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Darbi Miller, MS, LMFT – Consult The Expert On Increasing Relational Self-Awareness

For this month’s Consult The Expert interview, we spoke with Darbi Miller, MS, LMFT, one of the marriage and family therapists here at The Center For Treatment Of Mood And Anxiety Disorders. Although she likes working with all ages, she enjoys the dynamic surrounding family and relationships.

“One of my favorite things to work with is increasing clients’ relational self-awareness,” she said. “I also enjoy exploring peoples’ Families of Origin, which is connected to self-awareness from my perspective.” 

What Is Relational Self-Awareness?

I asked her to explain what she means by relational self-awareness. “Family of Origin and self-awareness are related,” she said. “In any experience with another person, relational self-awareness can look like asking ourselves, “What is mine? What is yours? What is ours?”

“We each have our own stories, beliefs, and experiences,” she continued. “Relational self-awareness looks at what each person brings to the table and how this affects the interaction between us. If we are self-aware, we have a compass for ourselves which translates into tolerance. We are able to share our personal values and beliefs and hear the other person’s.”

“If we are not self-aware, our interactions are based in fear. We begin looking for approval or we get defensive because we may feel we will “lose” in some way if we are vulnerable with the other person. When you have self-awareness, however, you can be vulnerable and can create more intimacy in all of your relationships.”

Ms. Miller cited a Harvard study that has followed individuals over an eighty-year period. It found that the quality of our relationships has more impact on our health than even our cholesterol levels. “It turns out that surrounding ourselves with positive, close relationships creates a better sense of community within ourselves, which in turn, has a better health impact,” she said.

We discussed how relational self-awareness can help with anxiety treatment. “With anxiety, behind that is usually fear on a basic level. Our thoughts are powerful. If you can get to the core and understand the fear (how can I feel more connection with myself?), connecting to your body and grounding yourself, allows this to be part of the healing process.”

How Does Family Of Origin Fit In?

Ms. Miller explained how Family of Origin fits into treatment of mood disorders. “We come from our own system that was learned in childhood. This is the Family of Origin,” she said. “This system has patterns, beliefs, and values that we can sometimes see, but sometimes aren’t aware of. We all have a family role – maybe we’re the funny one, the responsible one, or the nurturing one. This role can carry into our adult lives and play out between couples.”

“Sometimes people go into a relationship expecting it to heal their Family of Origin wounds. Although it can happen that a new relationship can be good and healing, if we enter it expecting our partner to instinctively know what we need to heal, that may not be the case and we’re disappointed,” she said. “If you are expecting your partner to heal you, where is this coming from? The answer leads back to relational self-awareness.”

How Do These Concepts Help With Therapy?

I asked how knowing what we bring with us from our Family of Origin can be used to improve our own mood disorders.

“Knowing what you have “inherited” and what you can change can be very empowering,” Ms. Miller said. “You don’t have to operate out of same system you inherited. You have control. The realization that you don’t have to follow the same patterns – and you get to decide – can help with anxiety and trauma.”

“I mainly use this work for people who feel stuck in their life, work, and relationships,” she explained. “During therapy, my approach is always to start at the top. We begin with something action-focused, like behavior organization, and getting back into routines that can have a positive effect on the person’s mood and decrease anxiety.”

“I also use cognitive behavioral therapy to challenge negative thoughts. Taken together, these give people some relief. But if they are still looking for more, this is when we explore other things like Family of Origin and relational self-awareness.”

“When we look into Family of Origin, we can choose to do the work for ourselves and also within the family roles, with siblings and parents. I typically go three levels up within the family to look at the generational dynamic,” she continued. “Doing this work can uncover patterns that influence a person’s mood, narratives, and the core beliefs that influence mood, which can be healing.”

“People want to explore these concepts, but in a safe space,” Ms. Miller said. “So, we balance a safe space with these tools, allowing them to go deeper to uncover the aspects that may be underlying their anxiety, depression, or trauma.”

Have Further Questions?

