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christian counseling

Cognitive Distortions, those remaining

I’ve been discussing Cognitive Distortions over the past month, so I wanted to wrap up and not drag this out too long for fear of overload :).

Mental filtering: The thinking that we do when we filter out certain aspects of life. It is not always bad but when it is distorting your thinking is when you filter out all the positives and only focus on the negatives.

Jumping to conclusions/mind reading/fortune-telling: This type of cognitive distortion involves making assumptions that are often false. We must consider all aspects and all potentials of thoughts and situations.

Personalization: When your inner voice is always speaking negatively about yourself (I am so lazy, etc.). Instead, try saying I can make better choices with my time.

Emotional Reasoning: Focusing on your feelings too much when reacting to your thoughts.

Catastrophizing: This is worst-case scenario thinking. Force yourself to consider the best case also!

Magical thinking: This type of thinking involves rituals or formulas such as having an object that brings you good luck or washing your hands 3 times to bring out better sleep, etc. We must confront our fears and not trust luck, etc.

Control fallacies (external and internal): This includes assuming we are correct without really thinking about the opposite side of the argument.

Disqualifying the positive: This is self-explanatory.

Shoulds and absolutes: Using words like “all, always, every, just, only, never, none, no, not, must, should” often lead to cognitive distortions.

Overgeneralization: When we make hasty assumptions or generalizations from insufficient or false evidence, these are overgeneralizations.

SO, slow down, and write out. your thoughts, identify any cognitive distortions, and do the work to retrain your mind and your thinking! It can be done!

Be blessed and start thinking clearly today!

Dr. Atwell

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christian counseling

Will you add a Ukrainian orphan to your Christmas list?

I know it may seem early to start preparing for the holidays, BUT my youngest son and I must start now. I’m not referring to putting up decorations and watching Christmas vacation, although I love those things!

This year, we have a chance to help orphans and their caregivers who had to flee their homes from the war. Our plan is to join Glow Mission and Legacy Refuge as we host Christmas camps for refugees throughout Europe!

If you like to help us by sponsoring an orphan, we would be thrilled. The cost is $100 per orphan and we are hoping to raise enough to cover 700 children. If you’d like to donate, please go to Paypal and give to counselorthreads@gmail.com.

Counselor Threads is my new clothing brand I’ve started to help raise money for these and other efforts, but you do not have to buy anything, you can simply donate at Paypal via the email address counselorthreads@gmail.com. I will make sure you get credit for your donation.

You may also send a check to Natalie Atwell, memo: Ukraine orphans and mail it to 170 Davidson Hwy Suite 201, Concord, NC 28027

Watch the video below for more info.

Thank you in advance!

Dr. Atwell and youngest son!

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christian counseling

Cognitive Distortion #1: Black or White/Polarized thinking

I love the song by the late Michael Jackson, “Black or White” and it truly shouldn’t matter when it comes to the color of your skin but we are not talking about skin today. We are discussing our black-or-white thoughts also known as polarized thinking.

First of all, I acknowledge that polarized thinking can be helpful in an emergency situation. However, polarized thinking can be harmful if it is used all of the time in your thought life.

This type of thinking is very rigid in nature. It can often prevent you from trying new things or challenging yourself.

Here are some examples:

-I am a complete failure if I’m not the best at __________.

-I must be the best athlete in my school or I should quit.

-I am unlikeable so I should just stay at home.

-If I eat unhealthy once the whole day is ruined.

You get the point. Consider going throughout the day and writing down all of the times your thoughts are polarized. This is where you can begin to identify and then prepare to change unhealthy thinking.

In order to combat the cognitive distortion of polarized or black or white thinking, you can first try adding one of two short conjunctions, AND or BUT.

Let’s practice:

-I failed this test, but I will study next time.

-I may not be the best athlete on the team, but I am a great team player.

-I do things at times that cause people to not like me and while I don’t mean to do certain things on purpose, I’m trying to learn from my mistakes.

-I ate an unhealthy breakfast and for lunch, I will eat a balanced, healthy meal.

Try it today when you find yourself thinking this way. Don’t settle for distorted thoughts!

Have a great day,

Dr. Atwell

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christian counseling

New blog series: Cognitive Distortions

Your thought life is arguably the most powerful part of your life. How and what you think impacts your choices and behaviors and in turn impacts everyone around you. So for the next several months, I am going to discuss a term used in the therapy world called, Cognitive Distortions. 

