The Age of Anxiety

Mary Fitzgibbons, Ph.D.

There is no way to escape the ever-rising rate of violence in our society. In 2014, there were at least 21 terrorist attacks around the world with at least 50 people being killed. Today, the names of cities such as Dallas, New Orleans, Ferguson, San Diego, Paris and Munich have more meaning than their geographical location. These names can denote fear, horror and, certainly, anxiety. In the time of globalism, news is reported immediately and extensively. We seem to go from one 24 hour coverage of a disaster to another. Media access brings worldwide events very close to children in the form of television, the Internet and social media.

We as adults find the daily news often overwhelming. However, have we considered the effects on our children of intrusive and unedited images which portray extreme acts of violence? Adults are better equipped to deal with the physical and emotional effects of these images. Children are more vulnerable. Given the intensity and frequency of these violent acts, how threatened are our children in terms of their sense of safety and security? We do know that children do not have the resources to manage the stress response that they may experience when being exposed to excessive and intense amounts of violence. Ten years ago, educators and therapists were concerned about how violent video games were affecting our children. Today the events that they are exposed to are real. Studies have shown that long-lasting effects may result in cognitive issues, such as learning and attention problems, along with emotional symptomology – especially elevated levels of anxiety.

Research shows considerably increased rates of anxiety and depression in the last thirty years. The proportion of teens reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last thirty years from 1 in 30 to 2 in 30 for boys and 1 in 10 to 2 in 10 for girls. Among older students it was reported that 57% of female university students expressed feelings of overwhelming anxiety. Studies show that up to one in four children develop anxiety to the point that it is distressing and disrupting for them. Their feelings become overly intense and uncontrollable.

Beyond the world events, there are other possible causes for this rise in anxiety. Some would say that our young people have too many options and choices. It has been found that people with fewer choices are significantly more resilient. They have more parameters. They have more boundaries. Children are told that they can become anything they want in today’s world. Yet we see more and more older teens struggling with making basic life and career choices. There may be too many choices.

Stress levels can also be triggered by the growth and intrusion of technology. A 2014 study by Baylor University in Waco, Texas, found that female students in America spend an average of ten hours on their phone a day. For male students it was eight. Young people today have to “brand” themselves as opposed to “being” themselves. This factitious life results in emotional isolation which is one of the major causes for anxiety and depression. Technology can teach children that contact with others is accomplished superficially, with a lack of depth, and little longevity. The work of therapists in the future will be teaching today’s children how to emotionally connect with others. The lack of connection lays the groundwork for anxiety.

The seeds for worrying often lie with parental behaviors that help create or exacerbate the child’s feelings. Over-involvement is one way that a parent can convey his or her anxiety to the child. For example, over-anxious parents will tend to be much more intrusive than a parent who is not overly anxious. The parent’s anxiety is telling the child that there is something to be worried about. It also tells the child that she may not be capable of completing the work or task acceptably. Eventually, it has the effect of diminishing a child’s confidence. The message is: “I must not be capable enough to do this on my own.” With good intentions, parents want to anticipate a child’s fears by trying to protect him or her. In reality, they are exacerbating the problem. Even on a social basis, it has been found that parental social anxiety should be considered a risk factor for childhood anxiety. Children can take on the stress of the parent. While there may be a genetic component to childhood anxiety, we know that there certainly are environmental factors. The good news is that the environmental factors can be addressed. Let’s look at how we can help our children feel safe and competent. This is the antidote to anxiety:

  • In order to keep children from experiencing anxiety, they cannot be under- or overprotected. Both neglectful parenting, wherein basic needs are not met, and helicopter parenting, wherein the child is parented to a degree that inhibits independent growth, will create more anxiety. When children are not watched over when there is a need, and they are not given basic boundaries or emotional resources, their world becomes unsafe. On the other hand, when children are overly protected, they don’t develop an inner sense of security that says that, “In general, my world is safe.”
  • Be cautious in helping children avoid the things of which they are afraid, especially when they are capable of facing these issues. If they avoid facing problems because of anxiety, this will alleviate the issue in the short run, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run. We can help our children get through these difficult times by providing them with reassurance and extra emotional support by letting them discuss their fears. However, we do them no favors by doing the task for them or protecting them from the experience.
  • We need to be aware that our children can take on our anxiety. Parents must find the balance between being able to share their concerns and feelings and not placing their anxiety on their children. Parents must address their own feelings before they can help children understand and label their feelings. Therefore, when parents know that they are experiencing their own fears, they need to obtain help in relieving and dealing with their emotional reactions. Most importantly, this will have the secondary effect of protecting one’s children.
  • We need to help our children understand that they are ultimately responsible for the course of their lives. The workings of the outside world certainly can have their effects on every one of us. However, we each have the ability to maintain our own sense of control and sense of self-governance. Our parental work is to help our children believe that they have the power to make choices and control the outcomes of their life. This means either their success or their failure. They need to understand that they can influence the events of their lives through their decisions and efforts. This will give them a healthy and strong sense of self. When we allow them to make age-appropriate decisions and then truly experience the consequences of those decisions, without our rescuing them, they learn that their decisions largely control the outcomes in their lives.
  • Lastly, if we or our children continue to feel overwhelmed by anxiety, then therapy is a very appropriate option in resolving it. We need to remember that, left unchecked, the problem generally becomes exacerbated. Anxiety is the most common psychological problem. However, it does need to be addressed.

