Dr. Steven Lazarus is a psychologist in Littleton, CO. He specializes in helping couples in premarital counseling, relationship counseling, and marriage counseling. This blog is dedicated to providing couples with resources to have healthy relationships.

How to Get More Out of Your Therapy Experience

Successful psychologists help people everyday. Some people attend just a few therapy sessions and learn the take-home skills they need to move through challenging times, others enjoy the process and interactive experience of sharing thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. And then there are people who say “why go talk to a stranger? I never get anything out of it!” For those of you in this last group, you are not alone! As a n expert in ADHD counseling and animal assisted therapy in Highlands Ranch, Dr. Lazarus has helped thousands of people to feel better. These tips will help you to get the most out of your therapy experience, no matter what your challenges are.

Find a therapist you mesh with.

Finding a good “fit” between you and your therapist is so important. This is the person that you should be able to tell your deepest fears, darkest desires, and most embarrassing moments—so you need to feel comfortable. Interviews, phone calls, and the first session are a great way to see if you match personality-wise, and a few questions can make sure your therapist will meet your needs. Does your therapist specialize or have good familiarity with your specific concerns? Do their treatment approaches resonate with yours? There is more than one way to skin a cat, and definitely more than one way to benefit from therapy, so find what works for you. Speaking of animals, if you haven’t had luck with therapy in the past, consider animal assisted therapy. Our fluffy friends are natural therapists.

Have at least one clear goal.

Ever hear the saying “if you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll go there anyway?” Make sure you work toward what you want by having at least one clear goal. Not sure what you’re feeling? Share this with your therapist and your first goal can be “find the biggest problem in my life that I want to change.” Yes, finding a goal can be your goal! This is not to say that you can never get off-track, but working toward a common goal is rewarding and effective. If you come seeking couples therapy, you may find yourself working toward multiple goals to improve your relationship.

Communicate clearly.

Do you like something your therapist does? Hate something? Let them know! While psychologists in Littleton are experts in behavior, we are not mind readers, and everyone wants something different. If you want to talk, nearly uninterrupted, for the entire session, let your therapist know. If you’re tired of talking and want concrete skills you can practice and accomplish each day, say it! Your psychologist only knows if treatment is working or not if you tell them.

To start on your therapy process today, or just to find out more about your options, give Dr. Lazarus a call. He and his therapy dog Zeke will be happy to give you a fresh, new therapy experience that can change your life!

Is Pain Coming Between You and Your Loved Ones?

Research from the National Institute of Health find that just over 10% of Americans live in chronic pain—having pain every day for at least three months. For 17% of Americans, severe pain is part of normal life. If you’ve turned on the news lately, you know that this pain problem is directly tied to the opioid crisis. But even for those who are able to manage pain without the struggle of addiction, there can be noticeable effects on work and relationships. This blog will address the ways in which pain may come between you and your loved ones, the signs that you should seek couples counseling in Highlands Ranch, and ways to reconnect with those you love .

How Pain Affects Your Relationships

Pain is stressful. It distracts you when you try to concentrate, ruins your short-term memory with constant interruptions, and can even cause anxiety or mood disruption. Your brain only has energy to devote to so many things at once, and pain ranks high on your brain’s list of “important things.” Why? Usually, pain is a sign that something needs to change. You put on shoes that you think fit and experience pain later, this tells you the shoes do not fit well. You lift a heavy cabinet and your back screams out in protest, this tells you to lift with your legs or ask for help. But when pain is chronic, your body still keeps sending out these alarm signals, putting you on-edge and demanding your attention. When people visit Dr. Lazarus in Littleton for couples therapy, many report that the person who is in pain is irritable, frustrated, distracted, and distant.

DIY Tips

If your loved one had an acute injury, such as getting banged up in a car accident, it would be easy to accommodate these needs for a few days while he or she heals. The problem occurs when pain is chronic, because this “temporary” shift may seem like it takes over the person in pain forever. For the partner, there may be feelings of guilt, resentment, or frustration as well—your helpmate in life has taken a big blow, and may take a very long time to return to their previous levels of functioning. For the person in pain, seek effective pain management with your physician or pain specialist, and consider offloading some stress and learning new coping skills with a therapist. The partner may need to seek support as well. Both people in the relationship may need to re-think priorities and values, focusing on what is really most important. You may need to adjust your favorite activities together to accommodate the pain, but remember: the best part of being with your partner is shared time.

