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What are some of the most commonly asked questions about the LGBT+ community? Ranging from the coming out process all the way to questions about LGBT+ marriage, there’s curiosity surrounding the curious. However, in this case we will keep it so that curiosity does not kill the cat. It’s okay to be uncertain, uninformed, puzzled, perplexed, anything when it comes to a topic that you have not heard much about. Being ignorant towards a particular subject does not make you an ignorant person; however, speaking out of ignorance can lead to further ignorance. Below are some commonly asked questions about the LGBT+ community.

What is the coming out process like?

For me it was a process, my friend. It was something that I was juggling around in my head, self-doubting, felt shameful, it was something that I kept secret for too long. For some, the coming out process does not start with the individual telling friends or family about how they identify, the process starts at the very first inkling of curiosity. I had to come out to myself first, I had to figure out who I am before I made myself vulnerable. I think it can be really hard for some people to come out because of their families beliefs or morals, but what is most important is that you do what is healthiest for you; which is living your true self.

For me, the hardest people for me to “come out” to were myself, my father, and my sister. This is not because of our values or beliefs, because deep down I knew that my family would be accepting. However, you do have those thoughts that try to prove you wrong. I have had a great relationship with my dad and my sister, which is why I think it was harder for me to bring myself to speak my truth. I think it was harder for me to initiate the conversation because I was still afraid of the reactions for some reason. 

I will say that now that I have come out, I have been happy with living the life that I always thought I would deny myself of.

How should I know what pronoun to use if I’m unsure?

If you’re not sure, that’s okay! Usually the rule of thumb is that if you are unsure of someone’s pronouns, you can either ask them or use “they/them” until you are sure. It’s not a shameful thing to be unsure, the fact that this is a question you may have shows understanding as well as effort towards being compassionate. If it is your first time meeting someone and you are unsure of what pronouns they use, asking the question of “What are your pronouns?” can open a lot of doors. 

Asking this simple question can allow the individual to become comfortable, may reduce their social anxiety, may reduce their worries about discrimination, as well as allows the individual to be referred to in a way that feel ostracized. 

Did you choose to be LGBT+?

I think this is a very commonly asked question by society. The question is being LGBT+ a choice or is it something that is genetic? If you ask around the LGBT+ community, you may get several different responses depending on who you ask. For me, I think a lot of people neglect the history of LGBT+ people before there were terms for sexual orientations and gender identities. There have been some historical depictions of LGBT people in rock paintings as well as medical texts; which shows how this has carried on through generations. 

Epigenetics are a part of our gene expression in our DNA. To be a little scientifical, gene expression can be altered throughout generations while the genetic code itself can remain unaltered. These changes can occur during development and can be passed down through generations. There has been some talk that some of these changes in gene expression can be linked to same-sex attraction. 

If you ask someone who is LGBT+ if they chose to be that way, you may be met with a response along the lines of “Yes, I chose to live a path filled with discrimination.” 

Are those who identify as LGBT+ a danger to children?

Simply, no. There is no evidence attached to the thinking that LGBT+ people may be a danger to children. It is this kind of thinking that continues the stigmatization of the community. If it is your preference as a parent to restrict anything relating to LGBT+ to your kids, that’s fine because that’s your parental choice. However, if you are restricting your children in fear that they will become gay, that’s just not how it works. Portraying LGBT+ people as dangerous to your children is offensive, inaccurate, and just damaging to those children figuring out their own sexual orientation or gender identity.

What kind of human rights violations are LGBT+ people exposed to?

There are a lot of human rights violations that people are subjected to on a daily basis, simply because of who they are. Across the world, there are active human rights violations occurring. For those who are a part of the LGBT+ community, some are physically attacked, some are kidnapped, some are sexually assaulted, some are murdered for who they love. There are some countries where same-sex relationships can result in jail or worse. There are violations that can be experienced in the workplace, out in public, in schools, at home, anywhere. 

LGBT children will often be met with bullying, teasing at school because of their identity and it may not end at school; oftentimes the home life of these children are much tougher. It may get to the point that the LGBT child does not feel safe enough to go to school, and therefore cannot get the same education as all the other students. For those who identify as transgender, they may even be denied their identity papers for their process of changing their identity to their preferred identity.

There is a lot of work to be done as a society to avoid all of this!

Is it possible to change someones sexual orientation or gender identity?

Again, simply no. Someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity cannot be changed or altered. Conversion therapy has been disproven plenty of times, although some still believe in its supposed effectiveness. Conversion therapy is a human rights violation in of itself because of the severe trauma that can be inflicted. It is very uncommon to see conversion therapy around now, although it still is legal in some states. Also, I think a more important question that should be asked is why would one want to even change someone else’s identity?

What now?

Like it was said in the beginning, there is nothing wrong with being curious about something! It is always better to ask questions rather than to just make up assumptions about something, no matter the subject area. You may have some other questions relating to the LGBT+ community, and my advice to you is to do your research! Doing your own research and learning is a great way to be well-informed, which in result may even help others become more informed.

Conor Ohland

Losing a parent is a life-changing, profound experience that almost everyone will go through at least once. In fact, the death of a parent is one of the most common types of death, and as a society, we expect we will outlive our parents. As a result, while the grief that accompanies the death of a parent can quickly be recognized with the inundation of flowers and sympathy cards, this commonality seems to minimize the loss and makes us think we should “get over” it soon. The truth is, it can still be a tremendous loss – and this sense of “get over it” can make the healing even more difficult because it comes with guilt.

While the death of a parent regardless of one’s age is universally a colossal experience, the death of a mother or father as a young adult can be even more devastating because it is compounded with unique obstacles. For instance, there are milestones that the parent is expected to be present for, such as college graduations or weddings, and it can seem impossible for anyone else to fill that space. Plus, for young adults, this type of loss can be especially difficult because they are on the cusp of dependence versus independence. While they strive to depend on themselves, they still may turn to their parents for financial assistance, emotional support, or the wisdom of lived experience.

And we know this much: When a parent dies suddenly or expectedly, there is an absence – an emptiness, perhaps – that arrives with the realization someone so significant is gone. Regardless of the relationship dynamics, whether it was balanced and warm versus chaotic or cold, the death will have a huge impact.

Some beliefs among young adults who have dealt with the death of one or both parents

“I feel so alone and misunderstood.”

“My best friend says she ‘get its’ because she lost her grandma. But I lost my mom. It’s just not the same.”

“I will never feel loved that way again.”

“Everyone is telling me I need to ‘get over it’ and start living my life. But how am I supposed to move forward knowing I’ll never hear Mom’s voice ever again?”

“Dad’s gone. Who is going to walk me down the aisle?”

“I’m so sick and tired of my friends complaining about their silly problems! They have no idea what it’s like to be in this much pain!”

“I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I wanted so desperately to have a family of my own. Now that I’m pregnant, I should feel excited. But instead, I’m just thinking about that my baby will grow up without grandparents.”

