May is Mental Health Month

by Melissa Hansen, M.S., LPC

This month we remember the many in our country and around the world who are suffering from mental illness. This month we remember those who treat the mentally ill with their compassion, kindness, and dedication. This month we remember that many of us, while not mentally ill, are not as mentally healthy as we would like to be. This month we remember that mental health is as important as physical health and is should be a priority.

If you would like more information about how mental health is being highlighted this month, check out the following sites:

National Council for Behavioral Health

This is my Brave

Mental Health America

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Mental Health Counseling Week 



Before Couple’s Counseling

By Melissa Hansen, M.A., LPC

Couples often enter counseling hurt, angry, and blaming one another for the problems in the relationship. There are occasional couples who enter couple’s counseling just looking to enhance and deepen their relationship and this work is certainly easier and can be immensely rewarding.

One thing to consider before beginning couple’s counseling is that many people find couple’s counseling more difficult than individual counseling. Just as any therapy can stir up all sorts of reactions and feelings, so unearthing pain, sadness and anger in a relationship also does. It is one thing to sit on a therapy couch and have someone attuned only to you and quite another thing to hear your spouse’s experience of you and to engage with their pain. Most of us become defensive, blaming, or resentful in response. Growing as an individual is difficult and doing so with another person and the powerful pull of established patterns and dynamics should not be underestimated. Therefore, sometimes it is best for couples to pursue individual therapy in order to be more aware of their own issues.

The past is how we land where we are, and relationship wounds can run very deep. Addressing them is essential to relational healing. Still, both partners must be willing to work through things, take ownership of their respective parts, and then forgive and release their partner, and this is more easily done with the help of a trained professional.

One of the first tasks in couple’s work is for the therapist to help both parties focus on their own contributions to the state of the relationship and establish safety.  Many people fear that if they begin to take responsibility this will abdicate their partner from taking responsibility. This is not the case. If one begins to recognize and take responsibility for one’s part, then one can also see what is not one’s responsibility. Establishing an environment of safety (initially in the therapy room and eventually elsewhere in the relationship) is essential to the healing, growth, and deepening of the intimate relationship.

Here are some ways to prepare for couple’s counseling:

  • If possible, go to individual therapy first and openly share that process with one another, taking responsibility for your own life, feelings, choices, and behaviors.
  • Remind yourself that your partner is not the only one at fault. While you may not be aware of the role you play in the relationship and dynamics, you have one. We are all human.
  • You cannot do two things at once. You cannot be trying to divorce or having an affair and also, truly, be trying to redeem your marriage. Simply stopping an affair or taking divorce off the table will not solve everything, but focusing entirely on the healing and health of your marriage is an essential first step. And don’t wait long. Many marriages that are struggling will be sabotaged by the continual betrayal and deception that go along with continuing to put energy toward the dissolution of it or an outside party.
  • Do intentional acts of love for your partner. Think of things that would be meaningful to them and then do those things. Set aside time to listen and connect.
  • Some couple’s therapists recommend reading to help the couple make progress outside the sessions. While there are many good ones, here is one I would recommend: Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson.
  • Make the call to a couple’s therapist even if you have not done any of the above steps!

How Can I Help You?

By Alan Melton, D. Min., LPC

When you come to therapy, the first thing the therapist usually asks is, “How can I help you?” Once you reply, the process has begun. You may not know what to say. You may not even know what help you need. It is the therapist’s job to help you sort it out. It may also be that what you think you came to therapy for ends up not being the real problem at all. There is something else causing you pain.

The next thing the therapist is going to want to know is how long your problem has been going on. When did your symptoms start? When did you start feeling anxious and/or depressed? What has happened in your life recently that is putting undue stress on you?  The answer to this question may be very clear. For instance, “My mother passed away a year ago and I find myself still grieving her death.” It could be that you are not sure when your problem began. There may be events from the past, from childhood and teenage years that are the root cause.  Therapists are trained to help you find out when and how your problem began and to explore that with you. Third, the therapist will want to get to know you. This entails doing a detailed history of your life. They will begin with your birth and walk through your life with you up until today. Such knowledge involves asking you about your early history, especially the first six years of life. Were there any tragedies? Any deaths in the family; any abuse, or did you move a lot? What was your relationship to your parents and siblings? All these events of early childhood play a role in who we are today though most of us have little idea how important these childhood years are.

After exploring your life story, the therapist will want to know about your spiritual, emotional, and physical history. He will ask about previous therapy you may have had, whether you have seen a psychiatrist, what medications you may have taken in the past and what medicines you currently take. These questions will help the therapist get to know you better to assist as the therapy goes forward.

You might be asking, “Then what happens?” The answer is that now your therapy actually begins. We call the first part of the process the Assessment Phase, where we get to know you and build a relationship. Once the real therapy begins, you simply come in and share whatever is on your mind, whatever is bothering you or giving you distress. The therapist will empathically listen to your story and help you process and work through your difficulty.

This part of therapy is when real change takes place. As you work through your problems and come to understand them, you get better!  When you learn where they came from, how they began, and how they manifest themselves in your life today, you begin to heal.

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.