In this “Age of Anxiety,” we may not have control over outside forces impacting our world. But what we can do for ourselves and our children is develop within us a sense of empowerment. This is accomplished by being conscious of the decisions that we make and not avoiding those issues that we find anxiety-provoking. Our goal is to help our children live healthy and full lives, even though the world around them is not always safe.

Mary FitzgibbonDr. Mary Fitzgibbons is a licensed psychologist and has been the Director of West County Psychological Associates since 1986. Dr. Fitzgibbons created Comprehensive School Services, which provides consulting services and counseling to students, parents, administrators, and staff. In addition to her clinical practice, she has worked extensively with many public and private school systems in regard to dysfunctional families and at-risk children.

In this issue:

The Age of Anxiety
Mary Fitzgibbons

Fall Seminars at WCPA

Custody Evaluations Available

Why Self-Love is Anything But Selfish
Cari McKnight

Homebound Adults, Anxiety, and the 24-Hour News Cycle
Amy Neu

For Schools:
Understanding the Legalities around Divorcing Parents
Jennifer Van Luven
Guilt: Not Just for Caregivers
Katie Taggart

Meet Our Professional Staff: pictures and bios of WCPA’s therapists and consultants

Fall Seminars at West County Psychological Associates

Cultural Competency: Equip Yourself to Teach Children Whose Culture or Ethnicity Differs from Your Own
Friday, September 9th, 2016 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. | $85
Presented by Donna Garcia, M.A., M.S.
To Register:

One of the greatest challenges schools and educators face is working with and reaching culturally and ethnically diverse students. To meet this challenge, we must become culturally competent professionals. This means that we are aware of our personal assumptions, actively attempting to understand worldviews of culturally diverse populations, actively developing and practicing appropriate strategies and skills in working with culturally diverse students, and advocating on behalf of the students with whom we work. Becoming culturally competent is an aspirational, continuous process.

Topics Covered Include:

  • What is Cultural Competency?
  • Who am I?
  • Assumptions and Stereotypes
  • The Baggage We Bring
  • Microaggressions
  • Implicit Bias
  • Cultivating Relationships with Diverse Learners
  • Working with Diverse Families
  • The School Culture

Dealing with Helicopter Parents: Realistic and Effective Responses to Today’s Difficult Parents
Friday, October 14th, 2016 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. | $85
Presented by Amy Maus, MSW, LCSW
To Register:

In our own childhoods, our parents did not take ownership of our schoolwork. They did not check our grades daily and they did not angrily call our teacher when we received less than an A. Often, they didn’t have a clue what our homework was at all. They just expected us to do it. When we got in trouble at school, we got in trouble at home. Our parents did not take sides with us against our classroom teachers, and it did not matter if we said we were bored or the teacher picked on us or the other guy started it. We were to behave, listen, and mind the teacher. Today’s parents are undeniably different.

Topics Covered Include:

  • The Behavior of Helicopter Parenting: hovering, enabling, rescuing, handicapping
  • The Causes of Helicopter Parenting: from the self-esteem movement to cell phones, the world’s longest umbilical cord
  • The Consequences of Helicopter Parenting: consequences for kids, parents, schools and workforces
  • The School’s Participation in Helicopter Parenting: how today’s school practices often make the problem worse
  • The School’s Response to Helicopter Parenting: many, many words, policies, and strategies to use

OCD in the Classroom: A Seminar for School Professionals
Friday, October 28th, 2016 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. | $45
Presented by Diane M. Prost, M.Ed., NCC, LPC
To Register:

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a neurobiological disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted and unpleasant thoughts or images (obsessions) and repetitive, ritualistic behaviors that a person feels driven to perform (compulsions). What happens when you see symptoms of OCD? Knowing the facts about OCD builds empathy, explains unusual behaviors in class and home, and helps school educators identify symptoms. This workshop is geared towards teachers, school counselors and social workers, and school administrators who wish to gain more information about OCD.