Have you ever heard the term this term? Cognitive Distortions are inaccurate misrepresentations of reality based on the way you perceive and understand the world around you. First, allow me to nerd out and discuss a few parts of the brain to help you understand how it manages emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. 

The front part of your brain is known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC helps with making proper judgments, planning, problem-solving, decision-making, character expression, and cognitive behaviors. The amygdala is a deeply embedded part of the brain that assesses situations as safe or dangerous and can alert your body to use its trauma response (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn). Emotions want to be fed and often look for any evidence to confirm thoughts that are often biased. Therefore, we need to learn strategies for how to effectively manage our emotions such that they are not reacting to biased thinking.

One of the first steps in managing our emotions is to understand our thoughts and learn about how they can be distorted. In the next several posts, we will discuss the following cognitive distortions: Black and White or Polarized thinking/All or Nothing, Mental filtering, Fortune-telling or jumping to conclusions, Personalization/Negative self-talk, Globalizing/Overgeneralizing, Discounting/disqualifying the positive, Magnification (focusing on your own negative qualities over the good), Emotional Reasoning (focusing on emotions/feelings over truth), Should/Absolute Statements, Labeling (extreme unfair judgments), personalization/blame (blaming only yourself when it is not truly all your fault), Magical/Ritualistic thinking, Castastrophizing (always thinking the worst case scenario), and Controlling (not thinking about the perspective of others).

Once we can identify our own struggles with Cognitive Distortions, we can then activate our brains to respond appropriately as we slow down, take thoughts captive, and use some coping strategies such as the ABCDE cognitive behavioral strategy to reframe our thoughts and in choose to act and behave in more productive ways.

I also believe that learning to take control of our thoughts is biblical. 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

I hope to provide you with some useful information in the weeks to follow :).

Dr. Atwell

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christian counseling

Transitioned!


Have you or someone you know settled into a new season in life? Over the past month or so I’ve thought a lot about and written about transitions. Naturally, the next phase to consider is reflecting on the transition.

Oftentimes, we do not reflect back on phases or seasons of life whether good or bad. However, we have much to learn from and be grateful for if we look back and consider what we learned. This morning, I found a journal with an entry from 2009 in it. Wow, what a difference 10+ years make… In this particular entry, I was praying about finding proper childcare for my oldest son. Looking back, I remember how stressful that time was, but now I can see the wonderful ways in which God was with us in that season.

Now as my oldest is in high school, the worries and concerns for him are not the same as when he was little, but my strategy of taking my cares to the Lord is because I’ve learned over the years that the best thing I can do with my concerns is to take them to God in prayer. Reflecting back has encouraged me to keep praying and keep trusting God. It also shows me that God is always working and that His plans for us are great.

Rather, the transition you’ve experienced is fairly recent or not, I challenge you to reflect back on the last season and write down what you have learned, and who was there for you through the transition, challenges, and blessings you’ve experienced. This process of reflection may just help you go through the next season.

Personally, I like to also think of the funny things that happened during the past season. Laughter is one of my favorite gifts from God. Regardless of your process for reflection, don’t neglect it! Just like looking at your reflection in a mirror, reflecting back can help you learn even more about yourself. Then you can decide if there are things that need to change or stay the same.

Feeling reflective,

Dr. Atwell

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christian counseling

Transitioning…

This is a hot topic and also a controversial one, but for now, I’m not going to talk about what most think this term refers to in certain settings today. I’m simply going to talk about some of the transitioning we all need to do at times. Maybe you need to transition from skinny jeans to flair leg, OR from soda to water. Just kidding, maybe…

Instead of talking about the transitioning that happens in times of major life events such as a wedding, starting college, becoming a parent, becoming an empty nester, or losing a loved one, let’s contemplate the transitioning of mindsets and attitudes. This is the point in reading, or for me writing, where our minds often think of who could benefit from reading this…Let me challenge you to instead focus on yourself. What mindsets, attitudes, or maybe even relationships do you need to change or let go of?

Our mental health is actually brain health. It impacts our entire body. If we have negative mindsets, attitudes, or hurtful relationships, our entire lives, bodies included, are impacted. You may be thinking, what do you mean?

Here are some examples of negative mindsets:

1-I have NO control over my situation.

2-Life is so unfair.

3-I have zero power to change ___________.

4-I deserve this _________________.

5-______________ (ailment, weakness, mental health struggle) defines me.

What about negative attitudes?

Can you be inattentive, inflexible, jealous, impatient, insincere, irresponsible, indifferent, or heartless?

