College: A Generation at Risk

A College diploma is a goal for millions of Americans, yet graduation rates have never been lower and those who do graduate take 6 years on average compared to the 4 years of previous generations.  Recent research has helped us understand that these dismal outcomes are not because students cannot handle the coursework, because the vast majority of students can grasp the academic content; rather mental health issues are now the prominent struggle in College.

The statistics tell a rather grim story at first glance.  A study by the APA in 2017 found

86% of students with psychological and learning challenges left school without a diploma. The CDC discovered that suicide is currently the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and this year, WHO found that 1 in 20 full-time college students have seriously considered suicide.

There is one statistic, however, that gives hope to these startling facts.  94% of high school students with emotional and learning differences receive some form of assistance. In contrast, only 17% of college students with the same challenges do so.  The remaining 74% still need assistance in navigating the new world of College life, but faced with logistical and financial constraints, Colleges will have to adapt quickly when it comes to providing services for the mental health of its students.  Currently, there is a nation-wide average of 2,500 students for every one counselor and this clearly isn’t enough.

The good news, if you or someone you know needs help while in school, there are a couple of private and non-profit companies filling the gap in the state of Utah so please reach out for hope, healing, and help.

Originally published on

“C”ommunicating with Our Teenagers

We cannot NOT communicate. – Ray Birdwhistell 

Everything we do communicates something. It has been estimated that between 67-94% of our communication is nonverbal. What is non-verbal communication, you ask? It is everything except the words. It could be a grunt, a smile, a sigh, our smell, our jewelry, our clothes, whistling, the way we comb our hair, tattoos, the way we cook our food, piercings or the lack thereof, our posture, the nuances and history of a relationship, a stare at our son, a gaze at a pretty girl, the way we walk, our mode of transportation, hand gestures, or making googly eyes and funny sounds at a baby. We may say something, but our true intentions frequently will leak through our nonverbal behavior.  

The tone, the attitude behind the words when you ask your son to do something, communicates a whole lot more than the words that you verbally say. It is the attitude that he will respond to, not merely the words. Everything communicates. That is why the “C” in the title of this article is so large. Everything communicates something. We cannot NOT communicate. 

Even a dead person communicates. They communicate deadness.  

It is what is not being said that we pay attention to; this is why sarcasm is so dangerous. With sarcasm, there is a contradiction between the verbal and the nonverbal. Sarcasm is typically cutting. In fact, the word means, “to tear flesh.” For children, sarcasm can be very confusing.  

If you were to attend a communication seminar on learning “Effective Communication Skills,” you might come away with skills such as: having good eye contact, sitting on the edge of your chair, nodding and other non-verbal behavior to indicate you are listening. You might also learn about the importance of reflective listening. All these skills are important, however, do you suppose it would be possible to perform all these behaviors and not really listen in a caring way? And, if a person didn’t really care, do you think other people will be able to tell?  

Of course they can. 

“There is something deeper than behavior that others can sense – something that, when wrong, undercuts the effectiveness of even the most outwardly ‘correct’ behavior.” i  This thing that is deeper than behavior is something philosophers have been talking about for centuries. Carl Rogers called it “Way of Being.”ii  

Martin Buber explains that there are two fundamental ways of being, two ways of seeing another person. The first way is as a ”Thou,” a person with hopes and dreams and struggles similar to your own.  The other way of seeing a person is as an “It.” This is where one objectifies a person. “If I see them at all, I see them as less than I am – less relevant, less important, and less real.”iii This is then also about you and your perspective. There is always a good chance that a person does not see things the way they really are; that person may be missing something. We must be willing to honestly look at ourselves and see what part of the problem is our own. “Might I be provoking the other person without even knowing it?” 

When we talk to our teenagers, we sometimes ask them questions.  We must understand that they do not merely answer our questions; they are answering a relationship. Our conversations don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in the context of a historical relationship.  They are answering a person, and with that person, comes an accumulation and history of their interactions. They answer according to the quality of their recent and remote relationship. 

