Surviving the Holidays – Free Seminar

How to Cope With Holiday Stress and Still Love Your Family

Presented by Caitlin Powell, M.A., Ed.S. and Matt Swartzenbtruber

  • Tips for Successful Communication
  • How to Maintain Boundaries
  • Ways to Cope With Stress
  • Research on Mood and Nutrition

When: Thursday, December 14, 2017 6-7:30pm

Where: Verona Community Center – 465 Lee Highway, Verona, VA

Refreshments provided.

Questions? Email

Planning on coming? Text “going” to 540-525-3252



The Power of Play

By Stephanie Sterling M.A., LPC

As someone who accepts clients who are children, I often am asked to explain how a therapist might go about working with children in psychotherapy. The answer is using PLAY as a method of working with children to assist them in resolving their emotional distress. Included in this newsletter are excerpts from an article I found describing the reasons for play therapy and how involved a child’s parents and/or family are in the play therapy process.

What is Play Therapy? Play therapy is a structured, theoretically based approach to therapy that builds on the normal communicative and learning processes of children (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002; O’Connor & Schaefer, 1983). Toys are the child’s words!  Initially developed in the turn of the 20th century, today play therapy refers to many treatment methods, all applying the therapeutic benefits of play. Play therapy differs from regular play in that the therapist helps children to address and resolve their own problems. Play therapy builds on the natural way that children learn about themselves and their relationships in the world around them (Axline, 1947; Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002). Through play therapy, children learn to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behavior, develop problem-solving skills, and learn a variety of ways of relating to others. Play provides a safe psychological distance from their problems and allows expression of thoughts and feelings appropriate to their development.

How Does Play Therapy work? Children are referred for play therapy to resolve their problems (Carmichael; 2006; Schaefer, 1993). Often, children have used up their own problem-solving tools, and they may misbehave, act out at home, with friends, and at school (Landreth, 2002). Play therapy allows trained mental health practitioners who specialize in play therapy, to assess and understand children’s play. Even the most troubling problems can be confronted in play therapy and lasting resolutions can be discovered, rehearsed, mastered and adapted into lifelong strategies (Russ, 2004).

How does Play Therapy benefit a child? Play therapy is implemented as a treatment of choice in mental health, school, agency, developmental, hospital, residential, and recreational settings, with clients of all ages (Carmichael, 2006; Reddy, Files-Hall, & Schaefer, 2005).

Play therapy helps children:

  • Become more responsible for behaviors and develop more successful strategies.
  • Develop new and creative solutions to problems.
  • Develop respect and acceptance of self and others.
  • Learn to experience and express emotion.
  • Cultivate empathy and respect for thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Learn new social skills and relational skills with family
  • Develop self-efficacy and thus a better assuredness about their abilities.

How involved can a child’s parents and/or family be in the play therapy process? Families play an important role in children’s healing processes. The interaction between children’s problems and their families is always complex. Sometimes children develop problems as a way of signaling that there is something wrong in the family. Other times the entire family becomes distressed because the child’s problems are so disruptive. In all cases, children and families heal faster when they work together. The play therapist will make some decisions about how and when to involve some or all members of the family in the play therapy. At a minimum, the therapist will want to communicate regularly with the child’s caretakers to develop a plan for resolving problems as they are identified and to monitor the progress of the treatment. Other options might include involving a) the parents or caretakers directly in the treatment by modifying how they interact with the child at home and b) the whole family in family play therapy (Guerney, 2000). Whatever the level of involvement of the family members, they typically play an important role in the child’s healing (Carey & Schaefer, 1994; Gil & Drewes, 2004).

If you or someone you know has a child who could potentially benefit from the play therapy process, please don’t hesitate to contact me here at the center. I would love and welcome the opportunity to assist in any way that I can.

The information displayed for the general public and mental health professionals in this section was initially crafted by JP Lilly, LCSW, RPT-S, Kevin O’Connor, PhD, RPT-S, and Teri Krull, LCSW, RPT-S and later revised in part by Charles Schaefer, PhD, RPT-S, Garry Landreth, EdD, LPC, RPT-S, and Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, EdD, LPC, RPT-S. Linked mental health conditions and concerns and behavioral disorders were drafted by Pehrsson and Karla Carmichael, PhD, LPC, RPT-S respectively. Research citations were compiled by Pehrsson and Oregon State University graduate assistant Mary Aguilera. Updated mental health classifications and reorganization were provided by Franc Hudspeth, PhD, NCC, LPC-S, ACS, RPh, RPT-S. APT sincerely thanks these individuals for their contributions.