“Thanksgiving is going to be weird this year. Dad always sat at the head of the table. He always carved the turkey. He always said grace. I just don’t even want to go.”

“Mom has been an absolute mess ever since Dad’s been gone. I want to help her, but she doesn’t seem to care that I’m hurting too. It feels like she’s gone too even though she’s here.”

“They say they’re ‘here for me’ but they’re not. No one wants to talk about Dad anymore now that the funeral’s over. If I say something, I’ll sound negative.”

“My friends have told me I need to start ‘living my life’ again. They’re sick of me being so mopey and depressed. I’ve noticed they’re pulling away from me. Now I feel like I’ve not only lost my parents, but even my own friends, the same people who said they’ll always be there for me no matter what.”

“I hate to admit it… I feel guilty saying it… but yeah, I’m jealous of my friends. While they’re looking forward to happy things like getting married or graduation, I’m taking care of my mother who is terminal. She’s going to die and that’s that.”

“It pisses me off when people tell me ‘She’s in a better place now.’ It invalidates how I’m feeling.”

Above: Me on my wedding day, trying to replicate my most favorite photograph of my mother on her wedding day in an effort to feel her presence again.

The adult orphan syndrome following the death of a parent

For most people, they have known their parent(s) longer than anyone else in their lives. Whether the relationship was positive or negative, or there were additional issues like separation, parents still shape their children.

The identity of “son” or “daughter” is the first identity upon us all. Most people were cared for by their parents as they grew up, even if not done well, and their parents witnessed all the obstacles along the way – seeing all the rises and falls, all the happiness and despair, all the pulling in and pushing away for guidance.

By adulthood, we have formed far more identities while carrying over some from childhood. Yet the age never matters – we continue to be a son or daughter, the role carried from since the beginning.

To lose a parent thus brings about a role loss. When I lost both of my parents, I realized my first role – “I am a daughter” – was destroyed too. And my first sense of constancy, of a promise something will always endure, had died too. We all seem to realize we will likely outlive our parents, but the idea of them dying is so often shaken off until it happens. We see the relationship as permanent as the sun rising with every dawn.

Losing a parent in adulthood can bring about complicated emotions, one of them being abandonment. Even people who are very independent from their parents can still feel abandoned because the sense of constancy has been disrupted.

For young adults who were the main caregiver for an aging, disabled, or ill parent, the grief can be exacerbated since two roles are now lost: the role of being one’s child but also serving as their “parent.” It may also mean having to adopt new roles in the family going forward, such as needing to help the surviving parent with paying bills because they feel overwhelmed and that was always done by their spouse.

All of these issues are recognized by some researchers as what they call “adult orphan syndrome” in that the feelings of abandonment, confusion, role changes, lack of support, and idea of being alone are universal regardless of age. For some, the idea of being an orphan as an adult may sound insensitive to children who are orphaned, but it is not meant to compare or dull that pain – only meant to show that the feelings and complications can still exist.

It is interesting, too, that this type of loss has no such word in English. An orphan literally means a child whose parents are dead. A widow is a woman who lost her spouse; a widower a man who lost his spouse. Yet why not a word for those who lost a parent in adulthood?

Challenges faced by young adults experiencing parent loss

Although parent loss can be painful at any age, there are differences that are driven by our age brackets.

First of all, most young adults have parents who are alive and likely well. They may be mostly independent, but they know they can still rely on their parents when needed (obviously there are exceptions, but I am speaking in general). They and their friends will be “going home” for the holidays during college breaks to stay with their parents. They know their parents will be there at their commencement ceremonies, sharing in their joy for their successes. They excitingly call their parents when they get engaged, wanting them to be the very first people to know. Then during the engagement months, their parents are involved too, with the mother helping with choosing the dress and adorning her daughter on her wedding day, and the father walking her down the aisle. Parents, too, are also usually the first to learn when their child and the child’s partner are expecting a baby. And they are there for the baptism or other ceremonies, there for the birthday parties, the holidays, for help with childcare.

While these above milestones can still occur despite the death of one or both parents, it feels different. I will honestly admit I skipped my commencement ceremonies from college and graduate school (the pandemic did postpone the latter ceremony by a year, but regardless, I still did not go even when it was happening). I did not want to be “that person” who was there without their parents, that adult orphan. And while I was proud of myself, having been summa cum laude both times, I did not feel there were others to share in that sense of accomplishment.

I can also say that among my friends and family members, most of them do not understand what I have gone through as a parentless young adult. That is not subjective; it is factual. Some are fortunate to still have their parents. Others have lost their parents, but that was not until their mothers and fathers were in their geriatric years. My grandmother died at the advanced age of 93, an age considered a “life well lived.” My mother died at 57. While the adult orphan syndrome happens at any age, and pain is pain, it still does not feel the same. There is the lingering thought, “she should be here.”

Healing from parent loss as a young adult

The goal of bereavement therapy is not to “get back to normal.” That is impossible, for life has forever changed due to the death of the parent. The idea of having to “move on” is counterproductive, and in fact can make someone feel worse because they are burying the emotions they need to process. Instead, the goal after such a loss is to learn to redefine one’s life and to feel fulfilled despite the loss. It also not only the loss itself that must be explored, but also the update in roles, the severance of expectations, and all other things that come with death.

Losing one’s parent can unearth disturbing thoughts. It can make someone question their own mortality with the realization they too will die someday. They may think things like, “since Dad died at 45, that means I’ll die at 45 too” even if they realize that is irrational. Additionally, it can make one reflect on the importance of other relationships in their lives. One person may become closer to their siblings or friends, while others may distance themselves, and still others may decide to focus solely on their spouses and their children.

Such a loss can also be an inspiration to make newfound changes in one’s life – some for the better. For me, I was smacked with the realization of, “I must rely on myself. I am an adult” the moment my father died. This realization did not strike me when I moved out at age 19 to live across the country. It did not fall upon me on my wedding day. Hell, it did not even come up during the discussions with my husband about starting our own family. No, it really took him dying for me to have this fricken’ epiphany. Only a month after his death, I was on job interviews to have greater opportunities. Right now on the weekends, I am house-hunting with my husband rather than doing the same ol’, some ol’ things we did with our friends. We are trying to conceive.

I was already following a plant-based and low-alcohol lifestyle, but after my father died, I made the full commitment to being healthy. I make selective, nutritious choices, and I do not drink at all. A healthy lifestyle is my priority now, my sworn vow to myself, because I don’t want to die the way my parents did if I can help it. I want to live. One profound effect of the loss of one or both parents is the opportunity for positive changes.

The next step

Suffolk Family Therapy recognizes the aftermath of a death is a significant, life-altering process. Some of our clinicians specialize in grief and bereavement, including having specialized training in this important field. We offer individual therapy and group therapy for this topic. In fact, we are even starting a group called Millennials in Mourning, which is specifically for Millennials and older Zoomers who have experienced parental loss. It will be led by me, Valerie Smith!