If you or someone you love have questions or would like further information about treatment for anxiety disorders, the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida, can help. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

About Darbi Miller, MS, LMFT

Darbi Miller is a Licensed registered Marriage and Family Therapist. She has extensive training in Integrative Systemic Therapy however, does not believe one model fits all. Her approach is strength-based, collaborative, holistic, and geared to meet her client’s specific needs and goals. She works to truly understand each client and the systems that surround them. She believes therapy is a courageous step and feels privileged to bear witness to their journey. Through her authenticity, empathy, and compassion, she provides a safe space for exploration. Darbi works to integrate her knowledge into meaningful and collaborative sessions with individuals, couples, and families. Her areas of interest include walk/talk therapy, the mind/body connection, increasing relational self-awareness, high-conflict couples, and full family work. 

She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Michigan State University and a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from Northwestern University, where she received academic distinction. She is also certified as an Eating Psychology Coach and a Prepare/Enrich Facilitator. Darbi has worked in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, university clinics, and in-home. She also published an article in the Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy on conjoint sex therapy.

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Post-Pandemic Social Anxiety: Simple Steps To Start Living Again After Covid

My colleagues and I have noticed a dramatic increase in anxiety and anxiety-related disorders over the past two pandemic years. While apprehension is a typical response during times of strife, as we return to more normal lives, many people have been caught off-guard to realize how uncomfortable they now are in social situations – especially if they were never fearful before.

And for those who were challenged with social anxiety prior to Covid, being distanced from others for two years was a blessing in disguise. They were able to stay in their comfort zones, skip distressing situations entirely, and avoid in-person interactions. Now that everything is changing, they worry about venturing out once again.

But, if we consider that we’ve been fairly sequestered from each other for such a long time, it makes sense that social anxiety is now present in so many people. Although strict social distancing measures were necessary, they helped us feel protected and stay safe, which makes it all the harder to let go and start interacting socially now.

In addition, many people experienced a great deal of trauma, uncertainty and fear during the pandemic. They learned to associate social situations with infection. As a result, they now feel vulnerable around others, and those helpless feelings will be hard to shake as the pandemic moves into the endemic stage.

Is It Normal That I Feel Anxious After The Pandemic?

Some emotional aspects of social anxiety involve perceived feelings of judgment and disapproval by others. Physical signs include sweating, a racing heart, difficulty concentrating, and feeling nauseous. For many, simply thinking about going out socially could bring on any of these symptoms or a combination of them.

Superficial differences also contribute to social anxiety, especially now. Some people have already dropped Covid protocols, but others will continue to hold tightly to safety measures, like mask-wearing and standing away from people. Consequently, those who don’t do the same may feel judged for their own relaxed standards.

For example, if they go to a social event unmasked, they may spend the entire time feeling extremely anxious around those who are wearing one. They might become nauseous or break out in a cold sweat when interacting with a masked person – even if they are surrounded by family or friends.

They may also have problems concentrating or focusing on conversations. Feeling confident in themselves could seem next to impossible when they are convinced that everyone is staring at them.

If this happens often enough or their reaction is strong enough, their anxiety might cause them to avoid social situations entirely. While doing so brings short-term relief, continuing to evade people over time can lead to isolation and a feeling of being disconnected from others.

How To Deal With Social Anxiety After Covid

Some of us will fill our social calendars in the coming months while others will struggle emotionally with the current relaxed social standards.

If you are feeling anxious about resuming a social life, don’t accept every invitation, at first. Remember that this is a time of transition for everyone. Be choosy about which social gatherings you attend, limit yourself to the ones that enforce similar personal protocols, and give yourself a breather in between them.  

The same goes for your return to the office. If you are able to be flexible, take baby steps when going back into the workplace. Perhaps you can go into the office one day a week for the first week or two, and then slowly increase your number of days from there.

If you can’t ease your way back into the workplace, reach out to others for support. Most likely many people you know will have already been in the office for a few weeks. Ask them how they handled their nerves when they went back. What did they do to cope? No doubt, they found each successive work day a little easier to manage as they got used to their old routine.

Be kind to yourself during this transition, as well. Keep in mind that, as is frequently the case with social anxiety, the anticipation is often worse than the actual event.