For example, you might ask your daughter, “Would you take the dog for a walk?” She could respond in a variety of ways. She could ignore you. She could say, “of course.” She could tell you to eat rocks, or yell out while leaving, “maybe later.” On the other hand, if your daughter’s best friend (having a different relationship) said, “Let’s take the dog for a walk?” Your daughter may happily agree to take the dog for a walk. The relationship determines the interaction. 

In his book ”7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”iv Stephen Covey speaks of an emotional bank account we each have with our children. We must have enough positive interactions, thus building the relationship in our “emotional bank account,” before we can safely make a withdrawal (correction/discipline) without damaging the relationship. After all, we do not want to bankrupt the relationship.  When the emotional bank account is healthy, your child can take correction, knowing that it is coming from a place of love. 

The quality of the relationship determines our ability to be effective parents  

and our teenager’s willingness to allow us to influence them. 

 The moment a parent has a nasty verbal exchange with their teenager is not the time to try to immediately solve the problem. There are too many hot emotions for anyone to think clearly. If the relationship is generally good, waiting for a few hours, or perhaps a day to address the problem is wise. Time allows the parents and teenager space to see the situation clearly without the corrupting influence of these distorted and self-justifying thoughts and emotions.  

If the relationship has been rocky, time is needed for the relationship to heal. Part of healing process is deliberately working on developing trust again; another topic for another day. 

Originally published on



Medication Management and Mental Health

In my career in healthcare, I have seen far too many patients who have been prescribed medication and continue to take that medication faithfully; Yet after a time, they are not really sure why they are taking that specific medication or if it is even helping with the diagnosed issue.  

 What is missing for these patients? Medication management 

Medication management is the process of following up with the healthcare provider on a regular basis to assess the effectiveness of the prescribed medication therapy, discuss any side effects that may go along with the medication, and make adjustments in order to achieve proper dosing. In some cases, the follow-up may be to change the prescribed medication therapy, if it is not providing the desired outcomes. Medication management should be an ongoing process. It should include open dialogue between the patient and provider about the effects of the medication combined with any other therapies or treatments that may be in place. This is to ensure useful data is being collected, so decisions can be made based on the whole picture; not just the medication piece. 

When it comes to psychiatric and mental health services, the importance of quality medication management cannot be overemphasized. Not all people who seek psychiatric help will require medication. In some cases, amino acid therapy may be appropriate or continued therapy and counseling with regular psychiatric follow-up is warranted. If medication is prescribed, the patient should plan to see the psychiatric provider within 2 weeks (in most cases) for the first medication management visit.  Continued follow-up visits should be scheduled monthly, or as needed depending on the individual case. 

During these visits, the patient should plan on communicating openly with the psychiatric provider about their use of the medication, any side effects that they may be noticing, and any changes they are feeling in relation to their mental health diagnosis. At times, genetic testing can be used to pinpoint what medications are more likely to work for each individual patient. This testing can be used not only for patients who are just beginning psychiatric treatment but also for patients who have been prescribed medication therapies that aren’t working. The patient should also plan to consult with the psychiatric provider before taking any other medications. They should inform the provider of other mental health therapies being used or medical complications that may arise during treatment. The patient should expect the provider to ask questions that will direct and lead the conversation, so time is well spent and modifications can be made with confidence. 

Ultimately, the key to effective psychiatric medication management is open and continual communication between the patient and provider. At the Center for Couples and Families, our psychiatric providers strive to provide thorough psychiatric assessment, follow-up, and medication management. 