Topics Covered Include:

  • Familiarization of causes, signs and symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Discussion of techniques to handle students with obsessions and compulsions
  • Explanation of treatment techniques that therapists use and how school personnel can support

NOTE: All seminars are also available on-site at your school or organization. Call the WCPA office for more information or to schedule: (314) 275-8599.

West County Psychological Associates Provides Custody Evaluations in St. Louis and the Surrounding Areas

Custody evaluations are used in high conflict divorce cases where custody is disputed by both parties. WCPA’s custody evaluations exceed the guidelines set forth by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.

Evaluations will consist of a minimum of the following:

  • Interviews with children, parents and/or other household members
  • Contact with collateral sources
  • Review of documents and other appropriate written information
  • Diagnostic measures
  • A written report with recommendations that will address all major concerns

Tests Performed:

  • Parent Perception of Child Profile: An extensive portrait of a parent’s knowledge and understanding of a specific child. Assesses the degree to which a parent’s perceptions: (1) are accurate (2) compare to other sources (3) reflect genuine interest in a child. This tool also assesses the Irritability Potential of a parent toward a specific child.
  • Perception of Relationships Test: A data-base test that measures how close a child feels to each parent, and the positive and negative impacts of each relationship. It was normed on children as young as 3 years old. This test specifically measures: (1) the degree to which a child seeks psychological “closeness” with each parent and (2) the types of action tendencies (assertive, aggressive, etc.) the child has developed in order to interact with each parent. This test is specifically designed for custody evaluations.
  • Bricklin Perceptual Scale: Unique data-base test measures the child’s perception of his or her parents in five major areas: Competence, Follow-up, Consistency, Supportiveness, and Possession of Admirable Personality Traits.
  • Parent Awareness Skills Survey: This survey reflects the sensitivity and effectiveness with which a parent responds to typical child care situations. It pinpoints parental awareness of: (1) critical issues in a given situation, (2) adequate solutions, (3) the need to communicate in terms understandable to the child, (4) the desirability of acknowledging a child’s feelings, (5) the importance of child’s past history in the present circumstances and (6) the need to pay attention to how the child is responding in order to fine-tune one’s responses.
  • Discipline Index: Systematically obtains information from a child about his or her overall perception of each parent’s discipline style and practices. Its non-verbal responses spare the child both loyalty conflicts as well as the need to verbalize directly negative statements about each parent. This makes it suitable for use in cases covering an exceptionally broad range of issues, and an exceptionally broad range of ages. This index uses the same scale as the Bricklin Perceptual Scale.

Types of evaluations:

  • Full – requires a retainer of $2,000 from each party prior to the initial interview. Full evaluations are comprehensive in nature. Full evaluations on average require 15-20+ hours of time
  • Focused – requires a $1,500 retainer from each party. Focused evaluations will be of a more narrow scope, on one particular topic or area of concern. Focused evaluations on average require 12-18+ hours of time.

Rate for Evaluation: $175 per hour, including time spent conducting evaluations, writing reports, and testifying at depositions and trials.

Jennifer Van LuvenEvaluations conducted by Jennifer Webbe VanLuven, MSW, LCSW, CDM. Jennifer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 20 years’ experience in the field of mental health. Jennifer has extensive training in family law and court room procedure. She has served as a forensic interviewer and a Deputy Juvenile officer. Jennifer’s private practice has been focused in the area of mediation and high conflict families who are currently or have been in transition.

Why Self Love is Anything but Selfish

Cari McKnight, MSW, LCSW

When many of us hear the words “self-love,” we immediately have a negative connotation… we start thinking of that woman who is posting a new glamorous selfie every day… or we think of the narcissistic guy who and acts like he thinks that he is better than everyone around him. We have all heard that we should “just love ourselves” so many times. Yet we tune it out, thinking that we don’t want to be that self-centered woman or that arrogant guy.

But what most of us don’t understand is that there is an enormous difference between being selfish or narcissistic and actually practicing self-love. In fact, when we truly love ourselves well, we tend to act far less selfishly than someone who doesn’t love themselves. Narcissism, a word that is quickly becoming a household term, is not a healthy self-love – it is characterized by an excessive interest and preoccupation with one’s self, combined with a general disregard for others and a lack of empathy. Being overly narcissistic is highly detrimental to both one’s self and to close relationships; the narcissist’s inability to look in the mirror and or truly understand another’s position cripples intimacy and love.

Self-love, on the other hand, is not a bad word. If we want to lead a fulfilling, happy life, and to get unstuck from the negative places we find ourselves, self-love is IMPERATIVE. Without self-love, we have nowhere to put the love or the good things that come our way. We end up sabotaging opportunities, feeling we don’t deserve things (and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy), resenting our loved ones…and in the end, just plain unhappy.

