Play Therapy

By: Ashley Harmonson, LPC-Intern
Supervised by: Meredith Ivey LPC-S, RPT-S

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation.” – Plato

Joining a child’s imaginary world is fascinating. One night when putting my two year old to bed, she introduced me to Trexta. My daughter told me that Trexta, who was right above her bed, wouldn’t come down and go to sleep. Knowing that I am far from the pretending world, she said to me “Do you see her Mommy?” She quickly described an elephant riding a giraffe. Although I wanted to explain that the sheer weight of an elephant would quickly crush a giraffe, I just continued to let her describe her new friend. After saying good night, she continued to speak to Trexta for another 5 to ten minutes on the baby monitor.

That night my husband and I talked about how strange it was that she had an imaginary friend. Little did we know, Trexta would be a frequent visitor, play mate, and friend in need of support. Trexta was often comforted for being afraid of monsters, taught how to do things that were difficult, scolded for not cleaning up toys, and a source of many other things (Trexta is a very naughty elephant). But with more close observation, I noticed that Trexta becomes scared of things that my three year old is scared of and comforted and taught ways to feel better.

Why do I tell this story about my sweet little one? Because unfortunately, I don’t always see that elephant riding a giraffe on my child’s ceiling. Just like I can’t always understand, why sometimes she is defiant, has an outburst, and cries at the top of her lungs. Children live in a world that often feels very much out of their control. They have thoughts and feelings about their ever changing circumstances and do not always know how to express them.

Fortunately, there is an outlet for those feelings. Through play therapy a child can express their feelings without being evaluated or judged. They are free to feel and speak through toys. They control the play and through that control, they become their own counselor, teacher, and parent. Through Child-centered Play Therapy a child can teach herself what to do when afraid and how to be comforted after making a mistake. She teaches herself it’s ok to get angry and then apologize. When a child is hurting, they often act out that hurt and do not always have the words to work through it, but they do know how to play.

As my own child is approaching four, I notice that Trexta is not as common of an occurrence. But when my daughter feels out of control, angry, lonely, and scared I know that we may have a visit from our very own elephant riding a giraffe. I do know that she is a welcomed visitor. I hope that you will let your child have a visit to their own imaginary world and give Compassion Counseling the privilege of being a part of it. Below is a website that contains FAQ about play therapy and links to more information.


In-Laws & Holidays

By: Julie Weaver, LPC

Now that summer vacations are over and kids are back in school, fall is beginning, we start to think, ”When is the next vacation?” OK, so maybe that’s just me. Then I have the thought that Holidays will be just around the corner before we know it.

Well, this often brings us to the in-law thoughts. Maybe that’s just me too. There are no perfect in-laws. If you have some, please tell me where you got them, I did not think they existed! Don’t take me wrong though, my in-laws have some very redeeming qualities, but things just not always go perfect. But in reality we are really not all so perfect ourselves, are we? OK, so seriously, here are the questions that run through my head:

Where will the gatherings be? Will there be arguments over where it will be held? Who will get to have the holiday date specifically and who will be pushed to another day? Then my mind races on to “Will things go well?” Will I get things perfect this time?

And all the tenseness of the holidays is quickly back in my memory. We can push the thoughts away, but we will have to go back to holiday planning eventually. So how can we handle all the questions that build up in our minds?

Quick thoughts to ease the tension:

-Things do not have to be perfect.

-You do not have to have it all figured out today.

-You do not have to be the one to make all the decisions.

-Not all occasions have to be traditional/ formal every year?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the unknown. That is most likely my biggest anxiety producer for me. So, I like to think of possible situations and some contingency plans in advance. Let’s face it guys; I want a back-up plan. So, some things I want to be sure of. Maybe you do too.

Three questions to have solidified before making any call extended family to discuss holidays.

  1. What I would really like. (optimally)
  2. What I won’t agree to (absolutely)
  3. What I could live with (negotiable)

Some ideas that could change the face of holidays:

  • Try to negotiate on who to spend each holiday with, i.e., Thanksgiving with your parents, Christmas with your in laws.
  • Remember too that if you children you may want to have a special time just with your children to create some special memories and traditions of your own. Parents remember what that is like and hopefully will want to support that for you as well.

Now on to some suggestions for a better relationship with in laws:

  • Think of something in advance that you appreciate about them and remember to tell them when you meet with them or even when you call to make plans.

For example, “I love that potato casserole you make, do you think you could bring that for Thanksgiving dinner?” “I love that you give the children your undivided attention when they talk to you. That’s one thing that makes you an extra special grandparent. “

Think of some of this in advance (be prepared) and then also look for things you appreciate when you are with them as well.