Originally published on



Tips for Stopping Binge Eating in its Tracks, by Jessica Gilliland, MS, LAMFT

At one point or another, all of us have turned to food to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Some of these instances are minor, like grabbing a bag of chips to munch away the stress of a difficult work day, or downing a milkshake to feel better after an upsetting event. Chocolate chips are my traditional pick-me-up treat. It makes sense that we often turn to food for comfort, or to numb emotions. Eating can feel good, and it is meant to be a pleasurable experience. However, when turning to food becomes a compulsive, habitual means of coping, and when emotional eating (eating to deal with feelings rather than to satisfy physical hunger) starts to become uncontrollable, the consequences can be physically and emotionally distressing. If you have ever found yourself swept up in an eating binge without knowing how to stop yourself, here are a few tips that may be useful for interrupting a negative interaction with food.

Tip 1: Check in with your gut

Sometimes a quick check-in with your body when you feel the urge to binge can be very effective. Pay attention to how you feel, and try to notice if the signs of physical hunger are present in your body. Do you feel hunger pangs, emptiness, or growling in your stomach? Are you feeling lightheaded or irritable? If you are physically hungry, then by all means, eat! Responding to physical hunger cues before you feel ravenous can actually help you regulate your eating. If you are not physically hungry, give yourself a chance to reconsider your choice to put food into your body when you might not need it, then think about why you might be reaching for food. Could it be boredom, habit, emotional distress, loneliness, or some other reason? These are often starting points for a binge. For more helpful strategies for recognizing hunger and fullness cues, see the Appetite Awareness Workbook.

Tip 2: Name your feelings

Perhaps you know very well that you are not physically hungry, but are instead trying to avoid or numb an uncomfortable emotion. Before stuffing your emotions down with food, try to take a moment to name the emotion you are experiencing. Perhaps “disappointment,” “helplessness,” “loneliness,” or “shame” is driving your craving for comfort. Identifying the discomfort you feel can give you a chance to take care of what hurts, rather than going for the “quick fix” binge that will likely leave you feeling worse off than you started. For more tips on coping with emotions without turning to food, I highly recommend the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Tip 3: Seek connection

At times, what you may be seeking through binge eating is comfort and connection. When connection seems out of reach, food can become an easily accessible caretaker. Eating while alone can also make it easy for compulsion to take over. When you feel the momentum of a binge beginning to sweep you away, reach out to find connection somewhere. That may mean going into a room where other people are, calling someone, making a spiritual connection through prayer or meditation, connecting to nature by walking or looking outside, or even connecting with your own body by noticing your breathing or the temperature of the air on your skin. As you begin to consciously choose to connect, you may notice yourself feeling more grounded, calm, content, and no longer in need of the numbing effects of a binge.


These are just a few tools that may be helpful in managing the urge to binge eat. Frequent compulsive or emotional eating can feel like an impossible obstacle to overcome, but it is possible to heal your relationship with food and eating.

Announcing Our New Therapist

We are excited to announce that Jessica Gilliland has joined our practice in Draper.  She is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (LAMFT). She is bilingual and experienced in providing therapy services in both English and Spanish.  She works with individuals, couples, and families. She is available for both evening and daytime appointments. Come learn more about Jessica by reading her profile on our website.  We are glad to have Jessica as part of the practice and know she will make a positive impact in our community here in the Draper area. Keep an eye out for new blog posts by Jessica in the coming weeks!

Blog Series: What Your Tween Daughter Wish You Knew by Tiffany Winegar, LAMFT

She doesn’t need you to solve her problems.

It’s difficult for parents to handle when their tween is hurting. Oftentimes parents want to fix the problem as quickly as possible in order to take away any hurt their child is experiencing and to calm their own worry. But think about the last time you told someone about something you were struggling with and they immediately tried to fix it for you. Often when this happens it can feel invalidating and frustrating and even like the person isn’t really listening. It is unlikely that you will continue to open up to this person if they continue to respond in this way. Just like it is for you, it can be frustrating for your tween when you try to solve her problems for her.

She is learning to make her own decisions.