What is self-love, really? Self-love is not a destination – it is a practice, just like brushing our teeth. For many of us, it takes effort, attention, and mindful attempts to incorporate these practices into our lives, especially if we grew up not being shown how to do this. Let’s discuss some of the biggest ways that we can start practicing self-love.

  • First of all, self-love is practicing good self-care – making sure we eat right, get enough sleep, creating the space to exercise/do a hobby/maintain friendships, etc. These things sound so basic, but if we think about it, we can’t function well if these things are not happening on a regular basis. We may try to convince ourselves that we don’t need these things. We may feel guilty when we take 30 minutes to go take a run, or when we spend 15 minutes catching up with a dear friend, but ultimately, we are a better parent, partner, and friend when we do. Let’s face it – when we don’t do these things, we very often become irritable, impatient, and even resentful.
  • Another key component to self-love is having healthy boundaries. Boundaries are filters – they allow us to say what is ok and what is not ok. We don’t allow anyone and everyone in to our inner sanctum. We move slowly with people to find out who we can trust, before we repeatedly invest in people who are likely to harm us. We draw lines in the sand and stand by them; we recognize abusive behavior and don’t tolerate it. We know that trying to change someone who is living in a toxic way is pointless, so we are able to extricate ourselves and wish the other person well. We wish them healing and love at their core, but know that we CAN’T love them hard enough to change them.
    We know to treat ourselves well, we know what we deserve, and we don’t allow others to beat down and break our spirit. We walk away when necessary to preserve our soul and spirit. And while we can always forgive and walk away with love, we need to be more selective about with whom we reconcile (there is a big difference). Many of us struggle with boundaries because we feel that having boundaries interferes with our ability to be a kind, loving, good person. But being a good person has nothing to do with letting other people destroy us. We can best help people from a position of strength, and that strength is challenged when we are surrounded by people who are harmful to us. It is our right and responsibility to make good decisions for ourselves. We can always love others, but sometimes, it is best done from afar. Boundaries help us protect ourselves, and the relationships we hold most dear, from the toxicity that is around us.
  • Another aspect to self-love is investing the time and energy in ourselves to really deal with our core issues (childhood issues, baggage from prior relationships, fears, insecurities, etc.) If we don’t invest in ourselves enough to address these concerns and learn to come to terms with them, or gain an inner peace, they will follow us around everywhere. They will negatively affect our relationships and come back to haunt us every time we try to love another. Unresolved issues always rear their ugly heads when we most want to love someone and, unfortunately, we end up sabotaging things we really want. These issues can be addressed in many ways, but sometimes people need therapy to get through and fully healed. It can be a very worthwhile investment for people who need to do this self work (but were never given the tools to do so).
  • Yet another core aspect to self-love is showing ourselves grace and forgiving ourselves. We recognize that we are imperfect and accept ourselves and our flaws. We can admit our weaknesses and look in the mirror to try to improve what we want to change. But we don’t beat ourselves up – no self-hatred or shaming. We are kind and forgiving to ourselves (and in turn, tend to be better able to exhibit this positive behavior towards others). We look for good in ourselves and value our strengths and, likewise, tend to then be able to see it in others. We are less judgmental because we have full capacity for empathy… we give empathy to ourselves, and again, this naturally translates to our ability to give it to others. Research supports that those who do not self-love tend to fall into one of two camps: they either tend to treat others badly (as a reflection of how they view themselves), or they allow themselves to be treated badly (as they feel that is all they deserve). We reflect what we feel inside, one way or another.

Practicing self-love essentially fuels good self-esteem. Self-esteem is essential to having healthy, positive, long term relationships. When we have good self-esteem, we basically respect ourselves. When we self-love, we tend to surround ourselves with healthy people who uplift us and make us better, instead of people who drain us and tear us down; we believe that we deserve good things, and don’t settle for less. We don’t need to overcompensate – we don’t need to be showy, or brag – because we believe we are good at the core and don’t need constant reassurances from everyone else to believe it. Yes, our self-esteem is initially shaped from others (often our parents), but eventually, when we have established good self-esteem in our deepest corner of our inner self, we are less dependent on the opinions of others. We don’t need to be “people pleasers.” We don’t let ourselves be walked on or taken advantage of to try to gain approval. We are no longer codependent – which ends up being toxic and harmful to everyone involved. We can allow ourselves to be interdependent with others… that healthy balance of dependency and independence (and the sweet spot for a healthy relationship to thrive).