Reach out today to learn how we can help you navigate through this challenge while building a brighter future.

About the author, Valerie Smith, LMSW
Valerie Smith, LMSW, CFTG, is a therapist, social worker, and certified forest therapy guide at Suffolk Family Therapy under the supervision of our clinical director, Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW. Valerie possesses a bachelor and master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University and Fordham University, both from which she graduated summa cum laude. Valerie is also a certified forest therapy guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT), where she trained in the Rocky Mountains to master sensory-based, mindful activities through a biophilic perspective. Valerie is passionate about the health benefits of a plant-based diet as well as holistic wellness. Valerie is trained in EMDR and TF-CBT, with experience in DBT-informed skills. She focuses her treatment on adolescent girls and young women with C-PTSD and PTSD. Additionally, she helps people with life-threatening disease and their caregivers. Finally, she works alongside those experiencing grief and bereavement, especially young adults who lost one or both of their parents/guardians.

Everyone ruminates. Whether it’s thinking about something we said to someone, something we did wrong, or some recent event that is stuck in our mind. Ruminating thoughts can be defined as repetitive and recurrent, negative, thinking about past experiences and emotions (Michael, et al., 2007). However, while everyone experiences ruminating thoughts at some point in their life, for some, rumination can be distressing, difficult to stop, and can lead to dysfunction in their day-to-day lives.

Why do we ruminate?

When we think about ruminating, it’s important to acknowledge that it often comes from an effort to cope with distress. For instance, analyzing an experience can better prepare us to encounter a similar experience in the future. Or it can help us mend some relationships that were negatively impacted by an event in the past. But, when these thoughts aren’t leading to any productive change we can see individuals obsess over these thoughts, become anxious and depressed, isolate, or begin using / increasing their use of mind-altering substances.

Types of ruminating thoughts?

Ruminating thoughts can be very diverse. For some, they may ruminate about their hands being dirty and that they may get sick. Others may ruminate about suicidal thoughts, including existential themes about the meaning of life. Some may continually think about a traumatic experience, like an assault or some form of abuse. As well, some of these ruminating thoughts may be untrue distortions of events. For example, repeatedly thinking about being sexually assaulted may come with false thoughts that the victim somehow provoked their assailant or deserved to be assaulted.

Are my ruminating thoughts true?

Our experiences mold our self-esteem, or the way we perceive our behaviors, abilities and traits. A traumatic experience can leave individuals with warped perceptions of themselves that can have a detrimental effect on their day-to-day lives. Especially the formation of a negative self-esteem, or negative self-concept, is associated with feeling disempowered, hopeless, and helpless. Ruminating on these experiences, or even these self-beliefs, has been shown to exacerbate and prolong negative moods, and hinder social interaction and problem-solving skills (Wang, et. al, 2018).

Are ruminating thoughts part of a diagnosis?

Ruminating thoughts can be associated with a number of mental health diagnoses, including:
● Depression 

● General and social anxiety 

● Substance abuse disorder 

● Bulimia 

● Binge eating disorder 

● Obsessive-compulsive disorder

● Post-traumatic stress disorder 

● Personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder 

There is hope!

Ruminating thoughts are treatable and manageable. Treatment often aims to interrupt the thought processes and improve coping skills to replace rumination. Some individuals find relief from medication management, cognitive-behavioral therapies, and mindfulness techniques. 

If you experience ruminating thoughts and are looking for a way to move forward, please call our office and schedule an appointment. Our licensed clinicians and therapists on staff would be more than happy to work with you.

Nicholas Costa, SFT Social Work Intern

Being a parent is not easy. Being a mom is pretty rough too. I recently watched a show called “Better Things” about a single mother (working in Hollywood) raising her 3 daughters. At some point in the show, one of the daughters made a comment about single mothers. Another character said, “All mothers are single mothers.” That hit me hard. As supportive as my husband is, and as an amazing father he is to our two perfect little children, it wasn’t always like that. Today I can confidently say that I do not feel like a single mother. I feel like my partner contributes many things he once did not, whether it be with the children or with household responsibilities. At some point in my life with children, I felt like if I had to leave the house, I had to set my husband up like a babysitter and have diapers, wipes, cream, outfits, bottles, blankets, etc., all ready for him so he would have no hiccups during those times with the baby/toddler. 

That and along with the million other tasks I was responsible for, it became exhausting to say the least. I felt like I was on autopilot and not enjoying my life anymore. At that time, I was craving for my husband to just do and not be asked. It took a lot of therapy (individual and couples) for me to feel confident enough to communicate what I needed from him, and it took effort on his part to meet me halfway. We tell our children that we are a team, and everyone must do their part for each of us to feel happy and safe. My husband and I forgot what it meant to be a team to each other for a long time, and thankfully, today, I do feel like I have a trustworthy team member when raising our children. I do not leave my house with instructions for him like I would for a babysitter. I just leave knowing that he’s got this, and he does. In fact, he always was capable given the chance. 

We often feel overwhelmed and burnout because we feel like the only one on the team who is participating.  We plan most things, we are the ones packing for more than just ourselves for vacations. In the mornings, we get ourselves and 1,2, or 3+ people ready for the day, and then ready for bedtime at night. Learning and practicing ways to effectively communicate with confidence can help alleviate this feeling of burnout and make more time for us to be ourselves. 

The Mental Load

Kelly Gonsalves from writes about The Mental Load that women typically go through in which she defines as: “The mental load is a term for the invisible labor involved in managing a household and family, which typically falls on women’s shoulders. Also sometimes referred to as “worry work” or “cognitive labor,” the mental load is about not the physical tasks but rather the overseeing of those tasks.” This comic explains it the best:

Breaking the Cycle

It’s easier said than done- for sure I’ve lived this life. But putting in the work I promise is worth it. Here are some tips that have helped me to improve communication with my spouse.

1. Listening

Listening to what the other person is trying to say. As well as listening, not only to my children and my partner, but to myself. Listening to your feelings, triggers, warning signs, body sensations, or anything that might tell you that you need a break. Tips to Help You Actively Listen:

Focus fully on who is talking. This means not multitasking mama. Put the phone down, stop doing the laundry, stop thinking of the 20 other things you need to do.  Engage. Make eye contact and be fully present with that person. If you find it hard to concentrate on what they are saying, repeating their words in your head it’ll reinforce them. Or check in on yourself- maybe you are not in the best emotional state to be having this conversation. If that’s the case take a break and tell them you will talk in an hour when your calm so you can be really present for them

Avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation to your concerns. If you are coming up with a rebuttal or how to get the conversation back to your main concern- you’re not really listening to them. You cannot listen fully and be thinking about what you will say next. If your doing this it can show through your non-verbal cues like your body language and facial expressions. 

