Monday, October 09, 2017

World Mental Health Day

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a day which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world.

Watch for awareness articles on this blog.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

New Huntsville, AL Location

Synergy Counseling Center has opened a new location in Huntsville, AL which is now accepting new patients.

Synergy Counseling Center
7734 Madison Blvd.
Suite 120
Huntsville, Alabama, AL 35806
(256) 716-8279

Friday, June 10, 2016

Articles for Couples

Articles for Couples

Link -

Useful Apps

Useful Apps

Behavior Management

Child Therapy


Positive Thinking/Positive Psychology


Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep in Combatting Anxiety

It can be a vicious cycle - you can’t sleep because you feel anxious, but then the lack of sleep increases your anxiety. When you enter this cycle, it seems never ending. You feel tired most of the time because you can’t sleep, which makes it more difficult to deal with the stress in your life; Yet every time you try to close your eyes, you start worrying, and sleep becomes elusive.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity in people who were sleep deprived. They found that those who were “anxious by nature” suffer more harm from sleep deprivation and are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder than those that are not considered anxious by nature.

During the study, researchers found that sleep deprivation caused the same regions of the brain to fire up as are active in those with anxiety disorders.

Previously, it wasn’t known whether there was a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma: Does lack of sleep lead to anxiety, or does an anxiety disorder lead to sleep deprivation? The scientists believed this study helped answer the question. They concluded that sleep loss triggers brain activity that is associated with anxiety. This has led the researchers to believe that sleep therapy might also be a viable treatment for reducing anxiety levels.

The study consisted of a small sample size of 18 participants. The researchers designed a test, where each participant was shown 90 images, which were preceded by a sign as to whether the image would be neutral or grisly. They were sometimes shown a question mark first, indicating the image could be either. The test was performed twice - one after a good night’s sleep and once after a sleepless night.

In the test after a sleepless night, participants showed increased activity in the emotional brain centers. Those participants who were naturally anxious showed an even more dramatic  increase in activity in these areas. According to Matthew Walker, PhD, the lead author of the study, “The discovery illustrates how important sleep is to our mental health...both from a cause and a treatment perspective.”

What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation simply means you don’t get enough sleep. If that’s the case, you aren’t alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anywhere from 7 to 19 percent of adults say they don’t get enough sleep. Between 50 and 70 million adults in the United States have chronic sleep problems. Besides increasing feelings of anxiety and depression, not getting enough sleep is linked to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and obesity.

How much sleep you need varies through your lifespan. However, The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults between the ages of 26 and 64 get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night (with a minimum of 6 and maximum of 10 hours). Adults 65 and older should be sleeping between 7 and 8 hours each night (with a minimum of 5-6 and a maximum of 9).

Tips for a better night’s sleep;

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.  
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as a warm bath or reading in bed before turning off the lights.
  • Turn off electronic screens about an hour before going to bed. The blue light of electronics can signal “wake messages” to your brain, keeping you more alert.
  • Exercise each day. Complete your exercise routine early in the day or at least one hour prior to bedtime. Exercising too close to bedtime can actually keep you  awake.  
  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable. Set the temperature so you are comfortable, use relaxing sounds and determine the level of light that provides the most comfort. Make sure your mattress and pillow is comfortable.

If you still have trouble falling asleep it might be time to talk with your doctor about other treatments and options.

[Eileen Bailey, Health Guide]

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

3 Small Signs You’re Getting Out of a Depression

It’s a tough call, but, when you are slowly getting out of a depression, you do things in your daily life that shift a little. I sit here writing this blog with a bowl next to me with watermelon in it. A house necessity that I just bought for 99 cents last week.  I call it my “bolate” cause it’s not a bowl, or a plate, but somewhere in-between. Shocking I’ve gone this long without a proper bowl. It’s nice to have something other than one plate, one fork, plastic spoons, and two glasses in my freezer. (Everyone wants cold drinks so all my glasses are in the freezer.) So why did I decide to buy a bowl finally? I think the well overdue purchase is a sign that I am taking better care of myself. And it makes me think of other recent occurrences that have shifted.

Here are some signs that I am getting out of my depression:

I Get Annoyed: Instead of being apathetic toward certain things, I see that my curtains behind my bed were put up when I was depressed, and they weren’t hung prioperly. It looks sloppy and I think, when you are depressed, you might just be happy that you were able to hang curtains but now it doesn’t fit. Fixing the curtain seems like a minor achievement but, thankfully, it’s a small sign of getting out of a depression.