But here’s what’s interesting… when we have good self-esteem and no longer feel the need to be a people pleaser, we are finally able to really please and love a person. But, it is born out of WANTING and being ABLE to please and share, not out of a desperation for them to love us and give us validation to make us feel good (which is temporary and short-lived). We can finally give others what they really need vs aching for them to fill our voids, and it never being enough. We end up being less selfish because we are reflecting the good that is inside us. And, ironically enough, we are also less likely to act narcissistic – because if we are more secure at our core, we have less need to self-aggrandize. To put it simply, if we do not have self-love, we tend to act even more narcissistic and more selfishly than someone who, in fact, loves themselves well.

While we are all intimately connected in this world, there is a deep corner in each of us which is the self, which only we can touch. We are, as children, shaped to have a good self-esteem and taught how to love that self…or we are not. In those instances where we were not modeled good self-love, we need to address that as an adult by investing in learning to self-love. Others may try to help us, or try to save us from ourselves, but they will fail, and we will likely resent them for trying. If we are unable to practice self-loving behaviors on our own, good therapy can help us uncover the reasons that we may be unable to practice self-love. Therapy can teach us how to not only cognitively understand self-love, but can also allow us to unlock the emotional barriers that we may not even be aware of. We can’t have a healthy self without healthy attachment and connection (either from parents, loved ones, or a therapist). Likewise, we can’t create new healthy connections if we don’t love ourselves. It is the old adage about the chicken and the egg… both are intertwined, one can’t exist without the other.

At first glance, self-love can sound selfish and narcissistic, but it really is quite the opposite. Instead of rolling your eyes the next time you hear the phrase “love yourself,” try to consider that practicing self-love is actually the birthplace of altruism and kindness, and not narcissism at all. It is the only path to both giving and receiving the love and good opportunities that come into our lives. And, ultimately, isn’t that what we all want?

Cari McKnightCari McKnight, MSW, LCSW received her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in private therapy for couples, individuals and families dealing with relationship/interpersonal difficulties and is passionate about helping others create balance and happiness in their lives.

Homebound Adults, Anxiety, and the 24-Hour News Cycle

Amy Neu, MSW, LCSW

A large part of my practice with older adults involves making home visits for my clients who are homebound, elderly, and relatively isolated in their communities. I love visiting them in their home environment; I am able to walk into their world and quickly gauge how they are feeling and functioning. Over the past few months I have been noticing that my homebound clients have wanted to discuss their anxiety and fears related to the news, particularly the elections and worldwide terror attacks, as soon as I walk in the door. After several minutes of talking about the news and exploring and expressing their emotions, then they are ready to focus on their lives and therapy. However, throughout the session, the topic of news and their uncertainties of the future will often surface again.

I consulted with my colleagues that also conduct home visits, and they reported similar experiences with their homebound clients. It seems, in fact, that many Americans are concerned, anxious, or afraid of all that is happening in our political system and around the world. Dr. Mary Fitzgibbons writes about this phenomenon and how our constant connection is increasing parents’ anxiety and affecting their children in her article in this newsletter. However, our homebound clients face the additional disadvantages of isolation and physical or mental debility, which can further feed into their anxiety for several reasons.

First, there is often less environmental stimulation at home for them to redirect their energy onto something positive. Next, many homebound clients already struggle with feelings of loss of control and safety at baseline. They find themselves in a position where they are unable to fully rely on themselves to meet their needs. As they watch the daily turbulence unfold on television, one of their few windows to the outside world, this can further undermine their sense of safety and security, ultimately feeding their anxiety.

Additionally, most individuals who are homebound do not have the same access to talk with other people about the news, their fears, or the impact the news is having on them. Without an outlet to discuss and process their emotions, it becomes increasingly difficult for many homebound adults to break their cycle of anxiety alone.

Despite these obstacles to overcome, there are strategies for homebound adults to alleviate their anxiety triggered by negative news. The first tactic is to create, implement, and keep a daily routine. A consistent routine has numerous benefits for older and homebound adults. A basic routine creates structure, fosters a sense of control and security, and ensures that the individual’s needs are being met on a regular basis. Sample schedules for older adults are readily available online and can help caregivers facilitate conversations with their loved ones about their daily needs and routines.

A second tactic is for homebound adults to take breaks away from the television. These breaks can be built into their daily routine or can be taken as needed. It is important for them to disconnect and focus their attention onto something that may reduce tension, foster feelings of self-reliance, and give the brain a break from the stimulation and negativity of the news. This time can be used for any number of activities depending on abilities and interests. Common examples include making a phone call to a loved one, listening to music or a book on tape, tending to a pet or houseplant, reading, or completing self-care tasks or activities of daily living.