When to Seek Professional Help

No matter how hard you work at home, you may find that you and your partner are still struggling with the relationship effects of chronic pain. If you feel like harming yourself or others, if you or your partner is finding it increasingly difficult to engage in fun or daily activities, or if you feel that your resentment is growing faster than your understanding can accommodate, seek professional help to save your relationship! Intensive couple’s therapy with an animal-assisted therapist can help people break through barriers  and remember why they love each other, no matter how much stress, pain, or other life circumstances get in the way. To set up a session, contact Dr. Steve Lazarus today!

Why You (and your loved ones) Deserve a Day Off

When was your last day off? Not just a day off from your Most Official Job, but a day off from all responsibilities outside of yourself and your closest family—a day where no phones ring, no emails are replied to, and no meetings are scheduled. Can you even remember it?

In today’s world, many people can’t recall their last total day off, and the desire to have one is increasing all the time. While we love our internet, phones, and social media, all of this connection tends to leave us feeling surprisingly drained. In fact, many people come to counseling in Highlands Ranch for couples therapy asking “how can we find more time for our relationship?” The answer: take time for yourself.

Alone Time Is a Need

When people are asked to list their needs, they usually start with survival needs—food, water, shelter. If asked to continue further, many add “love” or “socialization.” These answers are 100% correct! However, there is another need that many people overlook, and that is the need to be alone. When we are alone, we have time to process our thoughts, to relax, to get back into touch with our own bodies. Many people use alone time for self-care, such as taking a long bath, a relaxing nap, or visiting the spa. These things will not only help you feel better, but to be a better parent, partner, or friend.

Silence is A Valuable Resource

One thing that many couples therapists in Littleton will recommend is to shut off the phone! Whether you are shutting off just your phone to enjoy your day off, or bringing the whole family with you on an interruption-free day, the benefits are priceless. Studies show that most people are distracted multiple times per hour, taking 5-10 minutes to get back on track—and the same is true for distractions from those special times with your family and friends. Put those distractions on “silent” for a day or two and remember what it’s really like to have a whole conversation, or to watch the sunset without an electronic “ding.” Your stress levels  will thank you!

Less Stress = Happier Relationships

One of the benefits of a dedicated day off is that you reduce your stress level. Just like a day off of your exercise routine can let your body rest before a big race, a day off from responsibility lets you come back revived and restored—and these effects will spread throughout your life. You may find yourself feeling less snappy, less irritable, more energized, and more interested in what your loved ones have to say.

Improve Productivity

This isn’t a productivity blog, but psychologists in Colorado know how to get things done. When you dedicate a day off for yourself, you make your time more valuable—to you, and to others. You can set boundaries on your time, ensuring that you use it effectively, and that it is respected.

Need help setting boundaries or managing your time effectively to focus on what matters most to you? Consult with Dr. Lazarus or seek couples counseling in Highlands Ranch to learn effective skills.

 

 

 

 

Passive Aggressive Pitfalls

“Everything all right, honey? You seem a little… off.”

“I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be fine? Is there a reason I might not be fine?”

If you’ve ever found yourself and your significant other having a conversation like the one above, you know that “fine” may not mean “fine” at all… and those questions aren’t rhetorical! Passive aggression can get the best of us, but they don’t bring out the best in our relationships with those we love. Read on to find out the top pitfalls that couples therapists in Littleton know are caused by passive aggression and how to beat them with clear, appropriate communication.

Message delivered, message received. At its most simple level passive aggressive communication can be misinterpreted easily. Many couples come in for counseling or couples therapy in Highlands Ranch because they can’t say what they want—at times, the other person may not even know there is a problem to begin with. When we say things that are not true to our feelings (“I’m fine” when you’re frustrated; “that sounds good” when you hate the idea), we are not giving the other person the information they need to make the right decisions. Instead, state your words clearly, trying to avoid blame. Active listening can help. 

