Couples in Transition…

As a specialist in relationships, I know that the dynamic which exists in couplehoods is complex and dynamic. Couples who experience satisfaction and contentment in their relationships know that maintaining commitment, intimacy and passion in their relationship takes work. Some people enter relationships thinking that since they have found that special person and that they love each other to the moon and back, it will be enough to maintain the relationship over time. However, that’s usually not the case. A couple must learn that each person brings a suitcase full of their “stuff” into the relationship. Frequently, when a couple experiences stress, conflict or discontentment in their relationship, it is because one (or both) of the partner’s stuff is being unpacked and dumped into the couplehood. Couples who are in tune with each other and who continue to seek growth in their relationship will already possess or be able to develop the tools to recognize what is happening. They learn to lean in and help their partner navigate whatever is going on. They will also be able to see how the “stuff” is affecting their relationship, and thus have the opportunity to grow stronger and deepen their bond as a couple. There are times, too, when something happens in a relationship that turns everything upside down. There may be injuries to the couple’s trust. There may be a death. There may be a secret that is revealed. It may also be something that makes one or both members of the partnership question whether the relationship can survive.

Here at Two Spirit, we work with couples who seek support when one of the partners in a relationship comes out as a person who is transgender. When someone in a couple transitions, both individuals AND the relationship experience a transition of sorts as well. Because we are all unique and our relationships are unique, not all that I describe here applies to all couples who are in transition. When one partner decides to come out as transgender, it may or may not be surprising to their partner. Sometimes the partner experiences a feeling of “now this all makes sense” because there have long been signs or their partner has shared some of their feelings about their gender dysphoria. Sometimes it is a shock. Often a partner experiences grief and goes through a process of letting go of the relationship and their partner as they once knew them. The partner can be left with many questions and concerns. Sometimes there needs to be a decision made concerning whether a couple will remain together.

Many couples do remain together after a partner transitions. Familiar dynamics in the relationship often change or are altered. It is common for the partner of the person who is transitioning to experience a temporary change in their role in the relationship. Some partners have reported feeling that they become more of a friend or “expert” advisor on such topics as dressing, clothes, hair, makeup, etc. They find themselves feeling a bit confused, but find that as the transition occurs and their partner experiences comfort and security in their transition, the relationship becomes more stable again. Every couple must navigate and explore the new dynamic and nature of their relationship. The couple must come to terms with a new sexual dynamic in their relationship. Hormone treatment can affect physical sex drive and may interfere with their usual way of sexually satisfying each other. Surgical procedures may alter body parts that were integral to the couple’s lovemaking. Couples may need to explore new or alternative ways to reach climax or sexual satisfaction. These conversations may be difficult or uncomfortable. It is very important for couples who remain together to develop ways to dialogue about all aspects of their partner’s transition, their relationship and themselves. Couples counseling is a great way for a couple to navigate these challenging times. We are here to help. Two Spirit Health Services also offers a group for partners of transgender people. Our next group is scheduled for Saturday, April 29th from 10:30am to Noon. Partners will be welcome to join us afterwards for lunch at a location to be determined. For more information or if you would like to join us, please email me at

Texting: The De-Evolution of Human Communication

With many of the couples that I work with, one of the primary themes is miscommunication. Couples will often come to therapy for that very purpose: to learn how to better communicate. And while I definitely have some higher-level tricks up my sleeve to deal with conflict, decision making, and parenting (among other things) there is one very basic rule that I often ask couples to start using: stop having important conversations via text. In fact, stop using texting to do anything more than the simplest of things: last minute grocery items, checking in during the day, the occasional dirty text to keep the flame alive- you get my drift.

So many of the essential pieces of human communication are completely lost in text. Tone, intonation, emphasis, and often little mistakes (like grammar or punctuation errors) can change the entire message behind a text. For example, you could interpret the following sentence seven different ways depending on which word you emphasize:

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I never said she stole my money.

I don’t know about your phone, but as smart as my phone is, it still can’t underline, italicize or embolden my texts, and if it could… well, that sounds like a lot of work, and still misses the point. If one brief sentence can be interpreted seven different ways, imagine how much room for misinterpretation there is in all of the texts we send each other on a daily basis. Many of the arguments I hear couples get into involve at least one or more misinterpreted text messages. This goes back to a topic I’ve discussed in my earlier blogs: assumption and ascribing intention. If you shouldn’t make assumptions about your partner’s feelings or intentions from what they say verbally, then you absolutely should not be doing it with what they say in text.

