Simplify to Care

Here in St. Louis spring is in full bloom. Many gardeners are tilling the soil, pulling up old roots and planting new seed. Spring is a time when we can create new visions for our home and family life. What do you want to plant in the garden of your life? This is a good time to reflect on caring for ourselves and others by simplifying our lives.

Simplify to Care

We live in a materialistic consumer oriented culture. Often the focus has been on money and stuff. We believe that our things reflect our importance in the world. The deeper truth is that who we are as persons has a much more powerful impact. Let this spring be a time to acknowledge the gift that you are. What are the gifts and strengths within yourself that you can now begin to express? What purpose would you like to serve? When you acknowledge the gifts that you have and that which gives you meaning, it is easier to let go of material items that no longer serve you.

Honor Your Relationships

Research over the last years has shown that our relationships bring a greater sense of well being and joy than status or the accumulation of stuff. Releasing your extra stuff allows you to share your compassion and feel connected to community. It gives a renewed sense of appreciation for others and yourself. It helps you feel connected to a broader purpose. Enjoy your community celebrations. Take a moment to acknowledge your value as a person, connect with your strengths and share. Happiness comes from connection.

Appreciate Nature

Take time to get out and appreciate nature. As we enjoy the sun, the air, the blooming flowers and the trees, it helps us to slow down and become more grounded. As we appreciate nature, we are reminded that we are a part of a much larger whole. Nature can give us a sense of awe. It helps us to reduce stress and put things in perspective.

Tips for Managing Family Differences

I recently visited my roots, my family of origin. We had a successful gathering. We enjoyed being with each other, and also had to make decisions regarding our larger family goals, such as managing the family farm. In almost every family, individual members often can have different views. While this can give rise to potential conflict, it can also lead to stronger and more effective teamwork. The challenge is to stay positive, working in individual perspectives, while also looking at the best interest of the whole. Here are three tips for managing differences so as to create success.

Focus on the Positive

Celebrate your strengths. We all have individual strengths and at the same time share deeper values and strengths with the people we love. Recognizing your character strengths, such honesty, love of learning, sense of humor, is important because it focuses on what you love to do that also serves the greater good. Family is a good place to discover and share them. When you can use your strengths to serve a cause greater than yourself, it is deeply gratifying. You can learn more about the power of the character strengths in my article, “The Hidden Power,”

Express your appreciation and gratitude. It builds positive energy, broadens your perspective, and facilitates your productivity and creativity. It will help you become more inclusive, considering the views of everyone, rather than fighting over one solution or another. Over time, the positive is more powerful than the negative. When you express your appreciation, it brings out the higher positive power of life.

Be Aware of the Ghosts

Every family has ghosts. These are old patterns from the past, not fully resolved, that threaten to destroy the family unity and joy. Suspect a ghost if you are picking up negative vibes, gossip, blaming, or a constricted view. Be curious, is this really true? Then work to take positive action. You cannot change another person, but you can change yourself. Facing challenges and choosing to transform them is deeply empowering. A major success in any family is to keep the ghosts away.

Ask yourself, what can I do to create a more positive solution? Often, negativity stems from false assumptions from the past. When you release them, it creates a much brighter future and helps you to communicate more effectively. Even better, the work of any one person in the family has a positive impact on the whole.

If you are having difficulty staying positive, check out Barbara Fredrickson’s positivity website, and take the online test. Fredrickson discovered that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads people to a tipping point towards flourishing and resilience. Successful businesses have a positivity/negativity ratio 2.9/1. Successful marriages have a positivity/negativity ratio of 5/1. If you find your ratio is negative, then look for ways to raise it. If you need help, call me.

Let Solutions Emerge

I have found in my family that decisions are much easier when we have short and long range goals. Some decisions need to be made immediately while others can wait. Think through your priorities and sort out your short-term goals from the long-term goals. Then create a holding space for the longer term goals. When you are positive, this holding space allows for the goodness of life and necessary time for new solutions to emerge. It keeps you minds open, allowing for creativity and resilience, rather than fighting over one or another position. You will be surprised at the success of your ability to work together.

Warmly, Dr. Alice

© 2015 Alice Vlietstra. All rights reserved.

Alcohol: Use or Abuse?