I’ll never get it right. For the person on the “receiving end” of passive aggression, a feeling of hopelessness may occur. No matter what they do, the person being passive aggressive just keeps getting angry—and sometimes, gets more passive aggressive if the other person does not interpret the hidden message. This can lead to deep sadness, increase feelings of depression, and break down the trust in your relationship. Instead, focus on seeking and providing clear feedback. “Another healthy meal, as usual” is less helpful than saying “I really wish we could start cooking healthier meals for the kids, including vegetables and protein, even though I know they just want jam sandwiches and tater tots for every meal.” Making a genuine appreciation of effort is also important (“I’m glad to see Picky Child is eating something other than juice today, so maybe the jam sandwiches weren’t such a bad meal for tonight”).

I feel like nobody listens. The person being passive aggressive is not 100% at fault. If you feel like nobody listens, no matter how many dirty looks, irritated grunts, or “clearly” sarcastic responses you are throwing their way, you can start to feel unappreciated. In fact, most people who fall back on passive aggression often feel frustrated, ignored, and resentful. The more “unheard” you feel, the more you likely fall back on this strategy. The problem is: it doesn’t work. Just like putting out a fire with gasoline, it is quite difficult to make someone listen with passive aggression. Instead, consider writing an honest letter to your partner, or contact a psychologist in Highlands Ranch for animal assisted therapy. Zeke, Dr. Lazarus’s expert therapy dog , can help you learn to both “speak” and to “be quiet” when you need to.

Human beings are gifted with one of the most complex communication systems in existence. However, we are not always good at using our words, thoughts, or feelings effectively. When our goals seem impossible, we learn ways around them—and these “shortcuts” are not always effective in other situations. Redirect your communications around these shortcuts and back on a path to honesty and collaboration that will keep your relationship strong. If you need more help, contact Steve Lazarus, a psychologist in Littleton.

 

Beat Stress with These Top Tips

If you’ve ever visited with a psychologist or therapist in Highlands Ranch, you know that we meet with people who are struggling with all sorts of different challenges. Sometimes people come in with specific concerns or life issues that they would like to work on, other times, they come with a simple request: “I’m stressed and I want it to stop!”

Stress is a normal part of life, and I have yet to meet anyone who has never experienced stress. Stress helps us to identify the need to take action, whether that is getting that big project done at work before your boss gets angry, helping your kids learn and behave effectively at school, or dealing with your romantic partner. However, if your life contains too much stress, you may find yourself becoming irritable, angry, and having more health problems! Fortunately, working with a psychologist in Littleton can help you to fix these stress areas and feel better. While you’re waiting for your next appointment, try these top stress busters.

  1. Get moving! If your idea of exercise is the long walk to the garage to get into the car, you’re probably not getting enough exercise. Walking for just 30 minutes a day has been found to improve mood and relieve stress. It can also help you to sleep.
  2. Budget your energy. You make a budget for your finances, why not your valuable time and energy? Lists or planners can be helpful for this, because you can write down what you need to do each day—and what you would “like” to do, if you have time. Focus on getting the needs done, and don’t feel guilty if you skip the “like to do” section—if you have budgeted your time and energy well, this will fit in another day.
  3. Read a book. The act of reading promotes quiet, calm, and focus—all stress-relieving things! Just 20 minutes of quiet reading can lower stress by up to 68%, making this classic leisure activity even more effective than listening to music or drinking a hot cup of tea.
  4. Embrace nothingness. Many American households operate like Times Square—always on, always bright, and always loud! If you feel like you can’t get a moment of peace, it’s probably because you can’t. Change that by dedicating at least 10 minutes a day to quiet. Whether you do this at night after the kids have gone to bed or make it a family tradition, taking just a few minutes to relax, breath, and think without the constant stimulation can reduce stress effectively.

If you have tried these things and they don’t work, or if you feel like your stress is unmanageable on your own, contact a psychologist. Dr. Lazarus and Zeke, his trained therapy dog, provide animal assisted therapy for clients in Littleton and Highlands Ranch. You can live a relaxing, fulfilling life in spite of stress!

Why You May Be Better Off Skipping Insurance for Therapy

No insurance?