  • Be sincere. Don’t use complements you do not mean. You want them to be sincere with you so set the example you want.
  • Don’t be brutally honest. There will be imperfect things about them, just as with you, but we don’t need to always discuss those, especially at holidays when things may already be tense.
  • Include them in as much of the planning as you can. But remember the three questions so you don’t offer a choice you have decided you cannot live with.
  • Give them the same grace you should give yourself. Things do not have to be perfect.
  • Remember to have fun.


For literature about relationships with in-laws, our counselor recommends books from this list.

Marriage Lesson From a Potato

Over the years I’ve counseled several couples, and sometimes even individuals who want to work on their marriage.  One of the things I seem to hear over and over again is women thinking their husbands aren’t trying hard enough.  Maybe they don’t do enough for the kids, or aren’t helping around the house as much as you’d like.  Often it’s not just that they aren’t trying hard enough, it’s that when they do help, it feels as though it’s not actually helpful.  One thing that often comes to my mind when I hear women saying these things is an image you might have seen, a pot of half peeled potatoes boiling.

There are different quotes about this image, but the one I like says “A man sees his wife busy cooking in the kitchen and says: ‘How can I help?’ She says ‘Grab the potatoes, peel half and then boil them.’”

What woman doesn’t want her husband to come to her in the kitchen and say “How can I help?”!? That statement lets someone know their husband’s intentions.  It’s clear he wants to be helpful.  Now, I understand that 5 minutes later when you turn around and see literally half of each potato peeled you may no feel he intended to be helpful.  It suddenly feels like you have even more work to do.  But let’s try to look at it from his perspective for a moment.  Maybe he just came home from work, or came inside from mowing the lawn.  He sees you hard at work in the kitchen, which may not be his domain, but he thinks, ‘she looks stressed, I’ll help her out’.  Maybe he’s thinking ‘I want to lighten her load, even if I don’t know my way around the kitchen so, I’ll give it a shot for her.’  So he asks how to help and gets to work.  Yet just a few minutes later he’s being shooed out of the kitchen or worse, yelled at for messing up, when he was only trying to help.  He’s not likely to offer his help again anytime soon, and if you ask for it, he’s concerned about messing up and getting “in trouble” again, making him more likely to mess up or scurry away as soon as he thinks he’s finished.  Take a moment to image how you might feel.  Maybe you have free time and your husband is working hard on the car or in the yard.  Maybe neither of those are things you enjoy or know much about but you want to help.  Now if you’re like me and try to help work on a vehicle you can imagine how it might be easy to make things worse.  How would your husband respond to you?  I think my husband might just laugh; he’d help me fix whatever I messed up and teach me something new along the way.  We might actually enjoy the time together.  That’s why I like the picture of the half peeled potatoes.  It makes me laugh.  So why not laugh at that situation?  Why stress over it?  Enjoy the moment, and take the time to encourage your husband in making an effort to help you.   And most importantly before you start thinking how unhelpful he was and how much worse the situation is, remember his intention – to be helpful, let that leave you with a smile.

Tips When Coping with Grief

By: Courtney Johnson, LPC

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay, Creative Commons

As a counselor, we see clients for a variety of reasons. Some come in for depression, others for divorce, and others come in just in hopes to better themselves. Every topic brings unique challenges, but one of my favorite topics to counsel is grief.

I enjoy counseling grief because grief is somewhat paradoxical in that it is universal-we all experience grief at some point in our lives. However, everyone experiences grief differently. Not only that, each person grieves in their own way when different loved ones pass away.

There is not one specific formula on how to grieve and though everyone grieves in their own unique way, I felt it was important to write a blog of tips and things to remember when you or someone you know is grieving.

1. Don’t put a time limit on itGrief evolves and changes over time. Take as much time as you need, or as little as you need. And don’t feel guilty about the amount of time it takes you.

2. Give yourself some graceWhen we lose someone, it throws our routine off track. Family systems may change; work responsibilities change, or friendships are altered. Your brain is coping with change so it may be more difficult to complete ordinary tasks. Don’t make any big decisions. It is easy to be tempted to make big changes right away. I encourage you to take some time, think about it and be sure you are ready to make that change.

3. Practice self care Grieving is emotionally draining. It is so important to incorporate ways to fill yourself back up. Go to a park, take a warm bath, listen to your favorite music, journal, walk the dog, make your favorite meal, etc.

4. Trust your intuitionyou know yourself best. If you feel like you need to go visit the cemetery, go visit the cemetery. If you need to write your loved one a letter with all the things you didn’t get a chance to say, do it. If you feel like something would be a healthy way to express your grief, I encourage you to try it even if it something new you have never tried before such as painting, or writing.