Unlike past years when your child would look to you to resolve issues for her, she is now entering a time of immerging autonomy and independence and needs the chance to work things out herself. Your tween will be much more likely to continue to open up to you if you approach her problems first with active listening and validation.

What to say instead.

Not sure what to say? Try, “that must be really hard” or “what was that like for you?” Not sure if she needs a listening ear or advise? Try, “I can tell this is really important to you. Do you need me to listen or to help you figure it out?”


Next post in series: She needs to know you’re in charge.


I Skal Hygge Jer! (Have Yourselves Some Hygge!) by Pete Benson, LAMFT

In Denmark there is a word that doesn’t quite have a translation in any other language… it is hygge (pronounced hoo.g.uh). Some would translate it as “cozy.” The only problem is cozy doesn’t cover it. Hygge is a concept, it is an environment; it is a state of being. I would recommend that you and your family find some time for hygge and make it a regular thing in your lives because it is quite delightful, enjoyable, and connecting. It will help you create a closer, more connected family.

The concept and potential application is well described in “The Danish Way of Parenting” by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl. If by the end of reading this brief introduction to hygge you are intrigued, I would recommend reading the book and taking from it what fits for you and your family.

What is hygge?

Hygge is the idea of “cozy” and more. It is being together with loved ones without the pressure to perform (act like everything is okay); it is being together with loved ones without having to engage in the awkward or pressured conversations. It is being together with loved ones with a sense of “oneness” or “togetherness.” After finding and defining who you are as a family, it is the “we” that you feel when you are all working together for this sense of cozy togetherness without the pressures or distractions that often hitchhike along on family outings.

Doesn’t this sound like a great experience? I spent some time in Denmark and experienced hygge and I can say that it is a wonderful experience. How do we make it happen here in our families?

Hygge Guidelines:

Hygge comes along with some defining tenets to be followed that allow the cozy togetherness to happen. The first of these is that everyone who comes needs to agree to these tenets. It takes a joint effort to make hygge happen. Everyone plays a role. In Denmark the older kids know that during hygge time it is their role to play with the younger kids while the adults work together to prepare a meal or snacks. The adults all know that everyone participates in the preparation of food, environment etc. Is everyone on board? If not, ask that they try it two or three times with you and then you can re-evaluate.

Second, electronics are turned off or put away or stored together where they are not a distraction. This includes TV’s, tablets, cell phones, computers, and any other entertainment focused electronic device. These take away from the togetherness that makes hygge what it is.

Third, there needs to be a commitment to keep conversations in the hygge zone. This means no politics, no “when are you going to have a baby,” or “when are you getting married” type talk. You can talk about the weather, what you found enjoyable about your day, what your hopes for the future are, what you appreciate about one another. There are many subjects under the stars that don’t invite contention, strife, resentment, pressure, guilt, or shame. Find those topics and make them a part of your hygge experience.

Fourth, there needs to be food and drink of some sort. It can be cookies and milk, it can be birthday cake and ice cream, it can be a BBQ with burgers and hotdogs, or it can be a full blown meal. Food and drink tend to come with gatherings of loved ones and just makes it that much more cozy. The food preparation as a group can be a part of the hygge experience as well where everyone is pitching in and playing a role.

Last but definitely not least, is a commitment to just being together. To being able to let go, relax and enjoy the food, the atmosphere, the company and the hygge. Stating that there should be no time limitations is, at times, not realistic; that being said do your best to have the time so that the clock is not a concern nor is having to be somewhere.

Have Yourselves Some Hygge

The time that you spend hygge-ing will be some of the most connecting and enjoyable times you will have. Keep in mind, this doesn’t happen naturally. Like many experiences in life worth having, hygge needs to be intentional, the tenets need to be followed in order to have the hygge experience.

Give it a try. Present these tenets to your family. Ask for a united effort and have an evening of hygge. Share with your friends; invite them over and share the magic. Don’t forget to share the guidelines with them. Hygge jer! (Have a cozy time!)