It’s not just drinking daily– if it’s no more than 1 daily drink a week for a woman and two for a man, it’s generally not considered problematic—but also HOW MUCH at one time. So, even if you only drink once a month, IF you drink in excess of more than 4 drinks for a man or 3 for a woman in one day, you can be considered alcohol-dependent, have alcohol related problems, or be at risk. Medical, behavioral, and family history will all be taken into consideration. Further testing, such as the SASSI (Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory) may be done by your counselor.
Fill out this form below for further evaluation. Take that first step toward your best YOU!
On average, how many days a week do you drink alcohol? ____________
On a typical day when you drink, how many do you have? ____________
On any given day, what is the maximum number of drinks you had in the past month? _________
Have you ever felt you should CUT DOWN on your drinking? Yes No ____
Have people ANNOYED you by criticizing your drinking? Yes No _______
Have you ever felt bad or GUIILTY about your drinking? Yes No _______
Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
Yes No _______
If YES to any of these: has this occurred in the past YEAR? Yes No ______

Do I Need Counseling?

Every day millions of people search online for help with their problems, wondering if it’s finally time to reach out for direction and support to handle sadness, depression, anxiety, stress, fights with their partner or spouse, and family issues, among others. Here are some of the questions and mistaken beliefs we encounter as therapists every day.

Can’t I just talk to my friends about my problems?

Talking to a friend about mental health or personal issues may bring you temporary relief, but will make the problem more deep seated in the long run because you become more identified with the issue the longer you complain without intervention. Remember, you get what you pay for, and zero-cost advice is pretty much worth zero!
Nobody can change my situation, so why pay to see a professional about it?
There is a saying that “your world changes when YOU change.” A professional, licensed therapist is trained in ways to help you respond to your world differently. We have at least two college degrees and extensive supervised training thereafter. There are thinking patterns, usually formed in childhood, of which you are completely unaware. I can show you how you are holding yourself back and perhaps help you find insight and freedom. It’s often a cage of your own making!

I’ve felt this way so long…

If you had a persistent fever, would you just say “oh well” and live with it? Or would you go to a health care specialist who could evaluate, diagnose, and treat it? The average person doesn’t realize how common mood and relationship problems are to the human condition, and that they can be (and are) identified and studied. Whole systems of therapy are developed for common issues, much as drugs are developed for physical ailments.

What will people think?

The people intelligent and mature enough to seek therapy realize that it doesn’t matter what people think! It matters how you live every day of your limited, precious life, and whether you can enjoy that to a higher degree and love more fully. Besides, you would be surprised how many of those “imaginary people” you think are judging you are actually patients themselves.
Is it time for YOU to feel better? It’s time!

Is It Love or a Red Flag? Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

1. Push for quick involvement: comes on very strong, pressures for an exclusive commitment almost immediately
2. Jealousy: Excessively possessive: calls constantly, visits unexpectedly; prevents you from going to work because “you might meet someone:” checks your mileage
3. Controlling: Interrogates you intensely, especially if you’re late, about whom you talked to and where you were. Keeps all the money; insists you ask permission to go anywhere or do anything.
4. Unrealistic expectations: Expects you to be the perfect woman and meet his every need.
5. Isolation: Tries to cut you off from family and friends; accuses your supporters of “causing trouble;” deprives you of a phone or car.
6. Blames others: for his problems and mistakes: The boss, you—it’s always someone else’s’ fault.
7. Makes everyone else responsible for his feelings: says, you make me angry” instead of “I AM angry,” or, “you’re hurting me by not doing what I tell you.
8. Hypersensitivity: Easily insulted, claiming his feelings are hurt when he is really mad; rants about things that are just part of life.
9. Cruel to animals or children: kills or punishes animals brutally; expects children to do things that are beyond their ability, i.e. whips a two year old for wetting a diaper; teases children until they cry. SIXTY FIVE PERCENT OF ABUSERS WHO HIT THEIR PARTNER WILL ALSO HIT CHILDREN.
10. “Playful” use of force during sex: enjoys throwing you down, holding you down against your will; says he finds the idea of rape exciting.
11. Verbal abuse: constant criticism, says cruel or hurtful things; degrades, curses you, calls you ugly names. This may also involve sleep deprivation, waking you with relentless verbal abuse.
12. Rigid gender roles: expects you to serve, obey and remain at home.
13. Sudden mood swings: switches from sweetly loving to explosive in a matter of minutes.
14. Past battering: admits hitting women in the past, but says they made him do it or the situation was to blame.
15. Threats of violence: makes statements like “I’ll break your neck” or “I’ll kill you,” then dismisses it with “everybody talks that way, you’re too sensitive” or “I didn’t mean it.” IF IT HAS COME THIS FAR, GET HELP OR GET OUT.
From the Project for Victims of Family Violence, Lafayette, ARK

Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder Q and A

What is it?”

Although the specific diagnosis is complicated, these symptoms may indicate signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder: craving for carbohydrates, excessive sleeping, lack of energy, weight gain, and all of the symptoms of depression that go along with it: excessive guilt, irritability and others.