Show you understand what they are saying. Ask clarifying questions. Repeat a summary of what you heard so they can clarify for you. A lot of time miscommunication is what happens when we think another person is inferring something or we get fixated on the words they use- losing the message behind the words. Clarify. Some examples: “when you said ‘x’ are you saying that you feel ‘xyz’”.”what do you mean when you say…” “is this what you mean..” “Sounds like you are saying…”

Focus on understanding not judging. When we judge others there are a lot of value statements about what is right and wrong. Understanding is trying to see why they think the way they do, even if we don’t agree with it. It’s about empathizing with their position and understanding their pain-points- that’s how you find solutions. NOT the blame and shame game.

2. Paying attention to the non-verbal cues. 

Both your body language and theirs. Make sure you are “open” with your body language. No crossing of arms or legs. Face should be understanding or neutral and your tone is important. If either of you are showing non-verbal cues that you’re angry or anxious- table the conversation till you are both calm.

3. Managing your emotions

Being a mother means repeating yourself, having tiny voices repeat themselves around you, making messes everywhere, and invading your personal space all day everyday. It is easy to feel as though you might explode with frustration. Learning how to manage those explosive feelings and reactions can not only help you to feel sane, but can teach your children by example how to control themselves. Learning how to manage your emotions may come in the form of daily meditation, individual/couples therapy, or even with medication as prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist. This also means paying attention to your triggers and warning signs and “tapping out” when you need a break. Walking away and taking space, even if it’s in the bathroom for 5 minutes, can help you to recenter yourself so you are not losing it on the family.

4. Be assertive

Being assertive to get what you want is not always easy, especially if you feel the burden of being the primary caregiver/housekeeper/shopper/activity planner, you know the be-all-end-all? Learning how to and practicing how to be assertive can change your life for the better and alleviate some of the pressures in life. It can also instill self-confidence in your children when you hold your boundaries and empower them to learn how to do for themselves!  Honestly- same goes for the spouse. 

5. Surround yourself with positive people that lift you up!

 Having the right circle of support is key to really beginning to make these changes! Let’s be honest, for most of us we have been conditioned from childhood to help and please others. To neglect ourselves, our feelings and our needs. If you don’t get some people around you who are cheering you on to break the cycle- so that your kids don’t have that inner voice that says “my feelings and needs don’t matter”- it’s just going to be constant criticism from the people around you who instilled that value! And that coupled with change being so uncomfortable to begin with is not a good recipe for success. 

Sound Like You?

It takes a lot of work and consistency for oneself to feel confident and empowered enough to set boundaries and expectations that are reasonable for everyone involved (including you momma!!). Joining a support group with people going through similar struggles can be a helpful way to join forces and empower each other to take back our voice, our alone time, our self-care, our guilty pleasures, and most importantly, the confidence to achieve these things in an appropriate and reasonable way.  We all deserve this, and the saying “it takes a village” doesn’t just mean to raise a family, it also means to support the caregivers and mothers in our lives in different ways. If you are interested in receiving individual therapy from a woman who has truly been there, schedule with me today. If you feel you need a support group of like minded-woman join inquire about our “Don’t Know How She Does It Group”. I would love to help you become the woman you were born to be!

Sending Love,
Kristy Casper, LCSW

When we experience trauma, our brains don’t function like they normally do. We go into survival mode: think fight, flight, or freeze. Our brains automatically direct all of our energy toward dealing with this immediate threat until it’s gone. In most situations, this feeling of being in danger fades over time. Maybe it takes a few hours or a few days but you eventually start to feel better and less on edge.

But sometimes that initial trauma sticks, and you just can’t seem to shake the feeling that you’re still in survival mode. Trauma can change the way we think, act, and feel for a long time after the initial event occurred. Things like flashbacks or nightmares, constantly feeling on edge, anger, intrusive thoughts, and self-destructive behaviors are all very normal responses to trauma. You might feel as if you’re stuck living with these symptoms for the rest of your life, but the good news is these patterns can actually be reversed. With the right approach and knowledge, you can shift your brain towards overcoming past trauma and begin your healing journey.

The Brain’s Response to Trauma

Trauma’s impact on the brain is complex. Let’s talk science for a minute to review some parts of the brain. Trust me, I’m not a fan of science either. But I promise this is helpful to know in terms of healing, so stick with me.

To simplify things, let’s break it down into two parts: the subconscious system vs. the conscious system. Do those terms sound familiar? Your subconscious mind is responsible for any involuntary actions, and your conscious mind is responsible for rationalizing and logical thinking.

Okay, let’s take this one step further. The subconscious part of your brain involves the Limbic System (think automatic) and the conscious part of your brain involves the Frontal Lobe (think choice). Both of these systems work together to help you survive and stay safe. If you’re in trouble, the frontal lobe says, ‘yes, this is dangerous’ and allows the limbic system to react in either a fight, flight or freeze response. On the other hand, if your frontal lobe realizes you are not in any danger, it works to calm down the limbic system’s reaction.

You might be asking why this is relevant. Well, here’s why. Trauma can disrupt the ability of your limbic system and frontal lobe to work together, and this causes you to either go numb or into overdrive.

When we talk about feeling ‘triggered’ in terms of trauma, we are referring to the subconscious response. The limbic system becomes extra sensitive to our triggers (sights, sounds, smells, feelings, etc.). And even though you aren’t in any current danger, the limbic system overreacts and overwhelms the frontal lobe by triggering survival mode. As a result, your frontal lobe either undercompensates or overcompensates (cue feelings of numbness or going into overdrive). You do not know how to move forward and stay safe at the same time. 

There are many different ways these two parts of the brain work together when we talk about trauma and healing. Everyone’s experience is different, but many of the changes we see in the brain are similar. Here’s one common example.

Jane is out shopping and passes someone in the store who is wearing cologne. The smell of that cologne reminds her limbic system of her past trauma, and the limbic system now believes Jane is in danger. Jane feels her heart race, her mind starts spinning, and she feels like she wants to run away to be anywhere but here. 

This is a completely normal reaction for Jane’s body and brain to have to a potential threat, even though she wasn’t in any danger. It’s an automatic reaction. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the past, the smell of cologne was associated with a threat, so the brain triggered a response thinking it had to do something to keep Jane safe. If you think about it, your brain is doing exactly what it should be doing. It’s just still thinking the smell of that cologne means danger, even though Jane knows otherwise.

You might be thinking, ‘great, so I’m stuck like this?” In short, no you’re not! It is possible to help your frontal lobe and limbic system heal and work together more efficiently. 

Healing the Brain

You may have heard the term neuroplasticity before. This simply means our brains are able to modify, adapt, and change throughout life. Some things changed in your brain when you experienced trauma, and we can appreciate that as it was necessary for survival at the time. But now that that experience is behind you, you probably want to leave it there and stop feeling such strong emotions at simple reminders. And I don’t blame you! The good news is, that is very possible. Maybe your triggers are similar to Jane’s triggers, or maybe it’s completely different for you. Either way, it is possible to rewire and retrain your brain again.