Socialization: Either I think about going out and leaving the isolation I’m accustomed to, or take a walk. I find myself taking more walks. When I see myself stopping at a new joint, Clifton’s Café on Broadway, for a sandwich it’s a step toward interacting with people at the sandwich bar, at the register, simply being among people in general is a sign of climbing my way out of a depression.

My Tolerance Level: And this is a big one. My tolerance level shifts. I wake up and look around and see signs of my depression and hear myself in my head say, “I’m not putting up with this anymore!” Once you start being fed up with your depression and hear yourself motivating you to turn things around, you’re on your way… 😉

[By Erica Loberg - PsychCentral]

Monday, October 19, 2015

Do You Need Discernment Counseling?

How do you know when it’s time to file for divorce?

Well, there’s a new therapy designed to help you decide. It’s called “discernment counseling,” and it was developed by family therapist Dr. Bill Doherty.

He says traditional marriage counseling focuses on helping couples solve their problems. But discernment counseling is more about helping struggling couples figure out if they’re ready to divorce, or if they want to stay married and work through things. Dr. Doherty says, with most couples who are on the brink, there's one person “leaning out” - who's ready to leave, and one who's “leaning in,” and wants to fix things. Discernment counseling helps the leaning-out spouse decide if the decision to leave the marriage is the right one, and helps the leaning-in spouse cope in a way that doesn't make the situation worse. For example: He teaches you not to beg them to stay, make threats, or behave in a way that pushes your spouse away even more.

Dr. Doherty’s counseling takes 5 sessions, and he has the couple examine what was good about their marriage, and what got them to this point.

Then, he lays out three alternatives:

Stay in the marriage “as is” divorce, or try a six-month reconciliation with relationship therapy.

Dr. Doherty has found that with discernment counseling, nearly half of the couples decide to reconcile. The problem is, most couples wait too long to face their problems, to the point where their relationship has completely dissolved.

That’s why Dr. Doherty says one of the surest ways to save your marriage is to speak up when your commitment begins to waver. Otherwise, you risk having your spouse “check out” emotionally, until they become too distant to even consider a reconciliation.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Prayer: The Secret to a Lasting Marriage

“The family that prays together stays together.” The old adage is more accurate than we realized. Multiple US surveys reveal that although the divorce rate for Christians is about the same as those outside the church, Christian couples that pray together have a divorce rate of less than one percent! In fact, it is the most reliable factor for predicting long-term marital satisfaction. Praying together has a real and dramatic effect in creating oneness and intimacy in marriage.

[Dr. Bill Clark]

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Be Happier, More Energetic & Get More Sleep!

In some parts of North America, residents are more energetic, more optimistic, and better sleepers than people who live elsewhere. So, here are the secrets that give them a leg up on the rest of us:

  • Californians are twice as likely to lead active lifestyles than people in other areas because of the good weather, and nearby trails, mountains, deserts and ocean. To inspire activity wherever you live, listen to up-tempo tunes when you exercise. Researchers in Great Britain found that fast music makes workouts feel more rewarding, and motivates you to do it again. So, look for songs about 130 beats per minute, like Abba’s “Dancing Queen.”
  • South Carolina residents are 20% less likely to experience insomnia because they tend get up earlier and get a dose of early-morning sunshine, which keeps their biological clock in sync. To follow their lead, skip sunglasses in the morning. A study at the University of Texas found that a few minutes of UV rays each morning boosts melatonin output at night, and can improve sleep quality within one week.
  • Residents of South Dakota are 20% less likely to get depressed because neighbors and family come together to provide love and support when others are in need. To boost your mood: schedule a lunch date. According to researchers at the University of Rochester, New York, spending just one hour a week catching up with a good friend can boost your mood and help you cope with life’s ups and downs. The key is to meet a pal who energizes you, not someone who leaves you feeling drained.
  • People in Colorado have the healthiest blood sugar levels, because they're more likely to eat a healthy diet – which leads to a 42% increase in energy. To get on the same page, eat one serving a day of red or orange produce. Dr. James Hill is a nutrition expert at the University of Colorado at Denver. He says reddish produce boosts the production of glucose-regulating insulin. So, stock up on carrots, mangoes, apricots, bell peppers and tomatoes.

Warning: This friendship may be dangerous to your health!

After years of working with these types of relationships and being challenged by them in my own life, I have learned that there are some friendships that are more exacting than others. And then there are those that are downright unhealthy.

So how do we work with these types of friendships? The ones that throw you off balance. The ones that from the outside seem to be supportive and encouraging but can so quickly pull the rug out from under you, reducing you to apprehension or even tears.toxic-friend

How do we identify these types of friendships and determine that they may be “bad for our health,” both mental and physical?