“Who’s at risk?”

People who live at higher latitudes have a higher risk, as do people already diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. Younger people are more at risk than older ones. Regardless of these factors, anyone can suffer with symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. ONLY A LICENSED HEALTH PROFESSIONAL can make this diagnosis!

“What makes it worse?”

Having the short days of winter upon us right after the overspending, overeating, and family time of the holidays can contribute to the exhaustion we feel. Less daytime light to feed our vitamin D needs is also a factor, as is less stimulation of the glands that provide serotonin production. Making New Years’ Resolutions can make you feel ineffective and hopeless if you are depressed; postpone until spring.

“What makes it better?”

Getting outside, even 20 minutes a day, without sunglasses. This exposes you to unfiltered light.
Leaving lights on inside the house, and drapes open to outside light.
Light boxes (available online) specifically designed for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Therapy to offer support and new ways of viewing your world, and to prevent worsening of depression.

Exercise, exercise, exercise: again, 20 minutes a day helps. Exercise can be a ‘magic bullet’ for depression and anxiety relief! If it’s bad weather, walk at a mall or a gym.

“How can a therapist help me?”

A therapist can hold you accountable for putting these helps into place in your life, as well as help you examine how you think when depressed and challenge that faulty thinking. There’s no need to go at life alone, and untreated depression is indeed dangerous. There IS help!

Keep the Romantic Spark Alive

What is the best way to kept to romantic spark alive? Stay positive. Happy couples maintain a ratio of five positive comments to every negative one. One way to focus on the positive is to purposefully honor the good events that happen to your mate and family members as well. When you react enthusiastically to their good fortune, it enhances and increases the pleasure everyone feels. Often, individuals, couples, and families come to me for help because they want my help in removing what they consider unfortunate and undesirable traits in their mates and family members. However, I have not found it helpful to focus on the negative, but rather to change the mindset.

It may surprise you to know that research finds changing your focus to the positive is more effective in promoting enjoyable relationships. It makes it much easier to problem-solve and resolve the issue. By focusing on the unique resources we each bring to the situation, cooperation becomes much more enjoyable. It changes our mindset from “Me versus you” to “we are all in this together.” When you do face stress, consider the following tips:

Tips for less stressful communication:
1. Use a calm voice
2. Be direct and respectful
3. Avoid sarcasm
4. Use “I need” rather than “you should”
5. Ask for clarification if you need to
6. Take deep breaths
7. Call a time out if needed
8. Don’t assume they “just know”
9. Don’t use “you never” or “you always”
10. Take your problems to a licensed therapist if you find yourselves in the same arguments over and over, if names are being called, or there is any hint of violence.
According to, an average wedding costs $26,542. The average cost of six premarital counseling sessions is $800.

Dr. Alice

Do You Get the Winter Blah’s – Seasonal Affective Disorder

Could You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
1) Increased desire to sleep
2) Craving high-carbohydrate foods
3) Sadness
4) Decreased energy levels during short winter days
5) Winter weight gain
Remedies include: exercise, increasing your exposure to outdoor light (even on cloudy days), using bright lights inside, light therapy boxes, postponing ambitious resolutions until spring, and other skills your therapist can give you for coping.
The use of antidepressants among Americans has increased 400 percent since the late 1980s, yet less than a third of those taking a drug have seen a mental health professional in the last year.* Taking medication for anxiety or depression without concurrent” talk” therapy is merely masking the problem without a long term solution.
*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Are you stressed?

Are YOU Stressed? Take the test…

1. My heart races for no reason. Doctor says I’m OK.

2. I am often doing two things at once.

3. I have trouble falling or staying asleep, or I wake up early with my thoughts racing.

4. My stomach hurts a lot.

5. I feel afraid of “losing it.”

6. I feel trapped in my busy schedule.

7. My back “goes out” often.

8. I fall asleep whenever I sit down to relax.

Stress is a major factor in illness, since our immune system is affected by the constant streaming of stress hormones into our system. Many doctors say that stress is the primary cause of most office visits and problems they treat. The tension in the muscles that stress causes makes back pain one of the most common symptoms. Therapists can help you manage stress with a few simple exercises and talk therapy. (National Institute of Mental Health

Untreated stress is dangerous! It can lead to high blood pressure, illness, and a host of other problems. Taking a few minutes every day to breathe deeply can help, but the best results come when you are willing to go deeper and talk to me about your life, exploring changes I can help you make. My training and objectivity give you another way to look at your life. Are you ready to change?