As a busy psychologist in Littleton, I work to provide the best treatment at an affordable cost. For many, this means working with and utilizing health insurance benefits to pay for therapy costs. Especially since many new mental health and substance abuse treatment options have become part of “standard” healthcare packages in the few years due to recent federal policy changes, more and more people are seeking mental health providers in Colorado who take health insurance. While this does have the potential to save your family money on these costs, there are also some reasons why you might be better off skipping the insurance for therapy. Read on to find out the most common health insurance issues my patients in couples therapy and ADHD counseling in Littleton have experienced.

  1. Long waits. Many insurance providers are booked up, often for months! If you have a time-sensitive mental health need, waiting until the next season to get help may not work for you.
  2. Mental illness diagnosis. Unlike your physician or pediatrician’s office, your insurance does not allow you to head into a psychologist’s office for a “check up” or even “follow up.” In fact, without a diagnosed mental illness, your insurance won’t cover your costs. This can be very difficult for parents seeking to learn new parent strategies from a child behavior psychologist, or for couples who simply want to learn how to communicate better. Speaking of couples…
  3. …Only one person in the couple is the “patient.” The way that health insurance works is to code couple’s counseling sessions the same as an individual counseling session with a family member present—just like you might have if you were very depressed and needed a family member to help explain your current functioning. This means that one partner must be designated as the “patient,” while the other is simply “attending” the session.
  4. Pre-existing conditions. Mental health diagnoses can be considered pre-existing conditions. Something as simple as chatting briefly with a counselor in Highlands Ranch for ADHD counseling can indicate to your insurance company that you’ve had this problem—and may hinder you from getting competitive rates in the future.
  5. Time vs. money. With health insurance comes paperwork, phone calls, and a lot of time spent making sure you meet your deductibles, pay only your co-pay, and do not exceed your yearly limits. Some insurance companies may ask that you submit additional paperwork to “prove” that you still need services. At the end of the day, you may find that your health insurance covers so little that you may have been better using a Health Savings Account or Flex Spending Account to cover these costs.
  6. Confidentiality and Control. When you meet with a mental health provider, you are told that your information remains confidential, private, and protected by law… with certain exceptions, including compliance with health insurance requests and requirements. While your psychologist will work to keep your information as confidential as possible, we cannot control the actions of your health insurance company. For 100% peace of mind about your health information, self-pay protects you the best.

Dr. Steve Lazarus provides counseling and couple’s therapy in Littleton and Highlands Ranch. While he does take some health insurance, he encourages all clients to weigh the pros and cons of using this sort of payment, and is open to discussing these concerns further in a free, 15-minute phone consultation.

[AC1]http://www.drstevenlazarus.com/2017/02/28/depressed-or-just-sad-the-difference-and-when-to-seek-help/

[AC2]http://www.drstevenlazarus.com/2016/04/21/the-parents-guide-to-strengthening-the-husband-wife-bond/

 

 

Top Four Active Listening Tips for a Strong Relationship

Strong Relationship

What’s the number one reason why people seek counseling and couples therapy in Highlands Ranch? Based on my clients, communication is the main reason! Too many couples find themselves constantly on “different pages,” missing one another’s messages, and struggling to communicate about the good, the bad, or the in-between. Some of the past blogs on this website have addressed ways to communicate with your partner in a healthy way , but that only deals with one side of the equation. When people seek to improve communication, they must address both parts: “sending” the message, or talking, and “receiving” it—listening. This post will review the five basic steps of active listening and how they can help you to build a stronger relationship.

  1. Pay attention! Easier said than done, but reminding yourself to pay attention is key to listening actively. This includes not looking at your phone, eliminating distractions, and setting your mind intentionally to listen. This shows the listener that you value their time and their thoughts.
  2. Show attention. How does the speaker know you’re listening? It’s usually obvious. Your body language speaks louder than words, so make sure you show it. You can accomplish this by making good eye contact, nodding or shaking your head at appropriate times, facing your speaker, and using small gestures where needed. This lets the person speaking know that you are actively listening and valuing their statements, strengthening the bond between you and the speaker.
  3. Check for understanding. A good deal of verbal communication is missed or misunderstood—check with the person speaking to make sure you truly understand what they are saying by asking a clarifying question (“is this your friend, John, or your brother, John?”), rephrasing their comments (“I hear you saying that your car is having problems and you’re not sure if you want to sell it”), or reflecting their emotions (“you’re sad about the business loss, but still feel motivated”). These statements demonstrate your understanding and open doors to correct miscommunications.
  4. Be polite. Don’t judge, interrupt, or dismiss someone who speaks to you. Easily said, but remember, this requires active, mindful effort!