Finally, review your closest relationships.

Are these people understanding, available, kind, supportive, responsive, reciprocal, and friendly, OR are those you surround yourself with negative, competitive, nasty, gossipy, expect you to be there but they can’t reciprocate?

Now when it comes to transitioning negative mindsets, attitudes, and relationships, the first step is to do what you hopefully just did–identify them.

Once you’ve identified your negative mindsets, attitudes, and relationships, next consider how to transition!

Here are a few positive mindsets to try instead of the ones above:

1-I may not be in control of all things, but I AM in control of some aspects. I can control my reactions and responses to people 2 Timothy 1:7).

2-Fair is not always equal. While I may feel I’m experiencing inequality in one area or another, I will choose to be thankful for the good things in my life. I will also choose to treat others HOW I want to be treated even if I’m not being treated the way I’d like (Matthew 7: 12).

3-I have the power to change __________. I may not be able to fully change things today in the direction I would like, but I can change __________ aspect (Philippians 4:13).

4-I am thankful for the blessing in my life. I choose to be humble and not have an entitled mindset (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

5-I am not defined by my struggle or weakness. I can find strength in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Attitudes:

Today I will be attentive, flexible, excited for others, patient, kind, sincere, gentle, loving, responsible, and selfless in my attitude and subsequent actions.

Relationships:

Today and in the future, I will choose to surround myself with positive people who speak truth in love, who are friendly, kind, supportive, understanding, positive, and who are there for me as I’m there for them.

I also choose to let go of friendships or other relationships that are pulling me down and influencing me negatively. I pray for family members who I may need to set boundaries with and will consider seeking counseling to learn how and when to do so.

I realize transitioning mindsets, attitudes and relationships are not easy, but it can be as simple as what I have stated. My promise is that if you make these transitions, it will be worth it!

Have a great rest of your week,

Dr. Atwell

Categories
christian counseling

Changing seasons: Preparing for and embracing change

Recently where I live, we’ve had a “cold” front come through (it was 68 degrees earlier this morning compared to 98 a week ago…). As the seasons change, I love to focus on the positives such as wearing boots in fall/winter! There are some places in the world where the seasons don’t change, which always fascinates me considering I’ve always lived in a place that has four seasons. Most of these people actually want to experience changing seasons. They’d love to see the trees change colors and experience wearing different types of shoes (I love shoes…) :).

When it comes to changing seasons in life, we often fight the changes instead of embracing the positives that come with the change. During this time of year, some people are preparing to go back to school, to go back into the classroom to teach, to go off to college, starting a new sport, getting their families ready to do the things already mentioned, or possibly starting a new job. The list could go on. The reality that you or someone near you is currently going through a transitions during this time of year is highly likely.

So why not embrace these transitions or help someone do so in positive ways? Don’t be the one who hates “back to school”, cries for weeks when your kid goes to college, complains about getting up early or staying up late for a ballgame, or fusses that you don’t get to see your grandkids enough….

Here are some things to try to take control of my mind and stay positive while embracing the new season whatever it may be.

1-Make the first day back to school fun. I always play the clip from the movie Billy Madison with Adam Sandler singing “back to school…” followed by the Saturday Night Live skit/clip with Chris Farley and Adam Sandler “Lunch Lady land”. They are easy to find on YouTube.com and now my kids have both memorized!

2-Send care packages to your loved ones or friends who have gone off to college. Send fun things, weird but funny advice (Don’t eat yellow snow for example).

3-Send you grandkids handwritten notes. Volunteer in your community. Stay busy helping others instead of focused on negative things. Support your loved ones in the ways they need not the ways you want.

4-Cry briefly if you must, then call the friend who will make you laugh or take you out if you are struggling with your kid starting a new school or moving away and praise God your kid is moving to the next level or that you have kids!

5-Do something each morning that you look forward to. I look forward to my coffee and time with Jesus every morning in my prayer closet. I meditate, pray, journal, sometimes cry, laugh, and try to get my mind right for the day.

6-Try learning something new. Personally, I’d like to try playing pickle ball.

The list could go on, but you get the point. Life is truly what you make it wherever you are and in whatever season. Don’t look back wishing your past were still the present. Looking back may cause you to become a pillar of salt, (Genesis 19:26)– stuck where you are. Appreciate where you are now just as much as being thankful for where you have been. Choose to be the fun old lady, the sweet neighbor, the one who keeps serving and making a difference in her community.