If turning off the television entirely is a struggle, a third tactic is to simply change the channel when becoming overwhelmed or feeling stressed out by the news. With so many channels to choose from and the option for many of us to record programs, changing the channel to a light-hearted show can alleviate some of the anxiety that homebound adults experience while watching the 24-hour news cycle. The drawback to this option, however, is that it does not give the brain a chance to disconnect from the stimulation of the television or provide the individual with the time to engage in a potential meaningful activity.

If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, stress, or depression please feel free to contact us to schedule an appointment with a clinical social worker or counselor. Our staff has experience working with individuals throughout the lifespan both in our office and in the community. We look forward to the opportunity to help you and your family.

Amy NeuAmy Neu, MSW, LCSW provides private therapy for adults, families and seniors. She has significant experience counseling seniors, caregivers and families within medical systems and during transitional periods.

For Schools: Understanding Legalities around Divorcing Parents

Jennifer Van Luven, MSW, LCSW, CDM

Jennifer Van LuvenSchools often have the difficult task of navigating the path of divorced parents while still nurturing the student. Developing strong working relationships with children and their families is not always easy, especially if parents are divorced and have a less than cordial relationship. Educators need to be aware of the legalities and the sensitive needs of their families and students. It is the school’s role to cultivate successful relationships and know good practice.

Parenting Plan and Custody Orders: Schools need to have a current copy of the parenting plan for the children on file. The key piece of information in this document outlines who is the custodial parent and who is the residential parent. The custodial parent is the parent to whom all correspondence and primary contact should be directed. If parents share 50/50 custody, then they are both entitled to equal information. The residential parent is the parent that will register the children for public school districts based on their home address.

Contact with Guardian ad Litem: A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is an attorney that is appointed to look after the best interest of the children during legal proceedings. The attorney does not advocate for one parent or the other, they are working for the child or children. Often times a GAL will want input from a child’s school, regarding the children. It is important that any school professional that is contacted speak first with the school’s attorney. In order to air on the side of caution, ask that the GAL send you a copy of the consent form, signed by both parents, before giving the GAL any information on a child, including if the child attends your school.

Calls from a Parent’s Attorney: If a school or teacher is contacted by a parent’s attorney, it is to be handled just as contacts with a GAL. It is essential to have a release of information, signed by both parents, to speak with anyone other than a parent, regarding a child. School personnel should not even confirm the enrollment of a student without this consent.

Receiving a Subpoena: A subpoena is a legal document or order requiring an individual to appear and usually testify in court on a specific date and/or produce documents. One of the simplest ways to handle a subpoena is to get a release of information signed by both parents of the child. If the parents refuse to sign a release, you must contact your school’s attorney to have him or her review the subpoena and give advice on how to proceed. Do not automatically send your records.

Encourage Parents to Focus on their Children’s Best Interests: In meetings with parents, or even in informal conversations, you can help children by discouraging their parents from criticizing, blaming, or denigrating the other parent in front of their children. Children understand that both parents are somehow a part of them, and when a parent is made to look bad, children often feel that they are somehow defective, too. Obviously, the school should never side with one parent against another. School professionals are always “on the child’s side.”

Review Records: Even at the start of a busy school year, it is extremely important to review all students’ files for new custody arrangements or court orders. Without looking through the documents, court orders or parenting plans may be overlooked. It is equally important for office staff, teachers and counselors to have a listing of which child’s parents or guardians or other significant family members may not have access to the child. Otherwise, in our desire to be customer-service oriented and parent friendly, we may inadvertently cross a court order or custody arrangement.

Sole Custody: Just because the courts say one parent has educational/medical rights over a child does not mean that the other parent is to be left uninformed by the school. Offering the other parent the opportunity to receive school mailings or grade reports or even invitations to parent/teacher conferences — with the knowledge of the other parent — helps both parents stay involved. The bottom line for parents is that they both have a child who is receiving an education at your school. One of them has the authority to made decisions for that child. The other one needs to defer to that parent but can still communicate via appropriate channels in acceptable ways with the child’s school.

As with all children: Children experiencing conflict and/or family transition thrive on routine and clear expectations for their behavior. With so many changes in their lives, they may look to their school as a place that provides stability and support. Listen to and accept their feelings, but set limits on behaviors that are unacceptable. Let them know that they are valued through your smiles and positive feedback for their efforts as well as their progress. Children who are in a divorce situation do want to hear about what they do well. Give them opportunities for leadership to build on their strengths.

Guilt… Not Just for Caregivers

Katie Taggart, MSW, LCSW

Most people are familiar with the notion of caregiver guilt. It includes the painful feelings of sadness, anger, and regret that you, as the caregiver, should do more for your loved one, should have more patience, shouldn’t feel the need to “take a break,” etc. What most people don’t usually consider is the guilt experienced by the patient or person with the illness. The feelings of guilt are compounded by feelings of helplessness—the situation cannot be changed no matter how big the effort. The patient is often grieving something that 1) cannot be understood and 2) is not widely recognized as a loss.