5. Create new traditions– Especially after losing a family member, holidays, birthdays, or events can be difficult or need to change. I encourage you to talk to your family to create new traditions. These new traditions can also help honor your loved one. For example, cook your loved one’s favorite recipe or watch their favorite Christmas movie around the holidays. Don’t be afraid to try something altogether new.

6. You are not a burden, reach out to your support systemWhen people are sad, it is easy for them to withdraw and not ask for help. They feel guilt that they are “bringing down” everyone else. You are not bringing anyone down. Your support system wants to help. They could help in little tasks such as accompanying you on errands, making a meal to keep in the freezer until needed, or just sitting with you for a few minutes.

7.Take care even after time passesAnniversaries and birthdays are hard no matter how much time passes. Grief is never completely gone; it just changes and becomes easier. It is absolutely normal to feel sad on days of significance. On these days, take off work if you are able and practice self -care.

8. They will never be forgotten– This is one of the most important points. So often, people worry that they will lose the person forever or that their memory of them will fade. While their physical body may not be here any more, you have your memories. You will be reminded of these memories at odd moments when you are least expecting it. Your loved one has shaped your life in many ways and because of that, they will never be forgotten.

These are just a few tips and suggestions for those that are experiencing grief. Sometimes, more professional help is needed for the grieving process. I know our practice would love help you.


© Compassion Counseling , 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Compassion Counseling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Created by Compassion Counseling

We hear the phrase a lot, “season of life”. It can be used to describe really good times or bad times. Often times I try to stay away from cliché phrases but I really like this one. It is an accurate description of the way you can experience life. There are ebbs and flows and there is not permanence in seasons. Some seasons are more pleasant than others. For example, spring and fall are usually much more pleasant than summer or winter. Seasons can also tend to feel like they are going to last forever or never change. After a streak of 100-degree days we are usually ready for some cooler weather that seems to never come. And often times, seasons have teaser days where a cold front can blow in for a day and then the next day it is back to 100. All of these descriptors of seasons can be translated to seasons of our lives. Sometimes, we have very pleasant seasons of life and then it changes. Or we are experiencing a difficult season of life and it is seemingly never going to end.

Here are some helpful tips for walking through each season of life.

• Self care We always have a need for self care. But in particularly hard seasons, extra self care may be needed. For example, in the summer seasons we need to drink more water and in the winter we need to wear coats. In difficult seasons of life, figure out what healthy steps you can take to make yourself more comfortable.

• Stop comparing Different people experience different seasons at different times. I would encourage you not to compare your journey to your friend’s or loved one’s journey. The beauty of experiencing different seasons at different times is being able to support each other along the way.

• Accept the hard days Remember it is just a season, it is not permanent. You may experience a string of difficult days/weeks/months but hold on to hope that the season will change and more pleasant days are ahead.

• Look for joy even in the hard times There is something good in every day. Look for the positives that are happening around you. They will give you the energy to keep moving forward in your journey. Cultivate a habit of gratitude no matter what season of life you are in.

These are just a few tips in experiencing different seasons of life. Sometimes, more extensive help is needed. If so, our counselors would love to help you navigate this time in your life.

© Compassion Counseling , 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Compassion Counseling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Lesson From Pre-Schoolers on How to Argue

By:Meredith Ivey LPC-S, RPT-S

Isn’t it neat how the simplicity of childhood can teach you things? I was working in the church nursery one day when I heard two 4 year old girls arguing. Let’s call them Sarah and Allison. Sarah was adamant that she and Allison attended the same school, while Allison was sure that they did not. I happened to know that Allison attended the church pre-school and Sarah did not. However, it was clear Sarah was certain of her beliefs. So I decided I would try to understand the little girls’ logic. I began with, “Allison, where do you go to school?” She replied “at the church preschool.“ So I turned to Sarah and said “Sarah, where do you go to school?” She responded simply “pre-school.” Ah ha! I understood! And could see why Sarah was right in her mind. So I told Sarah, “Sarah you are right, you and Allison both go to pre-school.” And continued “Do you know what pre-school means?”… This simple conversation was eye opening to me and I will never forget it. Here are three of the things it taught me about arguments.

1. Define the word, term, phrase, or whatever the argument is about. We often misunderstand words just like Sarah did. Sometimes we misuse words, or we could simply be using an alternate definition of a word. Clarification will help eliminate any confusion for the other person.

2. Take time to understand. Don’t just listen, understand. Take a minute, put away your agenda, feelings, etc. and just listen to the other person. In most instances arguments happen when both people are feeling they aren’t being understood. Be the one who takes time to understand. And who knows, once you’ve taken time to understand them, they may just want to do the same for you.