Just like some would love to be experience the seasons changing where they live, enjoy the changes you are going through because many wish they were able to experience the changes you are undergoing. Finally remember that God has great plans for you in every season of life (Jeremiah 29:11).

Be blessed,

Dr. Atwell

Categories
christian counseling

Parent Failures: podcast

podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/miss-congeniality-and-the-third-runner-up/id1533556882

Categories
christian counseling

Concerns about the Enneagram

As a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and university professor, I’ve been aware of the enneagram for many years, likely longer than most. However, over the past several years, I have been amazed at how the popularity of this test has increased dramatically especially within Christian circles. I’m often asked what my thoughts are about the Enneagram, so I will share below…

First of all when evaluating assessments and tests seeking to understand yourself, you should find out where the test originated, who created it, the validity, reliability, etc. Second, if you are a Christian, you should find out how it relates to truth as defined in the Bible. Third, ask yourself why you need this assessment or the information it is claiming to provide. Then as always, proceed with caution with anything that seeks to define you outside of God.

My concerns with the Enneagram as someone who has a doctorate in the field of counseling is related to a few things.

1-The “test” isn’t a psychological assessment that has undergone specific design and professional strategies to prove or attempt to suggest reliability or validity internally or externally.

2-The test has similarities and roots pointing to New Age (occult) practices and teachings.

3-This test attempts to put people into categories or boxes (similar to the concerns about critical race theory at times) in a way whereas God’s word never does this and suggests we are all created uniquely and wonderfully different.

3-If we believe the Enneagram is true, then we may latch on to and start filtering everything through the lens of the Enneagram. Similar to astrology or other efforts to explain humans, people have a tendency to latch on to things and begin believing everything a specific belief suggests simply because parts of it make sense. As believers in Christ, we should filter everything through the lens of scripture as it alone provides absolute truth.

4-Do not be easily deceived by things that seemingly “make sense”. This is often how deception occurs.

5-Be cautious about anything that focuses solely on your “self”. Focusing life and truth solely on your experiences is very dangerous and also what New Age teaches not what the Bible teaches. If you experience it, then it is true…This is a very dangerous idea.

6-Finally, remember as christians, we should be going through a sanctification process as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us each day. Therefore, just because at times for example we may struggle with perfectionism doesn’t mean God isn’t working in us to overcome this. Just like we should never say as believers in Christ, “I just struggle with anger, it is who I am.” Rather we should say, I am a new creation in Christ, I will die to my flesh daily. We may not change in an instant but we shouldn’t struggle as much today as we did the day we decided to follow Jesus.

For more information, I urge you to read the following article by: Marcia Montenegro.

https://ses.edu/what-about-the-enneagram/

More articles below:

http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles.html

Be blessed,

Dr. Atwell

Categories
christian counseling

Understanding Transitions

Change is inevitable. We will all go through multiple transitions in life. During the fall season, the leaves in many places change colors on the trees. Some have children going off to college. Some are the ones going off to college and parents of new teens are freaking out of bodily changes… Others are beginning new jobs, trying new activities, etc.

As we have all settled in for the fall in one way or another, it may be important to understand the phases of transition that most people will experience. Transition generally follows this pattern: denial, resistance, exploration, and commitment.

1-Denial: In this phase, you begin to question the change. Was it the right move for us? We begin to feel disbelief that we have decided to make a change of this nature. We may also withdrawal from certain things, activities, etc.

2-Resistance: In the next phase you begin to resist as you become negative about the change. You being to focus on your emotions and personal impact or feelings associated with the change. You may even become less productive or make up excuses for being absent.

3-Exploration: Once you reach this phase, you begin to try new things, experiment with new people/places and possibly take new risks in your new setting. You may also seek answers to your questions during this phase about your transition, etc. This phase will bring about a new excitement and comfort for the change.

4-Commitment: In the final stage of transition or change. You begin to feel more comfortable with where you are and are now able to focus on the future without looking back. In the final phase you accept your new role and set new goals.

As you go through change in life or as you help another go through a transition, remember these stages. People go through these at different rates of time but it is important to know that the feeling, emotions, questions, etc. you have during the phases are normal. Change is a natural and healthy part of life but that doesn’t mean it is always comfortable. However, we will never grow as we can and should if we stay within our comfort zone and never embrace change.

From a faith perspective, we can know that God is the person who never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and will be tomorrow. We can hold fast to his word and person as we deal with the transitions of life.

Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Don’t fear change,

Dr. Atwell