So, where do you begin? For starters, it’s always a good idea to process any past trauma in therapy. If you haven’t already, find yourself a trusted therapist to support you through your healing journey. 

The next step here is really going to be identifying where you’re having difficulty. Is it similar to Jane’s experience where you see or smell something that triggers you? Or maybe your past experiences are affecting your ability to focus, make decisions, and resist impulses. These are all things that can be worked on and improved with practice. 

During the healing process, your brain can create new pathways, increase function in some areas (like your frontal lobe!!) and strengthen connections. There are many different ways you can work on improving brain function. I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘brain games’ before, right? They’re basically games that stimulate your mind and help you practice certain cognitive functions like memory, problem solving, or critical thinking. 

There are similar exercises you can do on a daily basis that will be ‘training’ one or more parts of your brain. Here’s one example. We’ll call this exercise ‘Planning Ahead’.

Is there something you want or need to get done this week? Picking a day or time to sit down and accomplish that task can help to actually push yourself to do it, but it’s also a really simple exercise for your brain. When you write down even one reminder of what you want to focus on, you’re strengthening the connection between your limbic system and frontal lobe.

You can practice this by using the calendar or reminder app in your phone, or print out a good old-fashioned calendar from google. Maybe start by penciling in any appointments you have, and scheduling some of your household chores around them. Or maybe you want to schedule some time to sit down and read a book. Whatever it is, make a plan to do it, and follow through with that plan.

When you make conscious choices by planning, tracking, and following through, you’re strengthening your frontal lobe. This added strength builds new connections in your brain and creates positive experiences for you to look back on and feel proud of. 

With time and practice, these connections will get stronger and you’ll continue to feel empowered to act on your plans and dreams. And if those plans and dreams include overcoming your past trauma, you’ll feel empowered to take continued steps towards healing. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to reverse the impacts of trauma, I’m facilitating a group called Finding Hope for women survivors of childhood sexual abuse this fall. Visit our website or call (631) 503-1539 for more information!

Jennifer Tietjen, LMSW

Art therapy is a newer form of therapy. It is an integrative mental health practice that is designed to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities through the process of art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a therapeutic relationship.

Art therapy should be done by a trained professional of art therapy. This will improve the  effectiveness as art therapists are trained to create art therapy exercises that are designed to not only support you but also to help move deeper into your therapeutic goal.  Art therapists are trained to use their knowledge to support your personal and therapeutic treatment goals throughout treatment. Art therapy has been used to improve cognitive and  sensorimotor functions, help support a better relationship with self-esteem and self-awareness, produce emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress.

Art therapy is a wonderful tool therapists use to help patients interpret, express, and resolve their emotions and thoughts. This is a newer type of therapy and was first established in the 1940s however the practice did not become more widespread till the 1970s. Like other expressive arts therapy, such as dance therapy or music therapy, it draws on creativity.

Inaccurate Use of Term ‘Art Therapy’

Often people mistake  “Art therapy” for things that are not necessarily due  to a lack of knowledge about the profession. However these situations provide an opportunity to offer accurate information and educate the public. This modality must be done by a trained art therapist or it is technically not art therapy. Some products that are mistaken for art therapy are adult coloring books and paint by numbers. Art therapists are not art teachers, their goal is not to make you a better artist but to help you improve your mental state through the use of art.

How Art Therapy Works

Many people ask “What is art therapy and how does it work?” It is all about  expression. The process of creating is the most important thing, not the end product which is why anyone can do it. Often many people shy away due to a fear of not being an artist but this type of therapy is for anyone. It is designed to use the expressive arts as a way for people to understand and respond to their emotions and thoughts with a valuable new perspective, not only that artistic expression is good for mental health as it is often related to relaxation.

During a session, an art therapist works with clients to understand what is causing them distress. Then the therapist guides the client to create art with an art directive that addresses the cause of their issue or explores it further. During a session, art therapists may:

Through different mediums and art techniques art therapy engages the mind, body, and spirit in ways that are not dependent on verbal articulation alone. Due to the way it engages the body and mind it causes various symbols to be created through the art process, this process also invites modes of receptive and expressive communication, which can benefit those who have limitations of language.

Who are Art Therapists

Art therapists are clinicians who are trained both in traditional clinical therapy and art therapy. Art therapists work with people of all ages and various populations. All art therapists are required to follow an ethical code. All art therapists are also required to have a master’s level education, as well as engage in supervision hours under a trained professional in order to obtain their license. This prepares them for various populations and gives them the ability to perfect their work.

Where Art Therapists Work

Art therapists work with individuals, couples, families, and groups in diverse settings. Some examples include:

Does Art Therapy Work?

There is growing evidence that art therapy helps conditions such as anxiety and depression, trauma, low self-esteem, PTSD, Bipolar  and similar disorders. It has also been used with those facing terminal illnesses such as cancer and those hospitalized experiencing pain, as well as it has been used with people working to develop effective coping skills, including prison inmates

Many clients are reluctant to explore art therapy because they think that they have to have artistic talent for it to work or see it as “arts and crafts” rather than see it as an effective tool. This mindset can be very limiting and can hinder the  effectiveness for these clients. It is important to go in with an open mind.

Is Art Therapy a Good Fit?

There’s no way to tell for certain whether art therapy is a good fit for any given person. Therapy is not one-size-fits-all, and a client and therapist may need to use multiple different approaches and techniques in order to find what works best for you. However, if a patient is drawn to art or has had trouble expressing with traditional therapy, art therapy may be a wonderful fit for you.

When choosing a therapist it is good to consider the following. As a potential client, ask about:

Often you should be able to tell in 1-3 sessions if this works for you.

Think Art Therapy Would Benefit You?

If you feel like art may be a good avenue for you to work through your mental health concerns please call our office and ask for Jillian Martino. Jill is our art therapist on staff and would be more than happy to help you work through your concerns through art. Jill specializes in LGBT issues, trauma, children and couples. Contact our office today to set up a free 15 minute consultation.

Jillian Martino, CAT-LP

Do you have a child who is questioning their own sexual or gender identity? Or are you just curious to learn more about what LGBTQ+ means and how it may impact your child? Whatever the case may be, you ended up here for a reason! Here I will do my best to provide information, advice, support, and maybe you will even get something out of this post that will help you in your life and relationships. We will explore the risks, the coming out process, stereotypes and stigmas regarding the LGBTQ+, as well as some of the things you may experience as parents.

Risks for Your LGBTQ+ Child

It unfortunately goes without saying that children or teens that start expressing their own sexuality or gender, which may be out of the norm, will get weird looks, rude comments, or even just a slight double-take from someone walking by. Therefore, it goes without saying that yes your child may experience some discrimination or bullying from their peers at school or just from random strangers at the supermarket. Here are some quick facts of some of the risks:

However, times are changing and the opinions of others are also changing. As a parent, you want to protect your child from all the different dangers that your child may run into; although that is not always going to be possible!