Browse through the list below and identify any descriptions that apply to the difficult friends in your life.

  • Your friend is self-absorbed and acts like everything is about him or her
  • She/he is entitled (makes the rules and breaks the rules)
  • She/he is demeaning (puts you down and is a bully)
  • Demanding (whatever he or she wants)
  • Distrustful (is suspicious of your motives when you’re being nice)
  • Always seeks approval (craves constant praise and recognition)
  • Lack of empathy (is uninterested in understanding your inner experience or unable to do so)
  • Lack of remorse (cannot offer a genuine apology)
  • Compulsive (gets overly consumed with details and minutiae)
  • Emotionally detached (steers clear of feelings)
  • Snobbish (believes he or she is superior to you and others)
  • Perfectionist (has rigidly high standards, things must be done his or her way or no way)

If at least ten of these apply, then it is most likely that this friend in your life is causing you distress and may be emotionally unhealthy. But don’t despair, it is possible that these friendships can be dealt with and challenged from a different perspective. All need not be lost.

Here are some helpful hints and ways to approach these unhealthy friendships. Some suggestions may be more helpful than others, depending on the nature of your friendship and your comfort level.

A few ways to emphatically confront the challenging friend in your life:

  • Differentiating between fault and responsibility – This is the act of identifying and calling attention to the validity of your needs in the friendship. Example: “I am not blaming you for the things that were outside of your control and I understand you are upset. But it is your responsibility to figure out how to express your feelings without blaming me or putting me down.”
  • Setting Limits – This is the act of holding your friend accountable for his or her actions in the here and now. Example: “I appreciate how important it is for you to have your own standards and admire what you have done in your own home. However, I would appreciate if you didn’t try to impose those standards on my home.”\
  • Establishing rules of reciprocity – You are making a suggestion of fairness and taking turns. Example: “Thank you, I would be happy to consider what you want, and I would like to receive the same consideration from you."

These can be helpful ways to guide your responses when interacting with a friend who may be less than healthy and even upsetting. These suggestions may assist you in feeling you are drawing some healthy boundaries in your friendship and may even help in making the friendship and interactions feel enjoyable. You can again enjoy time with your friend.

If these interactions continue to occur and you feel they may be “bad for your health,” remember to take care of yourself and consider whether a more drastic change is needed. Please see the resources below for further information.

(Refer to the full checklist of items located at Another great resource is "Disarming the Narcissist" by Wendy T. Behary, LCSW.)

[By Jessica O. Hunter, Psy.D./PsychCentral blogs]

Sunday, October 04, 2015

10 Ways to Make Your Choices Easier

Sometimes it seems like we spend the entire day making choices.

  • Get up or hit snooze?
  • Dress or pants?
  • Hair up or down?
  • Pack lunch or eat out?
  • Chicken or fish?

And those are the easy ones.

  • Break up or stay together?
  • Start a new business or keep the job?
  • Move to a new town ... or stay?

By the end of the day, we often feel like our brains are simply worn out. Have you ever thought to yourself "if I have to make one more decision I'll explode"? But the day's not over yet; the evening has just begun.

  • Out to dinner or stay in?
  • Movie or Netflix?
  • Call your parents or soak in the tub?

You may be suffering from decision fatigue. We as humans have a finite storage of mental energy for exerting self-control. Each decision we make depletes our ability for making further decisions without a mental break in between. It's why we make better decisions in the morning, and are less able to resist the things we love (like that big piece of chocolate cake) later in the day.

What can you do about it?

The more choices you have, the more fatigue you'll face. A closet full of clothes isn't just messy, it also creates overwhelm every time you open the doors. Simplify your life; get rid of the clutter. Keep only the things that motivate you, that stimulate you, that inspire you. The rest just gets in the way.

Eliminate choices
Two year olds have a mind of their own - you know what I mean if you've ever had one in your care. They love to make their own decisions, have control over their own situations. But if you give them too much leeway, they'll never make a decision at all. Choosing an outfit from the closet can turn into a major meltdown. That's why you give them "either, or". Wear this or that. It gives control without overwhelm.

It doesn't have to stop when you're two; why not eliminate some of the most mundane choices you make. Steve Jobs only wore black turtlenecks and jeans, and President Obama only wears gray or blue suits to eliminate decisions. If you take away simple decisions, you can spend more time making important decisions that truly impact your life in a big way.

