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christian counseling

Does it really make a difference?

Sometimes, when I consider the vast brokenness of the world in comparison to the seemingly small things I try in order to make a difference, I am overwhelmed. Sure, I’ve asked many times, does it really make a difference? Have you ever asked this question before?

Maybe you have contemplated, does my vote count? Does one dollar make a dent in the cost of this object? If I can’t stop the war, why try to win a small battle? Would it even matter if I forgive the person? Does this small act of kindness matter? Will counseling or talking about my problems actually help?

Sure at times we may say, yes I believe it matters, but often we simply don’t act because we don’t believe it truly does. Actions always speak louder than words.

Recently, my youngest son and I went to be a part of Christmas camps with Ukrainian refugees. We visited four different orphanages that had evacuated from their homes and took refuge in other countries during a war in their home nation. Did we stop the war? No. We we able to provide a loving set of parents to each child? No. BUT we were able to share the love of God with people who’ve essentially lost everything. We were able to spread the joy of Christmas with children. I was able to listen and care for adults who had to leave their homes and families at times to take care of orphans. These individuals and this experience showed us that yes every small thing matters. Simply listening to those who are hurting does help. Giving hope in any way matters!

So today if you are considering whether or not to go an extra step, do a small deed, donate a small amount, leave a kind word, etc. DO it. Let God do a mighty work with your simple act of obedience because as the song goes I grew up singing “Little is much when God is in it…”

Dr. Atwell

Luke 16:10 He that is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much: and he that is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.

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christian counseling

Merry Christmas!

I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

As I reflect on this year the morning I celebrate my Saviors birth, I think about the tragic loss of a close friend this year, frustrations dealing with difficult people, changes in community, changes in work and ongoing stuff from the journey.

You may ask why I reflect on the hard stuff this morning. I reflect on the hard because it makes the birth of our Savior even more precious. Maybe like childbirth, it’s tough, painful but SO worth it. You see my friend, Jesus came as the living word (John 1) of God, the one who showed us God in flesh who was perfect in His love for others including us. So much so that He gave up his life to die for our sin and all the sin (brokenness of the world) so He could he’s all of the hurts from this world and make all things new.

I have a God who sent his son to save me from my sin and His grace now covers me. I have a Savior who will judge those who’ve caused me harm, righteously. I have a Savior who died to ultimately take away all hurt and pain one day! No other hid makes this promise…

This is why I celebrate today. Jesus the one way, truth and life, thank you for coming to earth and dying for me and for us all. I pray you choose Him today!

Merry Christmas ,

Dr. Atwell

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christian counseling

Giving and Mental Health

Did you know that giving can actually help you mentally? Personally, I believe God designed us this way. He created us and our brains to feel the rewards and joy of giving.

Here are a few things even secular sources have shown.

1-Giving can make you feel happy by stimulating the pleasure circuits in your brain! It can give you a dose of endorphins and promote feelings of peace and tranquility.

2-Giving has been shown to decrease your blood pressure and reduce stress!

3-Giving is a great way to show you believe in reaping what you sow.

4-Giving inspires others to also do good things.

So, take advantage of today, “Giving Tuesday”. There are many places in which you can give, but if you’d like to help my youngest son and me take Christmas joy to Ukrainian orphans, please donate at PayPal at counselorthreads@gmail.com. We are trying to raise $100 per child and caregiver.

We will be visiting two displaced orphanages currently located in Germany and Austria and we play to have Christmas camps with them where we make/decorate cookies, play games, sing songs, and give gifts!

So consider giving today at the very least to increase your own mental health!

Happy giving Tuesday!

Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.

Proverbs 22:9 The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

Proverbs 22:16 Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

etc…..

Dr. Atwell

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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

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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