The Dreadful Process of Coming Out

UGHHH let me tell you, this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done for myself. And yes, that is correct. I did it for myself. I didn’t do it for the acceptance of others, for others to view me differently, or even just for people to know that one thing about me. I did it for myself because it is something that can be so freeing and such a relief for that kid who’s stayed in the “closet” for so long. As parents, here is my message to you: Your child is absolutely frightened by how you will respond, how you will react, and worst of all if you would still love them for who they really are. There is so much going through their heads that they may not even understand, so for someone with authority like yours, for someone who has been with them since day 0, they are only hoping for support. 

It may be helpful to support your child with their journey to finding out their own identity. As parents, you can be the ones providing the information for your child with the security of it being accurate. There are a few stages to coming out, though primarily the stages of self-discovery, coming out, as well as positive self-identity do have a major impact on the everlasting impact on your child. You can read more about the stages of coming out here: The Stages of Coming Out

LGBTQ+ Stereotypes & Myths

What Does it Mean for Your Parents?

As parents who just discovered or found out their child identifies as part of LGBT+, there may be a few different emotions and stages you go through yourself. This is just like any other transition in the family, it is something that is obviously going to cause some shock or take back. Below are some of the stages you may experience as parents, but remember you may not even experience any of these!

There is so much more that can be said within this guide. Always try to be the supportive, kind, gentle parent that you intended to be when your child was born. This Fall, Suffolk Family Therapy will be hosting a support group for parents with LGBT+ youth. Throughout this group, you will be able to garner support from other parents, gain knowledge on LGBT+, as well as learn how to best support your child on their journey. 

Conor Ohland, MHC-LP

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing. One important aspect of mindfulness is to not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us or in our mind. It is important to just observe without judgment. Mindfulness is a quality that we can all tap into,  we simply just need to learn to access it. The following prompts are designed to help you begin becoming more mindful in just 15 days!!

1. Write a Gratitude Letter

This is one of my favorite personal practices. Write this letter as if you are writing it to a friend. Write everything you are grateful for as well as everything you are grateful to be working towards. After you do this, read it aloud. I like to do this practice daily. 

2. Meditate

Meditation is a difficult one and can be difficult for people, often we believe that the brain should turn off during meditation. However it is quite the opposite, often our mind will start racing, the buddhist call this monkey brain. It is important during this practice to notice whatever may be coming up for you without engaging or giving the thought energy. After bringing your attention back to your breathing. If this practice is hard for you start small. Start with five minutes and then slowly increase the more you practice. There are also a ton of videos online and apps that can help support you through your meditation.

3. Draw Your Backyard

Take this time to really connect with yourself and your garden. Notice the smells, what you feel in your body. Maybe how your skin feels in the sun etc. Mindfulness is all about giving ourselves a moment to pause and appreciate everything, the good, bad and everything in between. Allow yourself to express without judgment.(If you don’t have a yard pick somewhere in nature) 

4. Mindful Eating

Really make your food an experience here. Just like meditation, focus on every sensation. How does it taste, how does it feel etc. Be present. Thank yourself for the nutrition!

5. Some Areas of My Life I’d Like to Improve Are:

Here is a simple Practice, set your intentions. Setting goals will help us be more mindful of actually making them happen. If you want to add an artistic flare to this exercise, turn this list into a vision board. This is a super fun activity for date night, girls night or just a little self care for you!

6. Declutter Your Space

When decluttering the mind it can be helpful to have our living spaces match this energy. Get rid of all the things making energy shifts in your space, I promise you don’t need those pants that are too small on you that you keep as motivation.  Focus on the now.

7. Some Thoughts and Beliefs I Repeat In My Head Constantly Are:

Good and bad, this is about bringing attention to our critical voice. Be honest with yourself. Remember NO JUDGMENT. 

8. In What Ways Do I Impact Others Around Me Each Day?

Notice your value: if this is hard examine that. Start small if you can only think of two things that’s okay. Continue to revisit this exercise as you move through the practice. I like to make positivity jars for myself where I put little notes of wins I had over a whole year and read them at the end of the year. Sometimes we let the good we do go unnoticed, this time is for you.

9. Create Your Own Mandala

Mandala’s have been known for their meditative properties, they have been recognized by psychologists like Carl Jung for their therapeutic benefits. While creating your mandala again notice what maybe coming up for you.

10. What Are My Biggest Fears and How Do They Hold Me Back?

Again, full transparency here. Want to go even deeper with this exercise? Follow this question up with why do I have these fears? Where did they start?

11. How Can I Better Take Care of Myself?

SELF CARE!!! Do I even need to explain? Not only should you write what you can do for yourself here but also examine what you can do in order to start integrating these things into your day to day.

12. Dance Around in the Mirror

Spirituality states that our hips hold a ton of our trauma. Moving these parts of yourself will help you release some of those big feelings. Pay attention to whatever comes up for you. You may feel awkward or may even feel uncomfortable with seeing your body moving through the mirror. Pay attention to this, bring awareness to it. Meet it with the question why as well as some compassion.

13. Take a Rest Day

Everything needs rest, even you! It is scientifically proven that we are more productive when we rest, this helps us avoid burnout. There is an awesome book called “How to Do Nothing” by Jenny Odell that further explains this.

14. Do Some Yoga

Yoga is a wonderful practice for mindfulness, if its not your thing though do something else to get that blood pumping.This can be walking around your neighborhood or HIIT, whatever makes you feel good! Examine how your body feels before and after your workout.

15. I Feel Fulfilled and Truly Alive When:

Cultivating happiness. Abraham Hicks has a ton of videos speaking of the importance of following our happiness. Happiness is our driving force so lets bring our awareness to it.

Jillian Martino, CAT-LP

Long Island is celebrated for its iconic white sandy beaches. But did you know we also have some excellent places for a day walk or hike?

As a Nassau resident who grew up on a brook near conservation land in northern New England, I must admit, I had my doubts about falling in love with the scenery across Long Island. But I’ll admit it – Long Island is spectacular in the summertime (I still think New Hampshire is unbeatable for autumn foliage, though, and yes you can debate with me about that one!). As time has passed, I have been happily surprised to find some great day trips across Suffolk and Nassau.

If you are willing to bundle up, consider even doing a beach stroll in the winter! Bring your binoculars. You will be rewarded with waterfowl which have come thousands of miles south from the tundra, including my personal favorite, the exquisite long-tailed duck. You may also see grey and harbor seals!

Here is a list of some of my favorite places to go hiking or walking on Long Island – as well as a few other things, such as horseback-riding!

Places to Walk or Hike in Suffolk County

Sunken Meadow State Park – Smithtown

A familiar favorite located on the Long Island Sound, Sunken Meadow is one of the more accessible parks for people with limited mobility thanks to its long, sturdy boardwalk. It features three miles of beaches, along with six miles of hiking trails. Want to horseback ride? There are bridal paths, too. There is also a golf course.

Sunken Meadow also has softball and soccer fields, along with playgrounds, making it an excellent choice for families who may want to do more than spend their entire day solely on the beach.

Are you curious about foraging? This is one of the locations where the famous forager “Wildman” Steve Brill offers classes. He will show you which plants are edible, which to avoid, and what to do if you contact with poison ivy. I have taken a Wildman class at Sunken Meadow, and it was quite informative!

Long Island Greenbelt Trail – various locations

I will admit it – I have not done the Greenbelt in its entirety. But there is no way I could skip mentioning the ultimate of the Long Island hikes.

The Greenbelt is an impressive 32 miles long, running parallel to the Connetquot and Nissequogue Rivers. The trail varies in terrain, at times being a boardwalk and then changing over to sand. It also has numerous trails with break away from the main one, allowing for this to be a hike or walk that can be experienced many times.

Blydenburgh County Park – Smithtown

Blydenburgh is another popular, family and dog-friendly destination. In addition to scenic views for walks, Blydenburg offers birding, fishing, and horseback riding. Rowboat rentals are available from mid-May to Labor Day.  Finally, tent and RV sites are available for campers from April 1st through November 11th.

The six-mile walk around New Mill Pond is easy for families, and is beautiful in the autumn during peak foliage.

Blydenberg is $7.00 for Suffolk residents and $15 for non-residents.

West Hills County Park – Melville

West Hills is a historical park which reaches Jayne’s Hill, a beloved spot by Walt Whitman and near his birthplace. At 400 feet elevation, this is the highest point on Long Island; it is a 2.4 mile loop considered easy and possible to complete in about 55 minutes. Ideally, this hike is most suitable in the autumn.

Caumsett State Park – Huntington

Caumsett is a large park with various activities. It features an impressive stable and dairy complex, excellent trails for biking, paved trails to walk with a stroller, and even snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails.

This is also a beautiful park for a walk or hiking, as the wooded areas gradually elevate to be the tops of sand dunes that then look down into the water. As you continue along the trail, you will descend at a seashell-bountiful beach.

Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge – Shirley

Wertheim is one of the few protected, undeveloped estuaries on Long Island. It offers rich biodiversity, perfect for those most interested in seeing wildlife.

Unlike most of the parks and preserves here, Wertheim is not best in the summer or early fall, but rather in late October through early April. This is the time for the most ideal wildlife-viewing, with migratory waterfowl who winter here. Come the early springtime, there will be migratory warblers and other such songbirds. However, all year, you may encounter red fox, white-tailed deer or wild turkey.

Personally, I find Wertheim to be most precious on the water. The placid waters of the Carmans River meander through cattails and reeds, offering a smooth and almost effortless paddle. You are guaranteed to see great wildlife, such as the green heron. Additionally, you may choose to stop at Indian Landing, a small beach where you can take a swim to cool down, or you can continue onto the Great South Bay.

This is my favorite place on all Long Island to launch my paddleboard or kayak. Thanks to being in a refuge, I do not have to deal with wakes or noise. It is also beautiful from the start since to get to the refuge you must go under two bridges, the first being a nesting site for tree swallows.

You can either launch from the free boat launch (although I warn you, the path is muddy and completely unmaintained) or you can use spend $10 to use the dock at Carmans River Canoe & Kayak II. I recommend the later as it is much easier.

Bayard Cutting Arboretum – Great River/Timber Point Park – Oakdale

Bayard Cutting may be the most famous of all the locations I have mentioned, thus, I will not get into detail. Simply put, Bayard Cutting is the place to go if you want to walk and see gorgeous flora – along with Planting Fields in in Oyster Bay.

While I do love Bayard Cutting (who doesn’t?), what draws me there more is not so much the arboretum itself, but rather the picturesque Connetquot River which runs alongside it. In fact, after the Carmans River, this is my other favorite waterway for kayaking and paddleboarding on Long Island.

To paddle — Drive down to Timer Point Park in Oakdale to launch your water vessel, which you can then paddle toward Bayard Cutting if going left. You can continue beyond Bayard to the many different canals which meander through town. Once you get to around Paradise Island, I recommend you cut straight through the river toward the canal on the other side, rather than continue straight, as this will offer a much longer, quieter, and more interesting experience. Going this way, you will eventually cut through marshland which will eventually lead you out at the canal next to the Snapper Inn. From there, cut straight across the river (be cautious of boats) and you will get right back to the launch.

As an alternative route, you may also go right which will take you to the bay. There is an island where you can relax. However, I do not recommend this route unless you are experienced due to the rapid changes in water conditions and because you will be dealing with wakes caused by jet skis and powerboats.

Places to Walk or Hike in Nassau County

Trail View State Park – Woodbury

The Stillwell Woods Loop, located at Trail View State Park, is a 7-mile loop considered to be of moderate difficulty. It can be completed in around 3 hours. However, what truly sets Trail View apart from other Long Island hiking trails is that it has more range in intensity and elevation – giving it a different feel than the typical flat trails. For the avid hiker, this is one of the few trails where they can truly say “this is a hike, not a walk” and feel challenged.

The park itself skirts Bethpage State Park and Cold Spring Harbor State Park. Thus, you can spend a day (or even two!) hiking and doing other nature-based activities.

Sands Point Preserve – Port Washington

Sands Point is one of the lovelier parks in Nassau County. The Loop is a 2-mile walk that is popular for birders. There are also cliffs overlooking the water, which offers a great opportunity for photographers.

Sands Point also hosts special events, such as yoga.

The price is $4 per person or $10 per car.

Cedar Creek Park – Seaford

Cedar Creek is a 259-acre park best for families and sporting.

Cedar Creek has an excellent playground. It has been voted the best playground across all Long Island in both Long Press and on News 12. Also, a fun activity for the children includes a roller-skating rink.

There are eight handball courts, three basketball courts, and various athletic fields (please note the fields must be reserved and include a Leisure Pass, insurance and permit, and fee). Also of particular interest, there is an archery range open to the public but note you must bring your own equipment.

Additionally, there are paths suitable for walking, jogging, and biking. There are entrances from Cedar Creek to both Tobay Beach and Jones Beach. If you want to get a challenging work-out followed by crisp, relaxing water, consider doing this bike ride!

Massapequa Preserve – Massapequa

Massapequa Preserve spans across an impressive 423 acres. Some parts of the park are frequented by bikers, so do exercise caution if you want to be here for a leisurely walk. However, should you go onto one of the quieter trails, you will quickly be rewarded by various species of deciduous trees as well as some endemic birds. I myself have spotted many different birds here, ranging from various species of warblers to the occasional northern flicker, a unique-looking woodpecker. There is also a popular residential wood duck drake.