Consider the scenario, a young mother and wife diagnosed with a chronic illness. She suddenly goes from being an able-bodied person, the caregiver of her family, an independent adult to being forced to depend on others to complete everyday tasks, such as cooking meals and cleaning the house. She even must depend on her young children to help her throughout the day. She now carries the fear and the guilt that her husband has just been thrust into the “for worse” part of life—and they aren’t even old! Can he handle caring for her for the rest of their lives? Does he want to? She feels guilty that her sweet children have to experience something so stressful. She sees their personalities change and believes it is her fault. Those words, “It’s my fault,” often haunt the patient. It’s my fault we can’t attend family functions. It’s my fault we have so much debt. It’s my fault our life is forever changed. It’s my fault that life will never be the same for anyone…

Imagine if we, as a community, acknowledged these feelings of the patient. Perhaps being sick would not feel so isolating. Perhaps a dialogue would start between the patient and caregiver(s) to discuss their feelings of guilt. Perhaps the feelings would not weigh so heavily on all the individuals. Because feelings of guilt are not only difficult to carry around each day, but they are also invisible.

Some may see this family and think, “Isn’t she lucky that her husband does so much housework and runs errands with the kids?” For them, however, there is no alternative way of life. She would love to be able to stand in the kitchen to make dinner without feeling pain and exhaustion. She dreams about having enough energy to take her kids to practice and help with bedtime routines. She dreams about being able to take care of her family. But this is not their reality! It is widely accepted that it is hard work to be a full-time caregiver. What is not as well recognized is how hard it is to be an individual with a chronic illness.

So how can this guilt be managed? First, it is important to acknowledge the feelings. Ask for help from family and friends. Find someone who will listen without judgment. Forgive yourself—you did not choose this illness or the effects it has on your family.

Set limits. Don’t push yourself to do too much. It is important to listen to your body and let go of unrealistic expectations, as you cannot do it all. Just as there is no one way to be a perfect caregiver, there is also no one way to be a perfect patient. Remind yourself that on a flare day, resting is not “being lazy” or “wasting the day,” it is simply caring for you and RECOVERING! Allowing your body to rest IS, in fact, productive because it is necessary! Think of an athlete and the strain they place on their body… how do they continue on and meet their goals? They institute rest days as part of their training. And this is an acceptable notion. With the recent Olympics, our thoughts tend to be on the athletes much more and the media speaks openly about how the athletes care for their bodies, acknowledging it is crucial to their success.

Why, then, do persons who suffer from chronic illnesses constantly apologize for what cannot be done or for not being productive? Why does the patient constantly feel the need to explain his limitations? Why should something so important be put off for tomorrow when it can easily be done today? One of the biggest obstacles to overcome, as an individual is that selfcare is not selfish! So if you need permission, here it is—take care of yourself. Stop setting higher expectations for yourself than you would for your best friend. In fact, care for yourself as you would for your best friend, spouse, or children. Try changing your inner dialogue. Consider telling yourself, “If I want to heal quickly and effectively, I can only do that today.”

Katie Taggart, MSW, LCSW received her Master’s in Social Work from Saint Louis University and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has extensive experience serving clients with chronic and terminal illness as well as grief and loss. She worked in hospice for 11 years and is comfortable in medical settings. Katie provides private therapy to clients of all ages and enjoys working with both children and adults. She provides on-site counseling to seniors and families throughout the continuum of senior living.

WCPA’s Professional Staff

Mary FitzgibbonMary Fitzgibbons, Ph.D., Director is a licensed psychologist and has been the Director of West County Psychological Associates since 1986. She has worked extensively with many public and private school systems in regard to dysfunctional families and at-risk children. Before beginning her career as a psychologist, Dr. Fitzgibbons was in education for 20 years. In addition to individual and family therapy, she provides numerous presentations to professional groups on issues of children and families.


Murisa GusicMurisa Begic-Gusic, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is a graduate of the School of Professional Psychology at Forest Institute in Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Begic-Gusic provides comprehensive psychological evaluations and psychotherapy for children and adults. She has extensive experience in the area of trauma, substance abuse, crisis intervention, personality disorders, anxiety, autism, and chronic mental illness. She has also taught graduate level courses in clinical psychology.


Kristi CaurothersKristen Carothers, MSW, LCSW received her Master’s degree in Social Work from Washington University and brings twenty years of experience specializing in aiding and guiding children, adolescents and adults. She has practiced in facilities including schools, psychiatric treatment centers, and emergency medicine intake environments. Her areas of focus center on: depression, anxiety, parenting and child behavioral issues, addiction, bipolar disorder, codependency, trauma, grief, and crisis intervention.