I’m guessing that each of us can probably think of at least one (or many) time(s) when something that we have said in text has been taken completely differently from how we intended it, and we had no idea how that happened. And I bet that at least a few times, that’s led to an argument- probably not about the thing we were actually texting about, but about our “attitude” or “tone.” Some of my more high-conflict couples will actually whip out their phones in session to prove to their partner (or to me, but this is rather irrelevant and will result in me redirecting the conversation) what was said. When it’s in text, all bets are off; you don’t get to win an argument based on your assumption of what was meant in a text message that to anyone else in the world might look completely benign.

I understand that texting is a convenient and quick way to communicate with one another, but we live in a society where texting has replaced the art of verbal human conversation, and that’s a problem, especially in long-term relationships where there are more important things going on that deserve more time and energy than texting. Take the time to have those important conversations in person. Agree as a couple what issues should never be discussed via text, and if you’re in a particularly rocky place in your relationship, maybe take texting off the table altogether for a while. Focus on rebuilding communication through genuine human connection, rather than technology.

And no, just because you use emojis doesn’t mean you are conveying your message effectively 🙂

Acceptance and Commitment: Self-Discovery for Those Living with HIV

Although there are many different theories and approaches to counseling and psychotherapy, a common theme across them is a focus on creating change in a client’s life. This change can take as many forms as there are individuals and problems they may face.  We all have things we would like to see become different in our lives, and through a process of self-discovery, we go about making those changes in our own way.

However, as much as we may wish it were otherwise, there are some things in life that we do not have the power to change. With some imagination, steps can be taken to shift the trajectory of one’s life in truly unexpected ways, but there are some things that we may find do not seem to budge. While this outcome may be found in an assortment of challenges, I’m reminded of the stories I’ve heard while working with clients who recently learned they are living with HIV. While building their support and realizing that there is a future, there is still the feeling of “why did this happen?” and “Why are we not yet able to cure HIV?” While advances are being made every day, it is true, as of this writing, that a diagnosis of HIV is not something we can change or remove.

The hope is in finding ways to change our lives in response to those things that we can’t change. One approach for achieving this in the counseling setting is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). While there are many components of this therapy, its value can be demonstrated with the terms within its name: acceptance, and commitment.

Acceptance is achieved through an exploration of what experiences or conditions in life are causing us distress. The idea is to be mindful of these feelings, without attempting to avoid them. Avoidance may seem beneficial, but those feelings catch up to us, and they may be all the more intense if we don’t face them.1 Instead, ACT calls for exploring these feelings through mindfulness, or being able to view them from the perspective of an outsider. After this intensely powerful viewpoint, ACT then involves considering what we value in our lives and what we would like to pursue. In a sense: what do we want to do with ourselves, despite of the thing or things that we can’t change or control? For those who may be struggling with negative feelings in response to HIV, I wonder what opportunities there may be for finding goals and meaning, especially when considering the values these people hold dear to them.
Pursuing the goals that arise from this process of self-awareness is commitment. What values do we continue to uphold, or newly discover, in response to the things we cannot change? Once these are uncovered, we can make a commitment to change what we can.

Thinking of the people living with HIV that I know in my life, I recognize that many of them appear to have gone through something like the processes that ACT describes. Where their diagnosis once made them question what life could have left for them, there is now meaning and purpose that for some, may have never been there before. This is where we can find hope. People can continue pursuing dreams, despite the things we cannot change.

Self-care 101

What is Self-Care?

According to the University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work, “self-care is an essential skill. Self-care refers to activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being. Self-care is necessary for your effectiveness and success in honoring your professional and personal commitment.”


I like to think of self-care as the act of placing your emergency oxygen mask on first in order to have the capacity to help others. Self-care should include being honest about your needs; asking for help and being emotionally open.


How do you practice self-care?

The most important aspect of practicing self-care is identifying and managing your basic needs. This sounds easy; however, many people find that they forget to eat or have difficulty sleeping during periods of stress.  Next, start by checking in with yourself.

The best way to care for yourself is to implement tiny self-care habits every day; regularly including in your life small moments of love, nurturing and attention for your own body and mind. Self-care acts looks different to different people. For some it is the Parks and Recreation “Treat yo self” philosophy or catchphrase. Two of the main characters on the show celebrate the idea that at least once a year, you should take a day to indulge in some luxuries and love yourself. For others, it is unplugging and staying off of social media when the news causes jealousy, sadness, or becomes overwhelming. Either way, it is the constant repetition of many tiny habits, which together soothe you.


In order to help jump start your self-care journey, I have provided a list of small self-care activities.