Restructure your days
Are you the type of person that gets up and checks in? Check email? Play on Facebook? Scour your newsfeeds for the latest news? What if you spent the first couple of hours focused on your most important tasks instead? By putting your most important tasks first, you'll be the most awake and have the clearest mind for getting the most - and your best - work completed.

Don't overschedule
We're a nation of overschedulers, trying to fit an entire workweek into an eight hour day. Yet back to back meetings will not only wear you out, it will shut down your ability to make clear decisions. Instead, choose the most important thing you can do each day and schedule downtime around it. Prepare yourself to only do what's most important each day.

Avoid temptation
What's the one tempting treat you can't keep in your house or you'll eat it all the time? For me it's ice cream, so I don't keep it in the house. I never suggest going to an ice cream shop, and avoid looking at the dessert menu when I know it's an option. If I avoid it, I won't indulge in it. It makes the process easy.

Take the decision process away
Have you ever had to make the decision of whether to get up and exercise or spend another 30 minutes in bed? Guess which one wins every time? Instead of giving yourself the decision making power, put the power in someone else's hands. Sign up for a workout class three mornings a week. Or hire a personal trainer to monitor your goals. If you're held accountable, you'll do it.

Don't overthink
There's something to be said about gut instinct. How many times have you contemplated decisions for long periods of time, only to revert back to your original decision? We've all done it. It's also a clear indication that in most circumstances, the right decision is within you almost from the start. Don't over think an issue; give yourself a fair amount of time for research and contemplation. Then choose based on what your gut is telling you to do.

Stop worrying over past decisions
You've made a decision. Now what? Was it the right decision? What if something goes wrong? Worry can be just as time consuming as making the decision itself. It can even stop you in your tracks from moving on in a positive way. If you make a decision for the right reasons, trust and let it go.

Change your actions
Think you can work 12 hour days 7 days of the week and remain sharp? Working on the same tasks in the same structure again and again leads to higher degrees of mental fatigue. Humans need creativity and variance to thrive. A walk around the park can change your mindset. So can a tai chi class, or taking up the art of French cooking. By switching gears, it gives your mind something else to focus on. That's why our best solutions often come when we're in completely different environments.

Conserve your willpower
The only way to become better at making great decisions is to give yourself the opportunity to only have the most important things face you each day. The more you can schedule things, build things into a routine, and allow others to control the non-essential parts of your day, the more time you'll have to dedicate to the things that truly matter.

The best decision makers aren't somehow smarter or better prepared; they are simply the ones that set their days up in the most efficient manner. They know when to trust themselves, and when to allow others to step in and do what they do best.

[by Lori Osterberg, from the Huffington Post]

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Dangerous Link Between (Lack of) Sleep and Cancer

How much sleep do you get every night?

Your answer may have deeper implications than simple tiredness or lack of concentration. In fact, lack of sleep could be linked to the development of cancer cells in your body.

In 2003, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston found a correlation between risk of breast cancer and melatonin, a hormone produced by the body to promote continued sleep. When levels of melatonin decrease, the body produces more estrogen, which is a known risk factor for breast cancer.

Since 2003, other studies have examined the relationship between sleep and other cancers. Prostate cancer is yet another that has been linked to sleep issues. In fact, moderate problems with sleep have been shown to raise the risk of prostate cancer twofold, and men with severe sleep problems are three times as likely to develop cancer as men who get adequate sleep each night.

Barriers to Sleep: Cancer Treatment and Anxiety

Beyond the obvious reasons to sleep regularly and well (better mood, healthier immune system, stronger mental capacity), we now know that regular, positive sleeping habits can help fight the development and spread of major illnesses, including cancer. Proper sleep may even improve chances of cancer remission, which is a great blessing after an unwelcome diagnosis.

The difficulty patients face is that the treatments and anxiety that come with cancer contribute to poor sleep, which can develop into sleeping problems.  That’s why it’s essential to maintain the best sleeping habits possible when you’re ill with cancer.

If you do have trouble sleeping, try these tips to help you rest better:

  • Develop a regular pre-sleep routine that helps to calm you
  • Avoid excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption
  • Find time for daily exercise
  • Try relaxation techniques, like meditation or yoga

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting your needed rest every night, especially as it is now clear that sleep patterns can impact cancer growth and development.  It is worrying to know that sleep problems can contribute to a higher cancer risk. But it’s also heartening to know that those who are at risk of developing cancer can help ward it off with and effective sleep regimen. The better you sleep, the stronger your immune system and the more balanced your body chemistry. With your hormone levels in balance, your ability to fight off developing cancer cells increases exponentially, especially in the case of breast and prostate cancer.

By Eric Cohen, MD