Some Local Support Groups

From the Mental Health of America Augusta August Newsletter


Survivors of Suicide Loss:  Peer-to-Peer Support Group

Location: Staunton Augusta YMCA

708 N. Coalter St.

Staunton, Va.  24401

Time: 2nd and 4th Monday of each month from 6:30 pm – 8 pm

Facilitator: Brooke Anderson at 404.617.0448 or

This group is for suicide loss survivors. Everyone in the group, including the facilitator, have had someone close to them die by suicide and knows how devastating that experience can be. The group helps those who have lost a loved one to suicide cope and help in the process of living the healthiest life possible. You can come and just listen to others, or tell your story. Either way, the choice is yours.


Grandparents Support Group

Location: Christ United Methodist Church

1512 Churchville Ave.

Staunton, Va. 24401

Time: 6 pm – 7 pm, 2nd Friday of each month (except April, July, and November)

Contact: Mary Engleman at 885.1257 or Maggie Campbell at 540.256.1320

This group is for grandparents raising their grandchildren enduring the stress of caregiving. Participants will receive support, education on topics and resources of interest, and feel less stressed. Childcare is provided for children age 6 months to 12 years old through the Parents Night Out Program.


NAMI Family to Family Support Group

Location: Augusta County Library
1759 Jefferson Highway
Fishersville, Va.

Time: 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm, 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month

Contact: Sherry Zehr, 540.447.4949

This group is for family members or close friends that have a family member living with a mental illness. Everyone in the group, including the facilitator has a family member or loved one that experiences a mental illness. This is a place that families can come together to share experience and listen to others.

When to Seek Mental Health Care for Children

By Lisa Rochford, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Staunton

for the August Mental Health of America in Augusta County Email Newsletter

The worried mother put her arm around her daughter’s small shoulders. The teenager looked up at her mom, a sad expression on her face. “She’s been asking to talk to someone for a while now,” the mother said. “I knew I had to do something when she started saying she wanted to hurt herself.”

Sometimes as a parent – especially the parent of a teen or pre-teen in the throes of puberty, it’s hard to know when mood, anxiety, conduct problems, and unusual thoughts and behavior rise to the level of needing professional help. The turbulence of adolescence, a child’s fiery or tender temperament, and society’s ideas that “boys will be boys” or that a child just needs to “toughen up” when faced with bad experiences can confuse caregivers about when to get help.

Every child and family is different but the following guidelines can provide some help to know when to pick up the phone to a therapist, psychologist, your pediatrician, or your child’s school guidance counselor, all of whom are trained to work with children with mental health needs:

  1. Your child feels distressed or is causing others significant distress with either emotional or behavior problems that don’t go away despite what both the child and parent try. Or the child may not be able to do what’s expected for his or her age, whether it be socially, academically, or developmentally. If your child is not using single words by age 2 or 3-word phrases by age 3, you should contact the local Early Intervention office or elementary school for free or low-cost services.
  2. If your child asks to talk to a counselor. This is not a usual occurrence and means your child is struggling with an issue with no immediately evident resolution. Sometimes the child does not want to burden the parent with the problem, or hasn’t been able to resolve it by telling the parent. Either way, by getting your child an appointment, you are demonstrating you care and will do what it takes to help the child feel better.
  3. If your child begins to talk about wanting to die or kill him or herself or engages in self-harm. Even if your child is a “dramatic” type and you don’t think he or she means it, your intervention shows you take the sentiments seriously. If you think your child may harm him or herself that day or evening and you don’t already have a counselor to call, you can call the Valley Community Services Board or go to Augusta Health emergency department to see if someone could meet with you and your child right away. In the meantime, watch your child closely, don’t leave him or her unsupervised, and place any medication (even Tylenol), guns, and sharp knives where the child is unable to obtain them.
  4. If your child has a mostly depressed or angry mood for more than two weeks, with low self-esteem, loss of interest in activities or people he or she used to enjoy, and also possibly disturbed sleep and appetite. Depression can strike at any age, especially with stressors like being bullied, having problems with friends or a significant other, or experiencing high levels of stress in the family. Children often have periods where they appear quite happy in the midst of a full-blown depression, so you have to look at your child’s overall mood and how much distress the sadness and anger are causing.
  5. If your child persistently exhibits separation anxiety, worries, does not want to go places or do things most children that age do, or engages in obsessive-compulsive rituals or especially rigid thinking.
  6. If you are experiencing marital difficulty or any other major stress. Your child is likely to feel it, and have the added stress of worrying about you. All children, especially babies and toddlers because they have fewer coping mechanisms and rely so heavily on caregivers for soothing, soak up parental tension and often respond with sleep disturbance, crying, clinginess, hyperactivity, and anger.
  7. If you suspect your child has experienced a trauma such as abuse, being in harm’s way, or seeing a loved one be harmed.
  8. If your child is doing something that is markedly odd, such as engaging in sexualized behavior at an unusual age, complains of hallucinations, such as hearing voices that tell him or her to harm self or others, or becomes unusually hyper with very little sleep and rapid speech. These serious symptoms merit immediate attention.
  9. If you are getting a great deal of complaints from school, especially in more than one school year, about behavior or attention problems, as your child may need help with learning, social skills, mood, or a behavior disorder such as ADHD.

What Is Your Story?

By Emilie S. Thomas M.A., LMFT

Among the myriad therapy techniques out there perhaps one of the most creative is a method called narrative therapy. To simplify greatly, narrative therapy focuses on the stories we tell, both to ourselves and to others, about life. Often these stories are unconscious, yet we create our lives and how we experience our days according to their dictation. The story does not change the external facts, but it can determine how the facts are lived. Therefore, it can be a powerful, life-changing exercise to become aware of our unconscious narratives and learn to shift them if necessary to shift life itself. Sometimes that shift involves a fact-finding mission to provide data with which to compare one’s dominant story. Finding such facts can be powerful indeed, because they can prove how subjective our experiences are, not only to the stories we tell ourselves, but also to the ones we have heard from our family, our friends, and our culture.

A narrative I have come across in working with clients involves the fallacy of complete independence. Clinical studies have identified that alienation and isolation are leading contributors to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Since incidences of these conditions have been skyrocketing in our culture, it makes sense to examine the disconnect that people are experiencing in their daily lives. In talking with my clients, I have found that many people feel deeply faulty because they are not thriving on their own in the face of sometimes devastating hardship and sadness. They are having difficulty enough through the external facts of their situation, but then they suffer doubly– not just from their conditions but also from their personal narrative about what they should be able to handle alone. If I go on a fact-finding mission with them, we can discover together that those “shoulds” arise largely from our cultural values on independence and self sustenance, brought about by years of others’ narratives and ideas. Stories indeed can and do layer upon each other until they become a kind of accepted truth, even if there is little to no basis in fact.

To illustrate I will consult my perhaps overly extensive knowledge about pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Since I was a young girl I have been captured by her family’s strong independent spirit and their reliance on courage, love and faith to survive tremendous challenges. However, even they did not survive alone. In fact, they spent very little time without neighbors within a mile or so, and they relied on those neighbors for labor, support, childcare, and company. The extent to which they did so is not explicitly revealed in the story books, which emphasize the independence of the pioneer, but it is clear in the many researched biographies written about Wilder. Even childbirth, an event that in our collective narrative was terrifyingly isolated on the frontier, was physically dangerous, but still quite different than modern assumption dictates. In fact, women in that place and time often had “a girl” come in for upwards of two months to cook, clean, and care for older children while the mother rested and bonded with the new baby. If free help from neighbors was not available, people would often pay for it, as is reported by Wilder herself. Contrary to popular narrative, history teaches us that even women on the frontier often had company, support, and work done for them for several months after giving birth- with no guilt. I do not know of one modern family that enjoys such a luxury, let alone feels entitled to it. Therefore, I might say to a young mother struggling with exhaustion: the facts do not lie! Our assumptions and our stories might, but the facts do not. If pioneering Laura Ingalls Wilder expected and received that much help from others as a self-sustaining homesteader, why should modern mothers and fathers shame themselves for not being able to juggle babies, older children, work outside the home, and housework by themselves?

Why should a grieving widow feel like she is weak because our impatient culture tells her that she needs to move on long before the typical two years that grieving actually takes? Why should a man working two jobs feel extra shame when he struggles to support his family on his own because he believes a stronger man could do better? Life is difficult enough. There is a never ending cascade of challenges, obstacles, losses and injustices that we all must face. To suffer with guilt and shame over the tough times when our stories that engender such emotions aren’t even based in reality, is tragic, exhausting and unnecessary. Next time you hit a rough patch, pay attention to how you’re thinking about it. Are you suffering over your suffering? If so, that might be a cue to examine the narrative you’re using to handle the challenge. If it is a critical or unrealistic one, challenge yourself to accept help and support from someone else in changing the story- whether the support comes from a therapist, a friend, or family member. After all, none of us are meant to get through this trip alone.