20 Little Self-Care Ideas

  1. Take a bath or long shower.
  2. Fix a small annoyance; a door that squeaks or a phone charger that only works at a certain angle.
  3. Help someone/volunteer.
  4. Pet a dog, cat or any available domesticated animal.
  5. Date yourself. Spend time alone doing something that recharges you or brings you joy.
  6. Watch the sky- stargaze or cloud watch.
  7. Create a joyful deliberate habit such as singing in the shower.
  8. Do a mini-declutter-organize that junk drawer.
  9. Listen to your favorite song, album or Pandora station.
  10. Unplug for an hour. Turn off all of the electronics.
  11. Edit your social media feeds, and hide or unfollow any negative people.
  12. Have a dance party alone or with willing participants.
  13. Take a nap.
  14. Give your body a treat. A massage, manicure or pedicure.
  15. Go for a walk or run.
  16. Say no. Avoid logistically and emotionally over committing yourself
  17. Prepare your favorite snack or meal.
  18. Paint, draw, or craft.
  19. Meditate or pray.
  20. Play a game you enjoyed during your childhood.



“Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world. ”

– Lucille Ball



Start Somewhere

As 2016 came to an end, an audible sigh of relief could be heard on social media. All of the shootings, the political chaos, the loss of so many beloved musicians and actors – left us feeling like we’d spent the last year in a hornets’ nest. Our community in Orlando, particularly the LGBT, is still reeling from this past year.

In many ways, we are all hurting. We are all affected. Even if you’re someone who has been managing your depression, anxiety, or stress, it can still be a challenge to keep your head above water in such trying times. So what do you do if you find yourself in that position?

To start, think about where you are right now and take it from there. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory commonly presented in the shape of a pyramid. It helps determine what a person’s needs are based on physiology/basic needs, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Those placed in basic needs or safety, like many after the year of 2016, are in what is known as “survival mode.

Physiology/basic needs include food, water, warmth, and rest/sleep. If you’re not eating or are losing significant amounts of sleep, you need to start there. For loss of appetite, try eating smaller amounts of food, more times a day. I like to keep foods around that are easily accessible. I think about my friends who have young children and how they often keep snack bags in their purse with Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, or breakfast bars. It’s more realistic that you’ll eat whatever it is if it’s not something you have to prepare or go somewhere to get it.

For issues with sleep, try thinking about what you might be doing (or not doing) to contribute to that. Electronics are stimulants. Engaging with your phone, tablet, or laptop before bed could cause you to lose sleep. Watching TV in bed or drinking lots of caffeine can interrupt sleep as well. Try trading out coffee and soft drinks with warm decaf tea with milk. Instead of catching up on your favorite show, try reading a book before bed.

Another consideration is whether or not you are being safe. Some people in crisis mode turn to self-harming behaviors such as cutting, drinking too much, or turning to drugs. Some can even become dissociative, blacking out while driving or not remembering whole hours. At this point, you will want to build a strong support system and seek professional help.

Lastly, remember that you are not alone. We’ve all been there at some point. Take this time to reach out to your friends. Think about simple things like taking a hot bath or going on a long walk. At Two Spirit, we have a medical and mental health clinic, set in a friendly and relaxing environment, here to help you. Healing takes time so you have to be patient with yourself, understand that it is a process, and just do SOMETHING. Start Somewhere.

Religion in Therapy

I had a conversation with my father the other day where he asked me about alternatives to therapy for those who would prefer a more religious route. This question confused me, as I don’t believe that religion and therapy are mutually exclusive, any more than I believe that one is necessary for the other.

As a former practicing Catholic, I understand the desire to engage in a faith-based approach to healing; faith is often what keeps a person grounded and gives them hope for better things and that they serve a great purpose and/or entity. Many therapists practice faith-based therapy, and intertwine their personal religious beliefs into their work with clients. Many clients seek out therapists whose religious beliefs and/or practice coincide with their own. When the clinician and the client are on the same page, it works. When they are not, it doesn’t go so well.

I have had many clients over the years tell me that they’ve had therapists in the past who have tried to push a religious approach when it was not welcome. My stance as a therapist when it comes to things like this is based in the teaching of Carl Rogers. He said that there are three attributes needed to form a healthy therapeutic alliance. The first is congruence, which necessitates that the therapist be authentic with their clients by letting them see that although they are an expert in their field, they are human and have struggled, too. This facilitates the second, which is accurate empathy, or the ability to sense and understand the client’s world and their experiences in it, while refraining from judgement. That lack of judgment leads to the third principle, which is unconditional positive regard. It is not the therapist’s job to approve or disapprove of the client or their choices, and by expressing unconditional positive regard, the therapist expresses a complete lack of judgement and creates an environment of acceptance.

