Boundaries for Beginners

Boundaries. A popular therapy & self-care buzz word that’s thrown around all the time. Often boundaries are presented with the metaphor of a fence separating your yards from your neighbors. You are responsible to water your own garden & take care of what’s in your yard, regardless of what’s going on in your neighbors’ side. That’s lovely, but what does that mean?

We could spend many blogs talking about boundaries, but for the sake of simplicity, at their core, boundaries are a combination of a request + a commitment to yourself for the aim of taking care of yourself. Let’s break that down:

Request: Asking someone to do something or refrain from doing something. Making a clear request about your expectations sets you up for success. Other people can’t read your mind, nor is it fair to punish others for request we have not communicated. Remember, the other person has the right to say yes, no, or let’s negotiate to the request you present.

Examples: “Please don’t yell at me” or “Please be here by 3pm”.

Commitment to yourself: This is what you will do to take care of yourself if the other person is not willing or able to agree to your request. This piece of the puzzle is essential, and is the most neglected part of setting & maintaining boundaries. When clients say “They don’t respect my boundaries!” or “My boundaries aren’t working!” it’s usually because they have not followed through on their responsibility to themselves. The only person you can control is yourself.

Examples: “If you speak to me that way, I will leave the conversation until we can speak calmly to each other.” or “I’ll be leaving at 3pm, so if you aren’t here on time, you’ll need to find another ride.”

Boundaries exist for your self-care & enable you to live within your values. They are not intended to change another person’s behaviors. At the end of the day, a boundary may have an impact on how another person treats you, but the end goal of successful boundaries is to take care of yourself. Successful boundaries will help you look in the mirror and feel good about how you behaved, whether the other person “respected your boundary” or not.

On the boundary struggle bus? You are not alone. Boundaries are hard work and take lots of practice. Reach out if you’d like some support taking the next step toward a healthy, boundaried life.

Hello, Downtown Oakland!

I am thrilled to announce the launch of my private practice & new therapy office location in downtown Oakland, California! I have a spacious, peaceful office space in a secure office building within walking distance of many downtown Oakland office locations + public transportation (12th & 19th Street BART + AC Transit), and just a few blocks from Lake Merritt.

Take a peak at my new office here.

Can’t wait to see you in my new space!

The Importance of Good Goodbyes

I’ve been in a transition season, which means I’ve been saying a lot of “goodbye” and “see you later” to many people in my life. As I navigate these closing moments, I’m reminded of two things: first, goodbyes are hard (and we don’t like them), and second, good goodbyes are very important. Sometimes we are tempted to cut and run, avoiding the emotions that come with saying goodbye. Sometimes we stay in denial about the impending goodbye and stuff our feelings.

I’m finding that healthy goodbyes come in waves. Some days are joyful, some days are painful, some days it’s a mixture of both, and some days we don’t feel anything at all. When we say goodbye to people we love and are important to us, the goodbye may contain a mixture of anticipation and joy for one person, and grief and loss for the other. Both can be valid. This means holding complicated and sometimes opposing feelings simultaneously. Goodbyes can be fully of bittersweet, happy and sad, joy and grief. These feelings can be difficult to feel at the same time, often one feeling may feel louder than the other or we are tempted to drown one out because the other is more comfortable to feel. It can be important to talk through what feelings come up at different stages of the goodbye. We often stuff our feelings until we arrive at the “I’m so happy for you!” stage, but we neglect voicing the other feelings that surface along the way.

As I say goodbyes, I’m finding that healthy goodbyes often include honoring and voicing what that person means to you. Too often we wait until it is too late to share with others what they mean to us, how they have changed our lives, what we appreciate in them, and speaking life into them. The beauty of goodbye and see you later is that it provides a natural opportunity to reflect, to honor the relationship, and to name the ways in which you care for and have been impacted by that person. The willingness to be vulnerable in this way can feel scary, and it can be very impactful.

After a few weeks of intentional & reflective goodbyes, I find myself feeling all the more grateful for the blessings of relationships. We are wired for community, we need each other. I am profoundly grateful that there are many connections in life that make goodbyes difficult. And I’m reminded that these connections are so are worth doing the hard work of a good goodbye.

Caring for Your Struggling Teen


Prevalence rates of teen depression and anxiety have risen significantly in recent years. While the causes of the rise remains speculative, many parents are left unsure how to help their struggling teen.

First of all, know the signs of teen depression. If you are concerned that your teen may be struggling, try talking to them about your concerns at a time when you are both available and calm. Be open & curious about your teen’s experience, and share your concern from a place of love. Getting your teen to open up about their inner world can feel like pulling teeth, I get it. Your teen may not want to talk with you about their feelings, but be sure they are connected to some safe adult who they can share with - perhaps a professional therapist, teacher, school counselor, youth leader, mentor, family member, etc.

As I work with teens struggling with depression and anxiety, I’ve come across a few common pitfalls that well meaning parents tend to fall into. Here are a few responses to avoid that are not helpful:

  • “Be positive!” Many teens I work with report feeling pressured to put on a smiling face, to be positive, to have a good attitude, etc. when around their parents in an effort to overcome their depression. Depression is not a choice nor a lack of resiliency. Treatment may involve examining thought patterns, but this best left to a professional. Teens I work with that feel pressured to put on a smiling face and be positive often end up hiding their depression from family, not healing it.
  • “Snap out of it!” - Some parents will try to help their teen with depression by telling them to simply stop feeling that way. This may come across in subtle interactions, frustration from the parents about symptoms, threatening “If you don’t…. then…”, or even the teen getting in trouble for their depression. Remember that depression is not a choice. If it was, most people would choose to feel differently in a heartbeat.
  • “This will pass.” - While this is true, depressive episodes do not last forever, it can feel dismissive or minimizing to your teen’s experience in the moment. I’ve noticed that many parents seem to be more comfortable with the idea of situational or circumstantial depression rather than the possibility of chemical or enduring depression. Let your professional team work with your teen to determine the root of depression and instead aim to understand what it feels like for your child right now.
  • Ignoring it - Depression can be deadly if untreated and typically will need treatment to get better. If you see the signs or have concerns, please do not ignore it. Talk with your child.