Massapequa Preserve is where I offer the majority of my forest therapy sessions. You may read more about that on this blog post:

Muttontown Preserve – Muttontown

At 550 acres, Muttontown Preserve is by far the largest nature preserve on Long Island. It offers many different ecosystems ranging from upland forests to woodlands to waterways, offering a spectacular opportunity to see different birds, including characteristic species such as the chestnut-sided warbler, indigo bunting, Baltimore oriole, and American woodcock. If you are lucky, you may also spot a great-horned owl or screech owl.

Preparation for Walks and Hikes

Personally, I do not think you will need top-notch gear for almost any Long Island trail… or even gear at all. Disclaimer – I am quite a hiker – I have summited Black Elk Peak in South Dakota, scrambled waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains, traversed the rock fields of Mount Washington, and even backpacked the Alaskan tundra. That said, I do have some impressive gear which has been needed.

But here on Long Island? To be honest, I leave most of my gear at home! For my adventures here, I am fine with a water bottle with a shoulder strap, along with an ultralight daypack. I also pack the following essentials: sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, a protein-packed snack, birding binoculars, and my homemade jewelweed salve (for contact with poison ivy). Sometimes I will bring a plant or bird ID guide.

I do recommend appropriate footwear, but hiking boots are overkill unless you need the ankle support. I have a pair of Teva’s which I wore for many years before eventually retiring them. I then bought a pair from LLBean which cost considerably less but seem to be just as durable.

In addition, dress in layers and make sure you have a light raincoat available just in case. Do not wear cotton.

Important Links for Further Information

Camping in Suffolk County

Kayaking, Paddleboarding, and Canoeing in Suffolk County

Horseback-Riding Sites in Suffolk with a Suffolk Green Card and Riding Permit

About the author, Valerie Smith, LMSW

Valerie Smith, LMSW, CFTG, is a therapist, social worker, and certified forest therapy guide at Suffolk Family Therapy under the supervision of our clinical director, Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW. Valerie possesses a bachelor and master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University and Fordham University, both from which she graduated summa cum laude. Valerie is also a certified forest therapy guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT), where she trained in the Rocky Mountains to master sensory-based, mindful activities through a biophilic perspective. Valerie is passionate about the health benefits of a plant-based diet as well as holistic wellness. Valerie is trained in EMDR and TF-CBT, with experience in DBT-informed skills. She focuses her treatment on adolescent girls and young women with C-PTSD and PTSD. Additionally, she helps people with life-threatening disease and their caregivers. Finally, she works alongside those experiencing grief and bereavement, especially young adults who lost one or both of their parents/guardians.

Throughout Western societies, we buy into the prevalent sociocultural belief of the stage theory of grief. As if to bring comfort and understanding of our loss, we are told we should progress through a series of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Even while I was in graduate school for social work, I can vividly recall some professors ascribing to this model, never once questioning if their claims were accurate since it seems to be a universal statement as true as 2+2=4.

In short, this belief pushes the idea that bereaved individuals must undergo a specific sequence of reactions over time as the result of the death of someone who was significant to them. Not only is this inaccurate since individuals may not experience all the stages in their set order, but it also is stigmatizing to those who never experience the stages at all as they may think there is something “wrong” with them. Thus, I argue that the stage theory should be abandoned, for there are newer, different models that are more accurate for illustrating the grief journey.

On the History of the Five Stages of Grief

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the model in her groundbreaking book On Death and Dying. At the time, there was a severe deficit in medical schools on the topics of death and dying, which motivated Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to do the research herself by observing the reactions of her patients with terminal diseases. She was also influenced by some researchers with stage models from decades earlier.

Quickly, the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief model was branded as universal knowledge among the medical community, scholars, and the public at large.

Later, Kübler-Ross clarified she never intended for the stages to be viewed as a linear progression, and that she wrote them in a way that was misunderstood. She added she meant for the stages to reveal how people with terminal illness cope with learning they are close to death, not as a reflection of how people grieve once that person has died.

In a later book Kübler-Ross coauthored, she lengthened her model to consist of all forms of loss, such as bereavement (the specific term designated for the death of someone who was significant), the end of a relationship, unemployment or loss of income, substance abuse, incarceration, infertility, and the diagnosis of disease. Thus, at best, the model is helpful for understanding grief across multiple contexts.

Major Problems with the Model

Unfortunately, there are significant problems with the Kübler-Ross model. They include the following:

Please note: For a detailed report on the problems resulting from the Kübler-Ross model from an academic perspective, please visit the citations at the bottom.

On Grief Recognition and Resolution: The TEAR Model

In an effort to replace the Kübler-Ross model with a more practical, forgiving model to help people navigate through their bereavement, therapists and other professionals have adopted the TEAR model. This is also known as the Four Tasks of Mourning and is explored in-depth by researcher J. William Worden.

T: To accept the reality of the loss.
E: To experience the pain of the loss.
A: To adjust to the new environment without the lost object.
R: To reinvest in the new reality.

Notice the paramount difference between the two models. In the 5 Stages of Grief, acceptance is at the end of the sequence which assumes the work has been completed. Conversely, in the TEAR model, acceptance is at the start of the journey. In other words, grief work can only begin once the mourning period has ended. It must come after the sympathy cards, texts and phone calls have stopped. It approaches when the bereaved individual is expected back at work or school, operating as if things are “normal” like nothing happened.

This comes after the mourning period, after when the sympathy cards, texts and phone calls stop coming. This is when the bereaved individual is expected back at work, operating as “normal” like nothing happened.

It is time we discard the widespread belief that grief is a set of prescriptive stages. We should embrace grief as an ongoing set of work, ready to be approached only once the public mourning has ceased. Acceptance is the prerequisite to face true, raw grief, and from it come recognition and resolution.

Further Reading:

About the Author, Valerie Smith, LMSW:
Valerie Smith, LMSW, CFTG, is a therapist, social worker, and certified forest therapy guide at Suffolk Family Therapy under the supervision of our clinical director, Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW. Valerie possesses a bachelor and master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University and Fordham University, both from which she graduated summa cum laude. Valerie is also a certified forest therapy guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT), where she trained in the Rocky Mountains to master sensory-based, mindful activities through a biophilic perspective. Valerie is passionate about the health benefits of a plant-based diet as well as holistic wellness. Valerie is trained in EMDR and TF-CBT, with experience in DBT-informed skills. She focuses her treatment on adolescent girls and young women with C-PTSD and PTSD. Additionally, she helps people with life-threatening disease and their caregivers. Finally, she works alongside those experiencing grief and bereavement, especially young adults who lost one or both of their parents/guardians.

Take the first step in healing.

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Take the first step in healing.

Remember: You are not your mental illness! Start your therapy journey today by requesting a free consultation to connect with the therapist who best fits you.
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© 2023 Suffolk Family Therapy. Clinical Social Work/Therapist, LCSW, PC License and State: 087409 New York.
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