In my experience, those who advocate religion to others sometimes do so because they feel that religion will provide some moral compass that they believe the other person lacks, which is based in judgment. That’s not the only reason, but even when that’s not the intention, it is often the received message. But that’s not our role as therapists. If you are not interested in faith-based therapy, most therapists (whether they specialize in faith-based counseling or not) will do one of two things: proceed with the type of therapy best suited to your needs or refer you to someone who can. Same goes if you’re looking for faith-based therapy.

My personal practice in regards to religion in therapy is this: I don’t bring up religion until my client does. I don’t advocate my personal views to the client. If they express that they believe something particular, I ask about it. If it is a religion I’m unfamiliar with, I learn about it. Even if it is one I feel well-versed in, I do my best to learn from my client what their beliefs are and work within those. Often, religion never comes up at all. And although I personally do not currently ascribe to any particular religion, I govern my life and my practice by this simple rule: let he among us without sin be the first to condemn.

David and Goliath

Like most of you I, was devastated after the results of the election because it felt as though the majority of the country voted to spread hatred. I felt angry and stifled because as a member of many minority communities it felt like I was being forced to assume the role of underdog; a role that is assumed to be less than.  As I was thinking about the plight of the underdog, I remembered this quote from one of my favorite authors:

“Much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty…we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might oth­erwise have seemed unthinkable.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book all about the role of the underdog called David and Goliath. In the book he examines what happens when normal people challenge influential opponents, including mighty warri­ors, armies, misfortune, oppression, and disability. Through many stories Gladwell presents the idea that much of what we believe to be valuable during these great battles is insignificant because “the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.” Gladwell illustrates this by challenging the role David plays in the story of David and Goliath.

For those who are not familiar, the story of David and Goliath is a biblical story of a gigantic and mighty warrior being defeated by a young shepherd boy.

Gladwell challenges this idea by explaining that though David was no match for Goliath in traditional hand to hand combat; he was able to succeed because he knew when to employ the talents and skills he had learned guarding his sheep.

As we face an uncertain future, it is more important than ever that we understand our natural gifts and strengths and spend time nurturing those skills. We must also remember our strengths as a community have always included our sense of unity through diversity, individual intelligence, creativity, courage, movement, endurance, our ability to unite, share hope and our determination to continue to try harder. As with all minorities in this society, we have been strengthened by decades of strife and are better and more capable because of it.



Common Mistakes Couples Make

As human beings, we engage in patterns. No two humans’ patterns are exactly alike, but there is a great deal of overlap and many similarities to be found, particularly in relationships. What I’ve found through much of my couples’ work is that often we perpetuate patterns that are more hurtful to our relationships than they are helpful, and many of those hurtful patterns are not exclusive to any one couple. Here are some common mistakes I see couples make, along with some helpful tips:

  1. You think the goal is to win. I hate to break it to you, but you don’t get to win anymore. I tell couples that all the time: if you’re “winning” that means the person you love the most is “losing.” How exactly is that productive? I like to use my co-worker Danny Adam’s analogy for this: you’re not on opposing teams, you’re on the same team. You may have two different strategies for how to win the game, but you’re trying to win TOGETHER from the same side.
  2. You aren’t touching each other enough. If you’re having constant or reoccurring conflict, I guarantee you’re not touching each other anywhere near as much as you should. Touch is something that we need as infants and children in order to feel soothed and safe; that doesn’t go away in adulthood. We need the touch of those we love to feel connected, and touch facilitates the production of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Hold hands more, kiss more, hug more, sit closer together on the couch, cuddle before you fall asleep. The conflict won’t necessarily go away, but it’s a lot harder to be mean to someone by whom you feel soothed.
  3. You think your perception is the ONLY perception. Have you ever had the experience with your partner where you feel like you each remember something that happened completely differently? That’s because it you experienced it differently. Each partner filters the things that happen during a disagreement through different emotions, body sensations, timing, etc. Of course your recollections won’t be the same. But don’t get caught up in the details. It isn’t important if you were 15 minutes late or 30, or if it happened two weeks ago or three. Each person has their own version of events, and both are valid because they remember that event through their own filters. Focus on the solution, don’t get caught up in the minor details of the problem.
  4. You think your partner hates/doesn’t want you because they say mean things during conflict. Sometimes, we hurt those we love to see if the hurtful things that we say and do will actually cause damage, because if those things do cause damage, that means the other person still wants and loves us and that is somehow reassuring. Human beings aren’t perfect by any means; put us in a relationship, and we’re that much more likely to be seriously flawed. Of course the mean things we say to each other hurt, they’re usually meant to. Trying to see your partner as hurt and scared rather than hateful can change the way you respond to one another.