Active listening means that you are focusing your thoughts, energy, and attention 100% (or close) on the other person and what they are saying. It requires your brain to be working hard, not to think of your next statement or argument, but working hard to truly understand and hear the person you are speaking with. This is just a small sample of the various skills that you would learn in intensive couples therapy in Littleton. To find out more or develop a personalized plan to improve relationships and communication, set up an appointment with Dr. Lazarus today.

 

 

How Animals Help Couples Communicate

Many couples dread relationship counseling. While each couple is different, most present with one overarching concern: We can’t communicate! Fortunately, there is more to the office in Littleton than couple’s counseling—Zeke, a certified therapy dog, assists and helps people to express their feelings and communicate with one another. But how can a therapy dog help you communicate with your partner? Read on to find out more!

Fidget tool. Despite the popularity of fidget spinners in 2017, many people still struggle with a need to fidget with something, especially when the topic of conversation is otherwise tense. A therapy dog will happy sit and be petted, providing an outlet for both partners to fidget and experience sensory stimulation.

Emotional assurance. Therapy dogs, in general, promote calm and relaxation. Since our four-legged friends are non-judgmental and typically very present-focused, they can help humans feel the same way.

Welcome distraction. Sometimes, couples just need distraction. The depths of love you once shared may be disrupted by hatred, anger, jealousy, or resentment, and a pleasant distraction may be the perfect solution to help you feel better.

Nonverbal language. Dogs are experts at nonverbal language because they don’t speak with words. Instead, they are attuned to your body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and positioning. This can help reflect behavior back to the people demonstrating that behavior. For example, a dog who feels threatened by yelling or erratic behavior may move away from someone displaying these behaviors, even if the person does not realize they are doing it. A skilled couple’s therapist in Littleton can help you to interpret these animal communication signs and adjust accordingly.

Children. Animals can reflect the world of children. You and your partner may try to keep your words civil or may even plaster on a fake smile all day, but your children may sense your emotional distress. Like our animal friends, children, especially young children, often pay more attention to body language and unspoken signals. How the therapy dog reacts, particularly to arguments, can signal the same sort of distress for your child.

To start experiencing the benefits of animal assisted couple’s therapy in Highlands Ranch, give Dr. Lazarus a call today. He and Zeke will be happy to happy to help!

How to Help a Loved One with Depression

Those who are familiar with pop psychology know the trend: People get more depressed and even suicidal around the holidays. Unfortunately, this pop-psych trend is based in reality. People do report increasing rates of depression around this time of year, and for a variety of reasons. For some, the short days, cold weather, and lack of sunlight can contribute to seasonal depression; for others, all those images of happy friends and family can be a reminder of what is wrong in their lives. At the time when the media is screaming at everyone to be happy for the holidays, those who are depressed only face constant reminders of the fact that they cannot be happy. One of the most common questions that people ask their Littleton couples therapist is how they can help. Here are some ways to help your loved one with depression this holiday season.