Bryan Duckham, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW has over 29 years’ experience in the treatment of depression, anxiety and addictions. He believes that, often, people’s religion and spirituality are essential parts of their recovery and sensitively integrates his clients’ beliefs into treatment. In addition to maintaining his practice at West County Psychological Associates, he is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.


Donna GarciaDonna Garcia, MA, MS has a background in psychology, educational administration, and computer science. She has thirty years of educational experience and she has worked extensively with children of all ages, parents, and school faculty and staff as teacher, principal, and university faculty. She has a particular interest in working with parents who are striving to become better parents and teachers and principals who want to provide healthy learning environments and school cultures for their schools.


Carol WhittierCarol Hall-Whittier, Ed.D. is an experienced educator who has worked in an urban school district as a principal, instructional leader and teacher for over 34 years. She is adept in providing leadership training for principals, staff, and parents. She is especially interested in providing professional development in the areas of transformational leadership; collaborative cultures; literacy learning; and effective use of assessments and evaluations.


Amy MausAmy Maus, MSW, LCSW, Assistant Director specializes in services to schools, providing training to administrators, teachers and parents, consultation within Care Teams and on individual cases, and/or direct intervention with at-risk students. She also leads monthly consultation groups for area school principals and enjoys providing presentations to school-related groups of all sizes. She provides in-office psychoeducational testing services for concerns such as ADHD, anxiety and depression.


Cari McKnightCari McKnight, MSW, LCSW received her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in private therapy for individuals, couples, and families dealing with relationship/interpersonal difficulties. She also provides mental health therapy for issues such as depression and anxiety. She has extensive experience in mental health treatment and is passionate about helping others create balance and happiness in their lives.


Tina MurphyTina Murphy, MA, LPC received her Master of Art in Counseling from Lindenwood University. She has over 15 years of experience in helping children and families deal with social skill issues and difficult behaviors such as ADHD, anxiety, motivational concerns, and depression. Through WCPA, she provides therapy for children, adolescents, adults and families as well as school consultation, on-site clinical services, Care Team consultation, social skill groups and training on a variety of topics.


Amy NeuAmy Neu, MSW, LCSW received her Master’s in Social Work from Washington University. She provides private therapy for adults, families, and seniors who are facing a variety of issues including depression, anxiety, grief, coping with medical issues, and end of life. She has significant experience counseling seniors, caregivers, and families within medical systems and during transitional periods from home through the continuum of senior living communities.


Diane ProstDiane Prost, M.Ed, NCC, LPC received her Master’s in Counseling from the University of Missouri – St. Louis. In addition, she has specialized training in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and leads a monthly OCD support group. Her interests include working with children, adolescents, OCD and anxiety disorders, grief counseling, and group therapy. Diane is fluent in Spanish, and has a strong background working with Latino clients.


Katie Taggart, MSW, LCSW received her Master’s in Social Work from Saint Louis University and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has extensive experience serving clients with chronic and terminal illness as well as grief and loss. She worked in hospice for 11 years and is comfortable in medical settings. Katie provides private therapy to clients of all ages and enjoys working with both children and adults. She provides on-site counseling to seniors and families throughout the continuum of senior living.


Marily Thompson, LCSW - West County Psychological Associates

Marilyn Thompson, LCSW brings 24 years of experience and a wealth of knowledge in serving children, adolescents, adults and seniors. Marilyn offers comprehensive treatment for a wide range of mental health disorders including Depression, Anxiety, Mood Disorder, Disruptive Behavior, ADHD, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse (children and adults), Personality Disorders, Schizophrenia, PTSD, and Attachment Disorders. As appropriate, she provides in-home therapy to seniors and disabled individuals.


Tony TramelliTony Tramelli, MA, PLPC works with individuals, couples, and families on issues including depression, anxiety, grief, behavioral issues, academic problems and issues surrounding marital concerns and family transition. Tony also works with young adults and their parents regarding financial and emotional independence. He provides therapy for issues around technology, including internet pornography and gaming addiction. He also provides presentations and seminars to schools on technology related topics.


Jennifer Van LuvenJennifer VanLuven, MSW, LCSW, CDM Assistant Director provides private therapy dealing with adult issues, depression, anxiety, marital and relationship issues. Jennifer’s private practice has been focused in the area of mediation and high conflict families who are currently or have been in transition. She has extensive experience in family law and courtroom testifying and is a certified Divorce Mediator. Jennifer is trained and skilled in Parent Coordination, Co-Parent Counseling and Custody Evaluations.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt