthy and supportive relationships. Therapy is a safe and nonjudgmental place to explore who you are and how you want to be in the world. Your BPS therapist understands the young adult experience and LGBTQ issues, and can offer you support and guidance as you embark upon your important self-exploration and self-acceptance personal work.

I’m feeling really bad, totally overwhelmed and seriously confused about who I am. I’d have no idea where to start or what to say to a therapist.

It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and confused. And, therapy is a really good place to start gaining a better understanding of who you are and what you want your life and relationships to look and feel like, even if you don’t know how to articulate that right now. Many clients come in not knowing why they feel so bad, but know that they want to feel better – and that’s where a therapist can be so helpful. Your BPS therapist has the tools, skills, and experience to help you identify the root causes of your unease. Your therapist can also help you “unpack” and explore your overwhelming and intense feelings. In time, with the right therapist, approach, and willingness on your part, you can feel better, less overwhelmed, and gain a better understanding and appreciation of who you are.

We encourage you to schedule a referral assessment with a BPS therapist, trained by Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your specific issues are and ensure a good match between you a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and with a therapist who has expertise working with young adults on LGBTQ issues.

LGBTQ / Same Sex Couples Counseling

Is Your Same Sex Relationship On Edge?

Are you feeling unfulfilled or dissatisfied with your relationship? Do you feel that your needs are not being met, leading to feelings of anger, frustration or sadness? Do you wonder if your relationship can work – or if you’re capable of making any relationship work? Have you encountered stress related to your same sex partnership? Do you struggle with a lack of acceptance or celebration about your choices by others or find that you’re still struggling with them yourself?

Same sex couples encounter the same relationship problems that heterosexual couples deal with. Intimacy and communication issues can arise, as can the common issues of balancing separateness and closeness. But, people in same sex partnerships can also experience another level of issues that may bring increased stress to the relationship. Because you’re still in a minority group, there are fewer relationship role models and, unfortunately, less societal acceptance. You may be struggling to figure out gender roles. You may be struggling to gain the acceptance of friends or family. And, you and or your partner still may be grappling to fully celebrate your partnership and choices connected to your sexual identities.

What You’re Experiencing is Normal

Encountering stress and relationship blocks is extremely common in all partnerships, and possibly even more so in same sex relationships. It’s actually kind of the norm. Most same sex couples experience some level of the typical stresses found in all romantic relationships, but with another layer of issues to deal with. The good news is that experience shows us that couple’s therapy is an extremely effective way of working through all these issues. And, sometimes it’s as simple as identifying the root causes of your problems and learning a few skills to improve communication. You can feel more intimately connected to you partner, and learn new and healthier ways to handle conflict.

Therapy Can Bring You Closer

With the help of a BPS therapist who specializes in couple’s work, LGBTQ issues and same sex couples counseling, you and your partner can learn ways to improve communication, respond well to each other’s needs and to stay engaged with one another – all the foundations of a solid relationship. In tandem to working on partnership issues, you’ll both also be encouraged to develop more individual self-awareness. This can include looking into your past and previous relationships with partners, friends and family. Developing an understanding of how your past has shaped who you are today can help you develop personal accountability and responsibility for what you bring to your relationship. Sharing these insights can lead to major breakthroughs in how you and your partner relate to and support each other.

In therapy, you will also learn simple and effective tools and skills that can make your relationship smoother. These can help you work through conflict, but they can also bring you and your partner closer. With a little guidance, you and your partner can co-create increased closeness and enjoy a higher level of intimacy. It is very possible to change the nature of your relationship, allow for more needs to be met and to create a space that fosters mutual growth and love.

But, you still may have questions or fears…

We’ve tried couple’s counseling in the past and it didn’t help. I’m afraid that therapy will be a waste of time and money.

Experience shows us that couple’s counseling can be very effective, but finding the right therapist is key. In your case, it’s important that you find one who understands both couple’s and LGBTQ issues. It’s also important that you find a therapist who both you and your partner can easily relate with in terms of personality and style.

And, you’re not the first couple who has tried and failed at therapy. Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to handle couple’s or LGBTQ issues or who they couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a referral assessment and match you with a therapist who is trained and experienced in working with same sex couples and whose personality is a good match with yours and your partner’s. Once you find that good match, it’s up to you. Making a commitment to better your relationship may prove to be the investment of a lifetime. Imagine being much happier in your relationship on a regular basis and ask yourself if that is worth giving therapy another shot.

I’m afraid of the things I might hear or say in therapy. I’m not sure if our relationship could survive the truth.

Your fear is very valid and, honestly, things might get worse before they can get better. It’s natural and normal to experience increased stress and tension in the relationship when you first begin therapy. But, the process of improving your relationship begins with addressing the difficult issues that have kept you from enjoying a healthy and loving partnership. Therapy can provide you with a safe and supportive environment in which you’ll work through those bumps that can keep you stuck. Facing the root of your conflicts can actually increase closeness and intimacy as you develop a stronger and more honest connection. And, in therapy, you can develop the skills needed to work through conflict on your own when it arises again.

I think we need a therapist who really understands LGBTQ issues or is part of the community.

Again, finding the right therapist is key. You can express this desire during a referral assessment and help find the best match between you and a BPS therapist. Once you receive therapist recommendation(s), you’re encouraged to interview the therapist and ask questions about his or her background and relationship to the LGBTQ community. This will also give you an opportunity to feel out the dynamic of the potential therapeutic relationship and decide if personality is also a good fit.

We encourage you to schedule an referral assessment with a BPS therapist, trained by BPS Director, Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your specific issues are and to ensure a good match between you and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you with a therapist who has expertise working with couples and LGBTQ issues.