Try to eat a good diet, relax and do something you enjoy, and get a good night’s sleep the day (or weekend) before you go back into the office. Above all, avoid anything that might stress you and negatively affect your first days back.

Additionally, it is crucial to stay positive and optimistic, even when social interactions are difficult or uncomfortable. With time and patience, it is possible to manage social anxiety during this difficult period and eventually regain your normal routine.

If social anxiety is still causing significant distress or impairment in your life even after trying these strategies, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can help you explore other options and develop a treatment plan that works for you.

Did You Know? We’re a Regional Clinic for the National Social Anxiety Center

The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida is a regional center for the National Social Anxiety Center. Our certified therapists provide compassionate care and have specialized training in social anxiety treatment and virtual reality therapy. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Nonie L. Craige, LCSW – Consult The Expert On Communication And Relationships

In our second Consult The Expert interview for March, we spoke with Nonie L. Craige, LCSW, a psychotherapist at the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders.

Our conversation touched on elements of communication, including emotional blackmail, narcissistic abuse, and how to respond to them. We also explored different temperament traits and how parents can learn to adapt to their children’s innate natures to create a healthier parent/child relationship.

“These are my passion areas,” Ms. Craige said, “because they help build self-esteem. Self-esteem is at the foundation of everything!”

Relationship Issues And Communication

The first area we discussed was emotional blackmail. “Back in the ‘90s, Dr. Susan Forward wrote a book called, “Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You,”” Ms. Craige said. “This book examined a very common, hurtful problem that affects our daily living and how we communicate.

Most of us are unknowingly being emotionally blackmailed at one time or another by someone we know and depend on. It could be our spouse, our child, our boss, or our friend. Sometimes, we can be the blackmailer, as well.”

I asked Ms. Craige for an example of emotional blackmail. “Let’s say your mother surprises you with a special dinner – on a night you have other plans,” she responded. “Mom calls you up, very excited to share this delicious meal with you.

You say, “Mom, I can’t come over tonight. I have tickets for a show.” Instead of her saying, “Oh I didn’t know. I should have asked you first,” your mom makes you feel uncomfortable. She says, “But, I made this meal just for you. I cooked your favorites! I thought we were close. I thought you wanted to spend time with me.” This is emotional blackmail, because she is pushing you to change your plans to satisfy hers.”

Ms. Craige says that emotional blackmail is not a matter of miscommunication or different communication styles. “It is about the imbalance of power and control. There are different ways to manipulate, but basically Dr. Forward’s book says that the tools of emotional blackmail are fear, obligation, and guilt (FOG). No relationship or communication should ever include FOG. It is unacceptable.”

Although emotional blackmail implies planning and being devious, Ms. Craige says it really is an impulsive act that’s done because of feeling insecure. “People say things to make you feel uncomfortable and use manipulation if they feel rejected, because it gives them power. When we do this within the dynamics of a couples or parental relationship, we change from a loving spouse or parent to a manipulator in order to feel safe and secure for the moment. We ignore why the person can’t do something and focus on why they should do it for us.”

Emotional blackmail is ultimately a form of emotional abuse, however, and can cause damage to the person who is being victimized.

Narcissistic Abuse In Relationships

How does emotional abuse correspond to narcissism? “The new buzzword right now is “narcissistic abuse,” Ms. Craige said. “Emotional abuse can look like narcissism, but it isn’t a true personality disorder.”

She notes that only about five percent of the population may be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The disorder includes such traits as requiring excessive admiration, lacking empathy, and having no interest in how others feel or what they need.

“The mother who makes you dinner and then says something to make you feel guilty about not coming to eat with her isn’t being narcissistic,” Ms. Craige said. “If she’s usually a warm, loving mom who is giving and caring, then she’s not a narcissist. She’s manipulating you about this particular dinner because she’s feeling rejected.”

