Why Online Therapy?

A client stopped a recent session and said, “I need to weed my garden.”  And then she showed me how high the weeds were.

No, she didn’t live next door to my office.  We were doing a video session online, and she was sitting on her back deck.  She turned her phone’s camera toward the yard to show me the weeds.  (For the record, they weren’t that high.)

I’m always looking for ways to make therapy more accessible for families, and switching to an online practice is the best thing I’ve done to make that happen.  At my old office, families often showed up frustrated by fighting through traffic and stressed by juggling activities just to be there in the first place.  Add the hassle of gathering everybody in one place and herding them into the car, and it’s a wonder they ever made it to the session.

The online approach changes all that.  Clients schedule sessions when they have a free hour in their day. They schedule family sessions in the evenings when they’re settled in at home. Flexibility for them is also flexibility for me; I offer more flexible times because I just go down the hall to my office instead of rushing to one several miles away.

The online practice doesn’t change the kind of sessions I offer, though.  Many online, web-based therapy services offer short contacts, even through e-mails or text messages, to work through your problems.  Those can be helpful, but they’re often insufficient.  At Grody Online Family Counseling, sessions will still average 60 minutes for individuals and 90 minutes for families or couples, and the sessions will be the same as if you’re in a traditional office with me.  I’ll still see and hear you; you’ll still see and hear me.  The sessions are like using FaceTime or Skype, only our sessions will be HIPPA-compliant to protect your confidentiality.

Sessions are simple to access.  When it’s time for our appointment, I’ll send you a link that invites you to the session.  You’ll click on the link using your computer, tablet or phone, and then we’re face-to-face and ready to get to work.

Another advantage of online sessions is that clients don’t have to be local to Columbus.  Instead of opening offices in other towns (and passing those expenses on to you), I can offer video therapy to families, couples or individuals anywhere in the state of Ohio.  If you travel for work within the state, you can participate even when you’re out of town.  And if you live in the country or in a small town with limited resources, you can still access quality therapy without driving to the nearest city.

If you’re interested in trying online sessions, call me at (614) 477-5565 or e-mail me at carlgrody@grodyfamilycounseling.com.  You can also schedule an appointment online at carlgrodylisws.clientsecure.me; click on a time that works for you, and I’ll contact you with the paperwork we need to get started.

If you have any questions, give me a call.  In the meantime, I’ve got a break between sessions, so I’d better check the weeds in my own back yard.

(Carl Grody, LISW-S, runs Grody Online Family Counseling based in Columbus, Ohio.  He has 12 years experience working with children, adolescents, families and couples.  He’s a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program, and he’s also the family therapy columnist for Columbus Parent magazine.  For an appointment with Carl, call him at (614) 477-5565 or e-mail him at carlgrody@grodyfamilycounseling.com.  To schedule online without the middle man, click here: carlgrodylisws.clientsecure.me.)

Survival Tips for First-Time Parents

I was the at-home parent for my kids, so I know the joys and rewards of that job.  I also know the downsides , too.  This column that I wrote for Columbus Parent magazine has a few tips to help you make it through those sleepless nights and stress-filled days as a couple.


Q&A: How Do I Get My Child To Apologize?

Q: My child got in an argument during a play date recently, and I made him apologize. He didn’t want to, of course, and it was like pulling teeth to get him to do it. Why is it so difficult for children to say they’re sorry? Are they embarrassed? Stubborn?

A: Yes to both, but we should also add confused to the list.

Kids don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “How can I mess up today?” They genuinely want to do the right thing. But they’re not born knowing what we expect from them or what we define as “good behavior,” and they’re often confused about what they did wrong. For example, if a child isn’t sharing a toy, he’s often confused when he gets in trouble for that. In his mind, he had the toy first; why should he give it away when he’s not done with it? When he gets in trouble, he’s often thinking, “What’s up with that?”

Behavioral change can happen simply by “fake it until you make it” – i.e., your child apologizes not because he wants to but because you’re making him do it. In that approach, it doesn’t matter if he’s sincere about the apology; it just matters that he gets in the habit of doing it. Any insight about the benefits of an apology will come later.

It’s common, though, for parents to feel frustrated when their kids’ apologies aren’t sincere. It’s not enough for those parents that their kids say the words, “I’m sorry.” They also want their kids to mean it.

But if you really want your child to understand and accept why he needs to apologize, it won’t do any good to force him. He’ll just resent it and still not understand why it’s such a big deal. (Remember, “What’s up with that?”)

Before a child can give a sincere apology, he has to learn empathy. A sincere apology simply can’t happen if your son doesn’t see things from the other child’s point of view. In the earlier example of the child with the toy, the parent could help his child explore times when he felt left out when he wanted to play with a toy. These are teaching moments, not punishing moments. The empathy might take awhile, but if you stay patient, your child will eventually get the idea.

Parents sometime ask me when they should just let the apology slide (they’re almost always asking about teenagers). The answer is that there’s no age where you have to “let it slide.” You’re the parent no matter how old your child is, and it’s important that you have expectations, rules, and boundaries for kids of every age. You set expectations about apologies because it’s important to you as a parent. And while teens sometimes seem like the most stubborn people on the planet, the values that you’ve taught them are still there somewhere. Set the expectation and then give them the chance to do the right thing. They normally will.

(Carl Grody, LISW-S, specializes in child, adolescent, and family therapy. He’s been in private practice for more than five years, and he’s a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program. He’s also the family therapy columnist for Columbus Parent magazine. For an appointment with Carl, please call 614-477-5565.)

Squaring Off With Chronic Pain: A Family Battle

In the first session with a client, I emphasize that there’s no right or wrong way to feel.  Your feelings are what they are, and nobody can tell you that you shouldn’t feel that way.

But that’s sometimes easier said than done, especially when working with families influenced by Chronic Pain.  Much of the work with those families involves helping them resolve confusion about whether the Pain is actually real.  (The people suffering Chronic Pain aren’t normally confused about it; they’re feeling real Pain, even if others in the family doubt it.)

Friends and family try to be supportive, but often they get frustrated and say things like, “Suck it up already!” (By the way, that’s not normally helpful.)  But don’t judge these frustrated friends and families too harshly. More often than not, doubters simply can’t process what Pain actually means for their loved ones.  Is there an illness that’s being missed?  Is the person “faking it” to get out of doing something?  Is Pain psychosomatic?  (For the record, psychosomatic Pain is still real Pain.)

Denying the existence of Pain is, in an odd way, a coping skill.  The doubter doesn’t know how to help their loved one reduce Pain’s influence, so it’s just easier to deny Pain altogether than to admit that you can’t help someone that you love.

Here’s an example. Let’s say a teenage girl (let’s call her Jane) comes to see me because she’s trying to cope with Sadness related to Chronic Pain.  Sadness combines with Pain to make Jane miss a lot of school.  As a clinical social worker, I believe family sessions are important because everything that happens to one person also affects the rest of the family, so the family is involved in sessions, too.  Eventually, the dad (let’s call him Dad) says in session, “This is silly.  There’s nothing wrong with her.  Jane just needs to suck it up and go to school.”

Again, that sounds pretty harsh, but this attitude is common in families influenced by Chronic Pain.  Someone in the family – not always Dad, but often – feels overwhelmed about how to help Jane.  This happens a lot with dads because Chronic Pain thumbs its nose at Dad’s traditional job, which is to protect his family.  If there’s a problem, Dad think it’s his job to fix it; if he can’t, he thinks that makes him a “poor protector” and “a poor excuse for a man.”  But there’s no way for Dad to protect Jane from Pain.  He can’t control it, can’t threaten it, or even take it outside for a “chat.”  Dad can’t see Pain, can’t tell where it’s coming from, can’t smell it, and can’t even appreciate the experience of it.  Only Jane knows how it feels.

If Dad accepts that he can’t make things better for Jane, he also has to accept that he doesn’t meet his definition of what a father is supposed to be.  So he goes the other way, denying that Pain exists at all.  If Pain doesn’t exist, then Jane doesn’t need protecting, and Dad can focus on making Jane get off her “lazy butt” and go to school like the other kids.

That makes perfect sense.  Dad’s not a bad guy; he’s just overwhelmed.  His denial is actually his coping skill – not a healthy one, but a coping skill nonetheless.

This escalates problems in the family, of course.  Someone else (often Mom, but not always) defends Jane and the existence of Pain.  Jane’s brothers and sisters often get involved, taking sides with either Mom or Dad, and Jane is left in the middle of it all, feeling more and more rotten with each conflict.

Chronic Pain, meanwhile, is a bullying dictator.  It likes being in charge of the entire family.  Jane wants to ignore Pain just as much (or more) as her family wants her to ignore it, but Pain insists on being noticed.  It hammers Jane repeatedly until she’s ready to give in.

Chronic Pain craves family turmoil because the chaos helps it become even more entrenched in the family system.  The constant conflicts increase Stress on everyone, especially Jane, and Pain feeds off that Stress.  Picture Chronic Pain as the man-eating flower in Little Shop of Horrors, and Stress as the human flesh that it needs to eat.

Thankfully, family therapy can help Jane and her family.  It won’t make Pain go away (although we can work on relaxation techniques that might take the edge off Pain while reducing Stress on Jane and her family).  But the role of family therapy is to help families make positive, lasting changes that reduce Pain’s influence on their thoughts and behaviors, and I’ve seen many families take control back from Chronic Pain.

Pain hates that, by the way.  Too bad for it.

(Carl Grody, LISW-S, works with families at Grody Online Family Counseling based in Columbus, Ohio.  He’s a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program, and he’s the Family Therapy columnist for Columbus Parent magazine.  For an appointment with Carl, call 614-477-5565 or e-mail carlgrody@grodyfamilycounseling.com. You can also schedule directly online at carlgrodylisws.clientsecure.me.)

Q&A: How Do I Find Meaning in Loss?

Q: I suffered a traumatic loss recently, and some friends told me I should “find meaning” in the loss and move on.  I know they want me to feel better, but I’m having a hard time finding anything good right now. How can I find the meaning they keep talking about?

A: The ability to find positive meaning in trauma/loss is indeed helpful in recovering and being able to move on with your life. Viktor Frankl described this as, “finding meaning in your suffering,” in his classic about dealing with trauma, Man’s Search for Meaning.

But before you can do that, you have to let yourself feel the pain of the loss. Too often, people look for meaning before processing their feelings, leaving grief unresolved and buried deeply inside. Feelings always work their way back out, so it’s simpler to accept and work through them.

It’s also important not to pressure yourself to find meaning even when you think you’re ready. Be patient; meaning often comes from the process of grieving itself. If you push to find it, you’ll just get frustrated. Often, people rush themselves because they hate experiencing the loss and the pain. But true meaning doesn’t mask the grieving process; it’s part of it.

There are some things, though, that might help you work through your feelings:

— Talk about how you feel with supportive friends and family members.

— Keep a journal about your thoughts and feelings. Studies show that the act of putting pen to paper engages a part of the brain that isn’t engaged just by talking.

— Join a support group. Group members can help you work through your loss, and you might even find meaning by helping others in a similar situation.  (But be careful about helping others before you’re really ready.  You might trigger your own unresolved feelings.)

— And, of course, quality counseling can help when you feel stuck trying to make sense of what happened.

That’s really the key to dealing with trauma. It’s not about finding something positive; it’s about trying to make sense of your loss. That doesn’t mean the trauma will ever be “OK”; it means that your brain can finally process and accept what happened, even when you don’t like it.

(Carl Grody, LISW-S, sees clients at Grody Online Family Counseling based in Columbus, Ohio. He has 12 years experience working with children, teens, families and couples. He’s a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program, and he’s also the family therapy columnist for Columbus Parent magazine. For an appointment with Carl, call 614-477-5565 or schedule directly at carlgrodylisws.client.secure.me.)

Q&A: I’m Nervous About My Kid Going Away To Camp

Q: My daughter is leaving soon for her first overnight camp. She seems happy to be going, but I’m a nervous wreck. How can I handle this as well as she is?

A: Well, I’ve certainly been where you are. My oldest daughter went to her first overnight camp when she was 13, and I spent the week worried she’d have an allergic reaction that required someone to stab her with an EpiPen. Everything worked out fine, but what you’re feeling is more common than you might think.

It’s normal to feel anxious when your kids are going to their first overnight camps. It’s symbolic – the kids are getting older, and just yesterday weren’t they toddlers who would never, ever leave you, and now they’re suddenly going to a place where strangers will take care of them? How did that happen so fast? Who’s going to tuck the kids into bed? The better question, though, might be who will the parents get to tuck in at night?

There are kids who aren’t ready for camp yet, and in those cases, taking it slow is definitely the way to go. But anxiety about camp sometimes comes from the parents, even if they mean well; kids who show anxiety about camp are often mirroring anxiety exhibited by their parents.

To make sure that your daughter is ready for camp, make a list of specific things that you’re worried about, and then go through the list and evaluate each worry one by one. Ask yourself if the event you’re worried about is likely to happen; how your daughter might handle it; and if the staff is trained to deal with it. Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that could happen if your worry comes to pass? Then ask yourself the most important question: What’s your hunch about whether your daughter is ready for camp? You know her better than anyone else does; you can trust your hunch. (If you’ve already agreed to let her go, you probably know that answer already.)

Overnight camp is like any other rite of passage for your kids. As parents, we don’t always want them to be old enough to make a developmental leap, but we work through it because we know it’s good for them. It’s the same as dropping the kids off at kindergarten and driving away while they cry in the doorway, and it’s the same as dropping the kids off at college and driving away while you’re crying in the car. These milestones are part of growing up, and like it or not, good parents let their children have these experiences because they help the kids grow into smart, confident, competent adults.

While your daughter is gone, it might help to distract yourself. Spend some quality time with your spouse or significant other. Work on a project that you haven’t had time to finish. Take a vacation of your own, or spend some “me time” relaxing, reading, and recharging. Some nervous parents even drop their kids off and then camp at a park nearby “just in case.” (While that doesn’t project a lot of confidence, it does let kids go to camp without interference, and you don’t have to tell your kids that you’re nearby.)

Trust me, I understand how hard it can be when your kids hit a milestone like this. I occasionally tell my college-aged kids that they should still be five years old. (They just laugh at me.) But I know that’s not realistic; it’s a child’s job to grow up and leave no matter how much his parents want him to stay, and events like overnight camp are part of the developmental process.

Don’t worry, though. You’ve got awhile before your daughter asks for a deposit for her first apartment. And some kids even come back to live in your basement, but that’s another blog entirely …

(Carl Grody, LISW-S, specializes in family therapy at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington, Ohio. Carl is a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program, and he’s the family therapy columnist for Columbus Parent magazine. If you’re interested in an appointment with Carl, call 614-477-5565.)

Q&A: How Do I Get My Husband To Stop Irritating Me?

Q: I understand that I can’t control what someone else does, but my husband’s really irritating me lately, and I don’t like it. How can I make things better?

A: Well, you’ve just asked a question to which everybody can relate (including my significant other). You’re halfway there just by realizing you can’t control what someone else does, even someone as close to you as your husband. However, there are things you can try to make your relationship smoother and help you feel closer as a couple.

Before we go into that, though, I want to emphasize that I’m not assuming you need to change or you’re “the problem.” Blame doesn’t do anybody any good in a family; it gets in the way of positive changes that benefit everyone. Each person plays a role in supporting the status quo, even if that status quo doesn’t make you happy.

A family (and every relationship inside that family system) is made up of predictable patterns of communication and behavior. For example, a husband might leave his socks on the floor, and his wife is likely to complain just like she did the last hundred times his socks missed the laundry basket. He has a pattern (leaving socks on the floor), and she has a pattern (complaining about it). Predictable, comfortable status quo.

Often, the best way to change your partner’s behavior is simply by changing how you react. (Again, this doesn’t mean you’re to blame; it means you can only control what you do.) If you respond differently to his pattern, his response has to be different as well. For example, if he snaps at you when you lose your car keys, you can make the choice not to respond to the snarking, thus avoiding the normal argument.

Instead, try using the attention principle. If you give attention to a behavior, positive or negative, that behavior will increase. If you ignore a behavior that you don’t like, the behavior should eventually diminish or vanish altogether. There might be an uptick in the negative behavior at first, but that’s normal. It’s called the extinction burst, which happens because your partner needs to test whether you’re really determined to ignore the behavior.

It’s not enough to ignore a behavior, though. You also need to praise behaviors that you like. For example, if you lose your keys and your partner helps you look for them, thank him. If he complains the entire time, ignore that part. Instead, just say something like, “I appreciate you helping me find my keys. It was nice of you.” You’ll be tempted to say something about his attitude, but if you do, you’re giving attention to something you don’t like, thus feeding the negative behavior.

You also need to accept that it’s ok for you and your husband to get irritated, even mad, at each other from time to time. Often, this is when big fights happen; you’re already stewing, and then an argument over something like socks or keys sends the conflict over the top. Give your partner – and yourself – permission to be angry. When things start getting out of hand, simply call a timeout by saying, “Look, I’m feeling angry right now. Let’s take a break until I calm down.” You need to let your partner do the same thing, though. It’s tempting to try to have the last word, but it’s more important to recognize the emotion of the moment and take that break.

One last thing: Often, couples stop talking before resolving their differences. They develop a pattern where one partner gets so frustrated that they say, “Forget it!” and cut off the conversation. This is meant to be a protective pattern because it’s scary what might happen if you try to resolve an issue but can’t. In these cases, couples therapy is useful. The therapist’s office is a safe place where you can have those conversations and learn to resolve disagreements without having your relationship fall apart.

(Carl Grody, LISW-S, specializes in family therapy at Grody Online Family Counseling. He’s a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program, and he’s the family therapy columnist for Columbus Parent magazine. For an appointment with Carl, call 614-980-0007 or schedule directly at carlgrodylisws.clientsecure.me.)