3. It’s not about being right or wrong. Remember it is not about being right or wrong. Likely it’s about compromising, communicating well, and building a relationship. You can’t do those things with an agenda of being proved right. Plus, there’s not always a right or wrong. Sarah was correct in her own way. Often two people can be correct, but still see things differently and have different perspectives.


© Compassion Counseling , 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Compassion Counseling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Family-Friendly Summer Fun

By: Courtney Johnson, LPC

Photo Courtesy of Ally_Costanzo, Creative Commons

School is out for the Summer! While that means slower schedules and longer days, it also means avoiding the phrase “I’m so bored! There’s nothing to do here!”.

Here are some ideas for fun, inexpensive summer activities that will keep your children entertained throughout the summer months.

1. At the beginning of summer, create “bored board”. Sit down with your children and work together to think of activities they could do when they feel bored. Children will love being involved in process and you will have something to direct them to if you begin to hear the “bored” word tossed around. Be sure to include indoor and outdoor activities.

2. Browse the clearance aisle at local craft stores. Usually, they have different kid-friendly crafts on sale. For example, a birdhouse to paint and decorate. Then the extra paint can be used for other crafts.

3. Create your own splash pad. You don’t need a pool to beat the summer heat. There are a ton of instructions online for how to make your own splash pad. Here is an article listing several different ideas.

4. Start new family traditions. Some ideas include designating a night to have a game night or going on an evening walk. Spending quality time as a family will help strengthen family relationships and create lasting memories.

5. Look at your local community’s calendar. Usually, the summer calendar is full of family friendly activities, which may include free concerts, museum activities, or events at local libraries. You can find Arlington’s calendar here.

This summer, I challenge you to think outside of the box for activities. Hopefully this will help you create a summer that you and your children will fondly remember in the years to come while making your parent-child relationship stronger than ever.


© Compassion Counseling , 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Compassion Counseling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why I Don’t Believe in the Golden Rule

By: Meredith Ivey LPC-S, RPT-S


Photo courtesy of Andrew Malone, Creative Commons


“One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
(Golden Rule)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like the intent behind the Golden Rule.  If you don’t want others to yell at you or hit you, don’t yell at them or hit them.  If you would like others to say “please” and “thank you”, say “please” and “thank you” to them.  And yes, you should teach your children the Golden Rule.  I believe, in general, the Golden Rule works and is a good rule to follow. However, the Golden Rule can also imply that you do not know the other person well enough to know what they would like.  The Golden Rule basically says be nice to other people, and the best way to do that is treat them the way you want to be treated.  Marriage is different.  You should know your spouse extremely well.  You should know what he/she likes and dislikes, and it is very likely that your spouse’s likes and dislikes are very different from your own.  So, I like to tell my clients to follow the Platinum Rule: “treat your spouse as you think they would like to be treated”. This means that if your spouse responds well to a hug as soon as they walk in the door, then give them a hug, even if you’re not a touchy person and you’d prefer something different than a hug.  Or let’s say you’re planning a date night for your wife, you probably shouldn’t plan to take her golfing on Saturday morning because that’s what you love.  Instead, it would be wise to plan something your spouse finds enjoyable.  What if you have some free time and want to do something nice for your husband? You don’t go out and buy him flowers or chocolate because that’s what you would want, you might wash his car for him or prepare his favorite meal, because you know him well enough to know that’s what he would want.  In marriage, it is important to go above and beyond the Golden Rule.  Take into consideration how your spouse thinks and operates differently than you and make an effort to treat your spouse the way he/she really wants to be treated.   © Compassion Counseling , 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Compassion Counseling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What the Pregnancy Apps Don’t Talk About

Photo Courtesy of, Creative Commons

By: Rebeca Meyer LPC-Intern Supervised by Beth Ann Contreras, MMFT, LMFT-S, LPC-S.

Pregnancy is a time to enjoy the beautiful miracle of creation taking place within a woman. It is truly remarkable to wake up every morning to this living being inside me, kicking me so that he can get his breakfast. I am stilled by it and moved by the fact that pregnancy can take place at all.

The other side of the coin is a plethora of pregnancy problems that can cause a woman to lose that precious life within and it can happen to anyone at anytime. What to do then?  None of my apps have covered this. Many people don’t acknowledge this, but stillbirth, or miscarriage or the death of a child in utero have rocked the lives of countless women and their families. There are no funerals, eulogies, flowers sent, food prepared for the families who lose a baby in miscarriage.