“Keep in mind that you are allowed to feel very strongly about something and express those feelings without it involving emotional blackmail,” she says. “If there is no pressure or threat to make the other person feel bad, it is not emotional blackmail. If, in this case, your mother had said she was disappointed that you weren’t coming to eat with her, she would be voicing her feelings. It became emotional blackmail when she made you feel guilty and uncomfortable for not giving up your own plans.”

An emotional blackmailer wants to win at all costs. “If the person who wants something won’t give up, it is abuse. This abuse doesn’t have to come from a person with NPD.”

How To Remedy Emotional Blackmail: Being Assertive

“Assertiveness skills tie into standing up for yourself, but not being angry,” according to Ms. Craige. “Let’s be crystal clear – assertiveness is not being nasty, angry, sarcastic, belittling or nagging. There is no attitude involved in being assertive.”

“Instead,” she continued, “being assertive is sharing how you feel right now. If you are yelling at someone, you are being loud, not assertive. Being assertive is finding the right balance between expressing how we feel, with tact and not being aggressive. It is developing and acknowledging yourself, honing your communication skills and confidence about your message, along with control of your delivery and getting your message across. Don’t distort your message with angry emotions.”

We all have responsibilities we have to take care of. “Many women want to say no when someone asks for help, but they say yes, despite their responsibilities. Once you say yes, you take away your downtime and add stress to your life.”

I asked Ms. Craige how someone can assertively say no in such a situation. “If it fits your schedule, it is okay to help out, but if you can’t do it, then offer to help another time,” she answered.

“If you aren’t comfortable saying no, then don’t say it. Instead, you can offer to help at a later, more convenient time. Say something like, I do want to help, but today won’t work. How about Tuesday instead? You don’t have to give a hard no, but notice that this response is not angry: it gives you a way to say that you want to help without being pushed. And, it conveys that you have other things on your plate, but are willing to help – on your schedule.”

Whether it is your friend, spouse or your boss, when you are asked to do something you feel uncomfortable with, “You can simply say, “I feel uncomfortable about doing that. Can I get back to you?” Ms. Craige replied.

Parent/Child Communication Challenges

Ms. Craige also talked about communication between parents and kids. “The way we interpret and interact with the world around us is called our temperament, she said. “We are all born with different temperaments. Knowing the differences between them is very important for raising children and having a less stressful home life.”

“There are nine main temperament traits,” according to Ms. Craige. “Learning about them will help you understand how you, your spouse, and your children interact and will make life easier.  A child’s temperament is not a matter of right or wrong or a result of bad parenting skills. Each of us responds to the world in our own unique way.”

“For example,” she continued, “a parent might be a laid-back type who enjoys relaxing when they have down time, but their child might have an active temperament and enjoy being busy all the time. This can result in irritation for both. An important part of parenting is to reduce friction and frustration by adjusting to the child’s unique needs. A “goodness of fit” must be developed between the parent and child.”

What Is Goodness Of Fit?

Goodness of fit “influences the parent/child relationship and should be monitored and adjusted to by the adult’s behavior, not the child’s,” Ms. Craige said. “This is the bedrock for all areas of development. The parent/child relationship that is influenced by a poor fit between parent and child can disrupt the flow of the household, create unnecessary stress, and places the child at risk for developing other issues.”

Although there are nine temperament traits, we discussed what she considers to be the five most important ones:

  • Activity – is the child in constant motion or calm and relaxed? An active child bounces, jumps, runs, and is always moving even when sleeping, eating, bathing, etc. A less active child will enjoy sitting and playing quietly with dolls or reading books or drawing for hours. Be sure to give an active child more time to get ready, get dressed, to finish homework, and so forth, because they will resist being rushed.
  • Regularity – some children are predictable: they want to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom at roughly the same time each day. They seem to have their own internal schedule. Children who are not predictable may not want to eat at a scheduled time or may go to sleep early one day and want to stay up on another.
  • Approach – some children accept every stranger with enthusiasm and are eager to try new things. Children who are more cautious will hold back and may fuss when asked to do something new, start a new school, and so on. Don’t criticize a cautious child, instead be encouraging and give them time to observe, think about, and adapt to new people or situations.
  • Adaptability – some kids take new situations and people in stride. Others have a harder time. For the child who struggles with being adaptable, set routines, avoid unexpected changes, and give them extra time when switching modes. 
  • Intensity – How does your child react to different situations? Some react strongly and cry or yell when frustrated. Others work through them calmly and with a smile. Try not to overreact to the intensity of a strong reactor. You are not doing anything wrong, this child’s temperament is simply intense.