Fear- the ultimate superpower

When I was eight, I earned the privilege of watching a movie alone in my room; I chose Ernest Scared Stupid. The beginning of the movie was filled with the funny, silly humor I loved the Ernest franchise for.  However, by the middle of the movie, things had taken a turn for the worst; the trolls were winning and Ernest’s sidekick had been turned into a small wood figurine. Worst yet, Ernest had no idea how to fix it. I was hiding under my blankets completely terrified with my heart pounding and unable to catch my breath. As the movie continued, it felt like it was taking hours for Ernest to figure out how to stop the trolls, though I knew it couldn’t have taken that long because my mom never would have let me stay up past 9pm. Eventually, Ernest saved the day and turned his friend back into a real human, which meant all was right in the world. That was until I got out of bed to use the bathroom and remembered I had a collection of 20-30 troll dolls, which thanks to the movie, I was now afraid would come to life and try to turn me into a wooden figurine.  This was the first time in my life that I realized that something seemingly normal could turn into something scary.  Since the Pulse massacre, many people have experienced this feeling; atmospheres where they once found solace, now elicit feelings of worry and fear, such as, going out with friends. Many of my client’s tell me that they feel like “fear is winning.”


So what is fear?


Fear is also the most crippling of emotions because it is seated in our natural instinct to protect ourselves and those we care about from perceived harm. Generally speaking, our fears fall into two categories: Innate fears and learned fears.  Innate fears are fears we are born with, primarily the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds.  Learned fears are fears which are usually developed at a young age and are often influenced by our environment and culture. Most fears fall into the category of learned fears, for example, evil enchanted troll dolls.


I am a Whovian, which means that I am a fan of the BBC TV show Doctor Who. There are many reasons I love the show, but one of the main reasons is that the hero is a humanoid alien, who above all else, believes that that the human race is intrinsically good. Because of that belief he often questions beliefs about human nature, which provided the best description of fear I have ever come across:


“Let me tell you about scared. Your heart is beating so hard I can feel it through your hands. There’s so much blood and oxygen pumping through your brain, it’s like rocket fuel. Right now you could run faster and you could fight harder. You could jump higher than ever in your life. And you are so alert it’s like you can slow down time. What’s wrong with scared? Scared is a superpower. It’s your superpower. There is danger in this room and guess what? It’s you. Do you feel it?”


For me, this description of fear serves as a reminder that in the moments, when we feel most weak or vulnerable, we are also strong because we are accessing the greatness within ourselves. Fear is not our adversary; it is simply, one of the means by which we activate our superpowers. Thinking about fear in terms of it’s function helps us to feel less out of control of our bodies and our minds. I wish I could go back in time and explain this to my 8 year old self, because it would have eliminated the thought that I was broken because something I loved had literally become the thing nightmares are made of. Lucky for me, this particular fear was short-lived and approximately a month later, I was back in troll heaven.

Are You a Candidate for Hair Removal?

I’m so excited to be writing my first blog entry about my profession. For those of you who know me, you know this is something I’m truly passionate about. I love helping people feel better about themselves! For those who don’t, let me tell you a little about myself and why I am passionate about what I do. I am a single mom of 4 amazing sons. One is married and lives in Winter Springs and the other 3 live with me. I haven’t always had a lot of confidence. I have rosacea and have always been extremely self-conscious about my skin. To top it off, I have extremely sensitive skin. We live in such an appearance-driven society, that anything different or out of the ordinary can make you feel like you just don’t belong. I knew I wanted to get into the medical field and choosing a profession where I’m helping people feel better about themselves just seemed like a natural fit for me.

The lasers of today sure have come a long way. You no longer have to have pale skin and dark hair to have a successful laser treatment. Lasers are attracted to melanin, which is contained in all brown and black hair. We can treat all skin colors and ethnicities successfully and safely. For those who have red, blonde, grey or white hair, laser won’t work because those colors don’t contain melanin. There is another option, however. Electrolysis has been around for a long, long time and is what we use to remove hair that the laser cannot. It is needle guided hair removal and is another safe and very effective method of getting rid of unwanted hair.

I always tell my clients to avoid sun exposure one week before and one week after laser treatments because it can cause adverse side effects. There are certain medications which should be avoided when taken in conjunction with laser, so always check with your practitioner before beginning treatments. We will review and go over your medical history before beginning to make sure we discuss any medications which could pose a potential problem.

Whether you’re tired of dealing with unwanted hair or have skin complications from shaving or waxing, you DO have options to help you. I would love to talk to you and help you begin your journey to being hair free!