  1. Remember, depression is a mental health condition, not a mood or temporary state. Telling someone to “cheer up” or “smile” will not change their depression. It may make them act happier or look happier temporarily, but they are only putting on this happy mask to make you feel better. Inside, they likely feel worse for having to “fake it.” Instead, acknowledge and respect their feelings while offering to engage. Consider a statement such as: “I know the holidays are hard for you. If you need someone to talk to, or if you want to spend some time together to take your mind off of it, I’m here.”
  2. Keep inviting them, even if they don’t show. People get frustrated with depressed friends and family members because they often decline invitations or fail to show up. While this is hurtful to the person doing the inviting, most people who are depressed see these messages, wish they could go, but ultimately do not feel well, similar to how someone with the flu might respond. However, the invitation (and reminders!) shows them that you still want them to be there, even if they can’t make it. Besides, they might show up!
  3. Learn the warning signs for suicide. While they are different for different people, some common ones talking about feeling hopeless and helpless, feeling they have no purpose, feeling they are a burden to family and friends, sleeping all day or not at all, withdrawing from others, using substances more than usual, or becoming edgy or reckless. Most importantly, those who talk about wanting to die, wanting to kill themselves, or exploring means of suicide are at high risk. Never fear asking your friend or family member directly: “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” You will not “give them the idea,” you will give them the chance to seek help and sort through their feelings. If you feel that your loved one is in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others, you can always call 9-1-1 nationwide or call/text the Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255 for help.
  4. Assist in getting help. While many people with depression are already in treatment or not interested, many people benefit from it but are unable to access it. If your loved one is depressed and you are worried, it is not inappropriate to ask if they need help finding, setting up an appointment with, or even getting to a skilled psychologist. Seeking counseling in Highlands Ranch or attending animal assisted therapy can bring major, positive changes to the life of someone with depression.

If you are feeling depressed, or if your loved one is depressed and would like a skilled couples and animal assisted therapist in Littleton or Highlands Ranch, consider giving Dr. Steve Lazarus a call at 303-267-2194. He has helped many people recover from mental health problems and live a full, healthy life.

When Loss Strikes: What is Normal and When to Seek Help

For better or worse, loss is a part of life. Not only is it inevitable, it is necessary—if nobody ever died, we would simply run out of room for new life to be born. However, this does not make the process any easier, especially when the loss is someone whom you love dearly. When does grief become something else, and when should you seek help? Read on to find out!

Immediate reaction

One of the best ways to think of immediate loss is of devastation. Whether you have lost a loved one unexpectedly or after months of declining health, the final realization that they are gone can be rough. It is normal to cry, feel sad, or even feel angry—at the person who is gone, at yourself, and at the whole world. Your emotions may feel overwhelming, and that’s okay. Allow yourself time to feel these emotions and seek the support of others in your life.

Signs you need help

While loss is difficult to bear, there are some signs that you should seek professional help. If you consider harming yourself or others, you should always call 9-1-1 or visit your nearest emergency room.

Short-term

For a few weeks or months following the loss, you can expect to still feel pain quite vividly. You may notice that your pain subsides somewhat, or that it “rears its head” with vengeance every now and again. Reminders of the person you have lost, such as their clothing, favorite TV show, or perfume may bring back vivid and unsettling memories. However, at this stage, you should be able to start recovering and moving on. Try thinking of the positive memories you have of this person and what they would want for you—chances are, they would encourage you to keep living your life!

Signs you need help

Immediately after a loss, it is perfectly normal to “shut down” for a few days. However, if weeks or months have passed and you still find yourself unable to go to work, maintain hygiene, or feel happiness or enjoyment, you should seek the help of a grief counselor in Littleton. Loss can take a huge toll on relationships as well. Your partner might not understand your grief, or why you’re so sad, and attending Littleton couples therapy sessions might help you to see eye to eye.

Long-term

After a few months, you may feel guilty that you do not think of your lost loved one that often. Don’t despair—this is a normal part of moving on. In addition, you may find yourself doing great most days, but receiving an occasional “blow” when something reminds you of your lost loved one. This, again, is perfectly normal. Holidays and anniversaries tend to be the hardest, but you can turn these moments of sadness into moments of celebration by honoring the lost person’s favorite activities and sharing them with others. The person you lost will always be a part of you.

Signs you need help

If you still feel the same intense pain as you did when you first realized your loved one was gone on a daily basis, or if you still feel limited in your work, social life, or personal life because of the loss, you may benefit from working with a therapist. While there is no “time limit” on grief, it is important to differentiate grief and loss from depression. In addition, working with a trained professional can help you to clarify your feelings and values and develop effective coping skills to keep yourself going.

While your loved one may be gone, you know he or she would never want you to get “stuck” as a result. Live your life to the fullest and give Dr. Lazarus a call if you’re feeling stuck!