“Remember that what can seem like a negative temperament trait in childhood can be a positive one in adulthood,” she noted. “You might be annoyed to have to adjust the time for your son who is very methodical and slow when getting ready to go somewhere, but you’ll definitely appreciate his caution when it comes time for him to start driving!”

She said it is important to understand that temperament allows the parent to not take their child’s behavior personally. “What can seem like them intentionally pushing your buttons is often just the child’s traits driving their behavior. It’s not a personal affront.”

Never pit one child against the other, either. “Creating the idea that one child’s response is wrong and their sibling’s is right can create some very disturbing outcomes,” Ms. Craige said. “When it comes to temperament, telling a child to be more like his brother or sister is out of place. The other kid may be doing something more the way you, yourself, would do it, so you feel comfortable with how they are doing it. But this child likely isn’t doing it better than the other child, it’s just that you are more comfortable with their behavior.”

She finished by saying that a child should not be criticized for how they respond. “It is not an issue of being good or bad,” she said. “Remember that the individual response is not inherently wrong, it is most often simply a matter of innate temperament.”

We Are Here For You

If you find yourself in a situation where someone is using emotional blackmail to control your behavior, you can learn to counter their manipulation very calmly and put an end to this unhealthy pattern of communication. Remember that you have a right to set boundaries and, by offering options to help, will eliminate the dreaded word “no” that you don’t want to say. Likewise, parents who may be challenged by their child’s behavior may need some extra support.

Our caring professionals are available to help you on your journey to a healthier, happier life. Contact us for more information or call us today at (561) 496-1094.

About Nonie L. Craige, LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Work Therapist

Nonie L. Craige, LCSW is a licensed Clinical Social Work Therapist who uses a collaborative interactional approach to create a safe supportive environment during a time of expressed concern and stress. Using several different approaches including Cognitive Behavioral and Dialectic Behavior Therapy, Ms. Craige focuses on enhancing self-esteem and core issues of anxiety and conflicts. Therapy includes enhancing assertiveness and healthy communication skills. Ms. Craige promotes this life changing journey with each patient as she helps you gain new insights and learn new tools with which to reduce or eliminate unhealthy anxiety.

Ms. Craige works successfully with adults who have experienced various forms of childhood and adult abuse. Whether it is emotional, physical, neglect or sexual abuse, patients will gain better awareness and control as well as freedom from self-defeating thoughts.

Ms. Craige received her degree from Adelphi University in New York. She also obtained training at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry and Psychology and conducted training workshops at FORDHAM University.

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Jerome Siegmeister, MD, MaED – Consult The Expert On How Virtual Schooling Is Affecting Children

The Center’s newest clinician, Dr. Jerome Siegmeister, MD, MaED, is an expert on the psychiatric concerns of children and adolescents. A former high school teacher, he has a unique perspective on how children learn and the societal skills they can only develop through social interaction with peers. Since the pandemic, what he has seen has left him genuinely concerned.

During these last two years, parents and kids have had to adapt to shut downs and periods of online learning. While some students do just fine with virtual classes, many more are struggling – not just with learning through an online format, but with the loss of the in-person connection with classmates. “Covid has really devastated these kids,” he says. “Though some children can do well in this environment, virtual learning causes an issue for most.”

“The virtual learning modality is basically a lecture modality,” he continues – and therein lies part of the problem. “What do you and I do when listening to a lecture? If we are honest, most of us listen to it in the background while doing other things, so we miss a lot of the information.”

“Children are no different,” he says. “From a developmental standpoint, it is clearly better for kids to attend in-person schooling, but the unfortunate reality is that we need to be worried about public health, as well. In many cases, virtual learning is all we have right now, but this isn’t workable for many kids.”