Yet, why don’t people talk about it? Why do women feel like they have to hide the cold and painful fact of losing a baby? A friend of mine recently lost a baby. She was past the supposed “risk period” of 12 weeks. Naturally, this loss is shocking, painful and will take time to work through, regardless of how long the baby was there. To women facing this loss, I say get help, gather your true supporters about you, talk about it, get counseling, join a group, write about it, cry about it as much as you want to and treat your loss like a true loss. You should not be expected to be ok after a loss like you have faced. Help others understand where you are in your grief. Maybe you are not feeling a great deal of grief. That is more than ok too. Every person faces loss differently.

What do you say to a woman who has lost her unborn anyway? I can tell you what not to say. “Don’t worry you can have another baby.” Here are some  things you can practice with those who are facing a loss of any kind.

1. Acknowledge the loss. Usually grieving people don’t offer up their pain as a subject of discussion.
2. Don’t say, “you’ll be ok.”  This forces the griever to be in an emotional place they may not be in for a long time.
3. Open the door to communication with a statement like, “I’ve been thinking about you.”
4. Don’t say “Call me if you need anything”. This is just a vague conversation filler. Try offering something concrete like mowing their lawn or call and ask about what they need specifically.
5. Be there for her. Physical presence and contact offer what words cannot.
6. Talk about your losses and what helped you, but don’t overwhelm them. Leave room for them to speak or not speak with the art of silence.
7. Don’t rush her through the grief. It takes time for a person to heal. Imagine being in their place.
8. Be patient with her story of loss.
9. Don’t say “I know how you feel”. You actually don’t; you are not them.
10. Listen 80% of the time, talk 20% of the time and be genuine in all your communication.

© Compassion Counseling , 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Compassion Counseling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Let’s Talk Sex: 5 Pointers to Turn Sex Back Into Sensual, Fulfilling Lovemaking

By: Julie Weaver, MA, LPC

How is your sex life going these days? How would you say your spouse would respond to that same question? Let’s talk about it……. Do you remember when you were first together intimately? Back then, was it exciting, sensual and fulfilling? Chances are it was all those things and more. The relationship became new and different when you made love for the first time. As a couple you were new, excited and more than anything else, you were in love. I hope you still believe you are in love. But as we all know, some of the sexual feelings can fade, and along with it, some of the natural responses. Sometimes sex can become routine, and sometimes boring. This can be a problem in your marriage. It can lead to feeling your needs are not met, which can lead to issues like addictions, affairs, and bitterness just to name a few.

Let’s talk about some things to bring you back to the loving, fulfilling lovemaking it was once for you.

5 Pointers to Turn Sex Back into Sensual, Fulfilling Lovemaking

1. Begin with gentle caressing. Spend time on this area. Kissing along the way, staying connected to each other is vital. Showing love here will go a long way toward pleasing your mate. Smooth over other areas, (the whole body when time allows) before going toward the primary sexual areas.

2. Enjoy -Allow yourself to enjoy your spouse’s body. Focus on enjoying the view and the feeling of the action. Remember you are not only pleasing your mate here; allow yourself the sensations as well. Watch, listen and enjoy your spouse’s pleasure.

3. Don’t rush– Be patient. Wait to begin intercourse until the anticipation has built. Allow both of you to wait for the buildup of anticipation. Media’s portrayal is hype and all about the rush. Everyone likes a quickie sometimes, but the quickie is not what lasting relationships are built on. Let’s face it junk food/fast food does not provide long-term nutrients to our bodies and a quickie does not nourish long term health in our relationships.

4. Focus -Keep your focus on the experience not the mechanics. Intercourse, as with the whole lovemaking experience, is not about performance. Allow yourselves to truly feel and get lost in the experience. Watch, listen to the sounds, allow yourself sounds, and enjoy the movements, the weight of your spouse’s body on yours, the feeling of skin to skin contact.

5. Acceptance– Be ok with things not being perfect. Remember, this is about being together more than anything else. No one’s perfect and no one expects you to be perfect. Just relax & enjoy.

What does our society say sex should be? Does that even matter? What does God say love should be? (I Cor. 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind……) What does God say sex should be? Read Song of Solomon to find out. What do you want it to be? If you are a married couple and/ or believe you are in a long term (forever) relationship, I assume you want your sexual experience to be fulfilling. And I imagine it still is at times, but there can be some issues that do arise that can hinder your relationship in this area. Some minor issues can become major problems if unattended. Many assume it is normal for their sex life to become mundane after many years. I hope to have changed your thoughts on that and possibly bring some fulfillment back into your marriage.

For more help within your relationship please consider talking with a counselor who specializes in this area.


© Compassion Counseling , 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Compassion Counseling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.