Loss of knowledge isn’t the only side effect the pandemic has had on the nation’s children. “Virtual classes have their place because kids need to be learning, one way or another, but it comes at a price,” he explains. “It is very obvious that our children’s socialization has been affected and will be for a long time to come.”

“At this point, we have lost at least eighteen months of socialization,” he says. “Society pushes the idea that we need others to validate us, so kids rely on social acceptance for much of their self-worth. Covid took away much of that.”

Even older teens are being challenged by this new world. “The pandemic has been very hard for kids who are transitioning to college,” he notes. “Life is drastically different for them, especially if they are having to do their first year of college virtually. They are missing out on the social aspects that help them adjust to college life.”

He is optimistic, though. For most kids who are struggling, “it isn’t too hard to stabilize them and they can do really well,” he says. “Counseling and working one on one with kids will make things better in the majority of cases.”

When working with children, Dr. Siegmeister believes in treating the whole person. Depending on the child’s individual needs, this may mean combining two or more treatment methods, such as using cognitive behavior therapy along with medical treatments if there is an underlying psychiatric concern. He also likes to take a team approach to treatment and frequently involves parents, teachers, or college faculty, so the child can achieve the quickest resolution of their symptoms.

As unlikely as it may sound, Dr. Siegmester says there is actually a silver lining to the pandemic. “Mental health is often swept under the rug,” he says, “but depression is now pretty pervasive in both children and adults and people recognize this. In fact, many so called “sick days” happen because the person is depressed and really needs to take a mental health day. The positive outcome from covid is that people are now much more aware of anxiety and depression because they’ve experienced it themselves. This means it has become much more acceptable to seek help.”

About Jerome Siegmesiter, MD, MaED. (Child And Adolescent Psychiatry / General Psychiatry)

Jerome Siegmeister, MD, MaED, is a South Florida Native. He has worked with clients of all ages, and believes that the whole person needs to be treated. Consequently, he evaluates all aspects of the situation, from medical to situational, to determine the best initial course. He has a background in both individual and group therapies, employing supportive, behavioral, and insight oriented approaches, as appropriate to best fit his client’s needs, as well as comfort with medical treatment of any underlying conditions that might manifest psychiatrically. He has significant experience in all forms of psychiatric issues, including mood symptoms, thought disorders, anxiety, phobias, attention deficits, behavioral issues, insomnia, compulsive disorders, emotional lability, substance abuse, and trauma.

Dr. Siegmeister graduated with his Bachelor’s from Florida International University, after which he spent a number of years teaching, and obtained a Masters from the University of South Florida in Career and Technical Education/Adult Education. Upon deciding to pursue medicine, he initially completed a Post Baccalaureate Pre-Medical Certificate program at the University of Miami, and then obtained his MD from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, staying there afterwards for his specialty training in Psychiatry, followed by a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, where he served as Chief Fellow, and was awarded with a Research Distinction. After training, he has worked providing Emergency care, with additional work in inpatient settings, both in mental health and as a consultant to medical units at multiple hospitals. He is currently Board Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in both general Psychiatry, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and by the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons in Psychiatry.

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Marsha Glines, PHD

Marsha Glines, Ph.D – Consult The Expert On Overcoming Learning Challenges

Marsha Glines, Ph.D is the only person on the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorder’s team who is not a therapist or behaviorist – she is an educator who brings a diagnostic standpoint to the Center. Her role is best defined as that of an academic coach. “I believe very strongly that learning should be empowering and meaningful,” she says. “Everyone learns differently and not everyone can learn through traditional classroom methods.”

The frontal lobe of our brain synthesizes and organizes information. “We have more than 100,000 neurons in our brains, so we each receive information differently than anyone else,” Dr. Glines says. “This means we also process the information we receive differently from each other.”

These information reception and processing systems are called metacognitive skills. Figuring out someone’s metacognitive skills tells how the person thinks, which then can help determine their learning strengths.

When an individual has challenges with learning through traditional classroom methods, “My role is how to find the appropriate path to learning for this person. Part of that is really getting to understand the student. This involves analyzing how they look at a problem and adjusting my strategies to help them learn and understand.”

To better recognize how each client learns, she begins by observing the individual and asking questions to help figure out their learning process. In addition, Dr. Glines takes an informal “inventory” of the skills and methods the person has successfully used in the past. Putting this information together gives her a good indication of where the student is in terms of learning.

The process then turns to modifying and experimenting with this information to see what works for the student. “If they are struggling in algebra, for example, we need to figure out how to change up the way they study algebra to make it useful for everyday skills.”

“The goal of my work is to find meaningfulness and purposefulness in how we learn. I help individuals find what their strongest cognitive pathways to their brain are, how to understand these pathways, and how to learn with them,” she explains. Does the client do better by hearing a lecture? Are they a visual learner? Do symbols or colors combine with what they are hearing to help them learn? Uncovering these unique methods makes a huge difference in the person’s understanding and retention of information.

Once Dr. Glines knows these strengths, she creates personalized education plans for what would be helpful for this person’s learning method. To do this, she uses repetition, challenge, novelty, and movement. “Our brains are wired to respond to new things, so changing up our learning method helps us learn and retain information,” she says. “I might teach them how to use symbols to remember something. Tools like mind maps and graphic organizers work well for a visual learner, for example.”

Similar to mnemonics, using tools, such as color coding the papers that students take notes on, can help with processing and retention.

At one point, Dr. Glines worked with students in a Psychology class to help them remember the differences between the pioneers in the mental health field. “These historical figures can all blur together,” she says, “so we discussed what color they thought of when they learned about Freud. Let’s say it was red. They assigned the color red to everything about Freud, even down to taking lecture notes on red paper.”

“Maybe Jung was the color brown”, she continues. “So his information was keyed to everything brown. At test time, when they saw a question about Freud, they recalled that he was red, not brown.” This allowed the students to “see” their lecture notes section in their notebook, which jogged their memory and often allowed them to correctly come up with the answer to the test questions.

Along the same lines, spatial models, symbols, and even acting out the information can function like a mnemonic. “Instead of just thinking in language and words, this is a different way of processing information and memory. It taps into different pathways of the brain’s retrieval system.”

Dr. Glines might also incorporate technology into the student’s learning process. “There are devices like smart pens that can record a lecture as the student takes notes, then lets the student replay that lecture,” she says.

This can be especially helpful for individuals who have learning disabilities. The person may not be able to visualize a spoken word in a text form, for example, which makes taking notes extremely challenging.  A smart pen can record oral notes, however. Later, the student can replay the lecture and even transform it from oral form to written text with the touch of a button. “A student can even tap a word in those notes, which then comes up to show them the meaning of words they find challenging,” she says.

Before any of these non-traditional learning plans can help an individual, though, they need to take ownership of what they value and what is important to them.

“What have you achieved and what do you hope to achieve? These are things you value and every decision we make is based on what we value,” she says. “These answers are empowering. Many people don’t take their school knowledge and think of how to apply it in real life, yet this is what gives ownership to the information we learn. If you can give the topic or subject meaning, you can learn and recall it much better.”

About Marsha Glines, Ph.D. (Academic Coach / Learning Specialist)

Dr. Marsha Glines has a national reputation in teaching and learning theory, special education, non-traditional program design and higher education curriculum development. Prior to joining the Lynn University community in 1991, Dr. Glines was the founding president of Beacon College and in October 2021 she was awarded an Honorary Degree Of Humane Letters from Beacon. While at Lynn University, Dr. Glines created and provided oversight of many academic alternative, innovative programs including: an undergraduate human service degree, the Advancement Program, the Lynn Educational Alternative Program and the “nationally recognized” Institute for Achievement and Learning.

Among her many achievements, Dr. Glines has published several pieces on post-secondary learning opportunities for students with learning disabilities and her work has been discussed in several books. In addition, she has conducted numerous training workshops both nationally and internationally and is a frequent presenter at various conferences on learning and higher education. She continues to teach remotely in Regis College’s undergrad and graduate education departments.

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