Here’s what many of my teen clients report they do want from their parents:

  • Understanding - First and foremost, my clients talk about wanting their parents to trust their experience and try to understand where they are coming from, even if their parent doesn’t get it completely. Avoid responding with “I see, but…” and instead say things like “Thanks for sharing, can you tell me more about what that’s like for you?”
  • Responsiveness - If your child comes to you expressing their concern about depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern, work with them to get help promptly. It takes a great deal of courage to have that conversation, and acting promptly to get your teen help conveys that you hear them, care for them, and are taking them seriously.
  • Ask how you can support them - Rather than assuming you know how to help or what your child needs, ask what you can do to support their healing and what you have been doing that may be unhelpful. Be receptive and open hearted to feedback. Some teens may want you to ask how they’re doing, others want to have space, some may want you to help them notice when they are spiraling, others feel annoyed by that. Negotiate together how you can honor their needs and still be involved in their healing.

If you are concerned about your teen and want to get them in for treatment, or need some coaching about how to care for them well, reach out today.

Self-Care, Self-care, Self-care

Self-care, self-care, self-care. A mantra I heard over and over again during my grad school training years. It’s a mantra I find myself passing onto my clients on a regular basis, something that is integral to the healing process: “What are you going to do to take care of yourself this week?”

Sometimes “self-care” conjures images of extravagant self-pampering, a la Parks and Recreation’s “Treat Yo Self” day, filled with shopping and massages and fancy food. In reality, self-care may be much less exciting, but much more important.

Self-care is taking the time to pour into your tank so that you can continue to function well physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally. You may have heard the metaphor that in the event of an emergency, airlines require you to put your own mask on before assisting others. Self-care is the oxygen mask that keeps you running, allowing you care for others well too. These activities recharge you, help you wind down, recenter you, and allow you to release the build up of life stressors without blowing up.

Intentionally creating routines and rhythms that sustain you, bring you life, work through feelings, center you, keep you healthy, bring peace, laughter, and joy are essential to your well-being. We are embodied people, so using our bodies in all the senses is a great way to engage in regular self-care.

Here are some great regular self-care options you can weave into your regular routines:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Sit outside in the sunshine
  • Take a walk
  • Journal regularly
  • Talk with a close friend
  • Shower regularly
  • Cook
  • Color or draw
  • Paint your nails
  • Exercise
  • Read a book
  • Laugh
  • Cuddle with a pet
  • Play a game
  • Make something with your hands
  • Take a technology time-out
  • Hike
  • Go to the beach or lake
  • Spend time in the forest or mountains
  • Listen to music
  • Breathe mindfully
  • Light a candle
  • Pray or meditate
  • Enjoy family time
  • Have coffee with a friend
  • Ride a bike
  • Yoga
  • Get some fresh air

What are you going to do to take care of yourself this week?

Embodied Healing

I have recently been reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD., a book exploring the ways in which our brains, minds, and bodies both hold, and in turn, can heal trauma. Trauma may feel like a scary therapy buzzword, and it becomes tempting to push it away from ourselves “I am not a vet, I wasn’t abused, etc...I don’t have trauma.” The reality is, we all experience trauma in our life, whether it be “little t” traumas, or a “big T” Traumas.

Our brain holds trauma in a very primal, emotional part of our brain called the amygdala which is responsible for our fight, flight, or freeze reactions. This part of our brain is responsible for keeping us safe. When we experience trauma, however, this part of our brain can become hijacked and triggered if it feels similar to the trauma of the past, though there may not be imminent danger in the present. This leaves our bodies in prolonged states of stress, tension, and adrenaline. Our bodies, like this part of our brain, hold onto the experience of trauma as well, manifesting in aches, pains, tension, and sometimes medical issues.

Trauma survivors often become disconnected from their body, unaware of what they are feeling or of what the body may be trying to inform them. Becoming connected to our bodies helps integrate both the little and big “t” traumas into our story, loosening the grip of its power over our present reality. Psychologists used to believe that merely talking about the traumatic story would help loosen its grip, but more current research indicates that involving the body in this process yields more lasting results.

If you are looking to heal the effects of trauma in your past to experience more freedom in your present, consider integrating your body into your healing as well. In addition to working with a trained therapist, finding a certified body worker or massage therapist can loosen tension, help you become more aware of bodily sensation, and allow you to experience safe physical touch. Practicing yoga similarly connects you with your body, releases emotion, and empowers you with core strength. Journaling is a helpful way to work through your story and moments of your day by tangibly using your body to write. Therapies like EMDR utilize natural body processes to integrate trauma. Mindfulness, breathing, and meditation exercises help ground you while teaching you to view yourself with compassion. Self-care activities, including exercise, eating well, and sleeping well will help maintain your results. We are embodied people, we cannot divorce our bodies from our inner world.

Please note that if your trauma history includes physical or sexual abuse or assault, some of these practices like yoga or bodywork may be triggering and challenging in the beginning. Safely working through these steps with your therapist will help you pace your healing well.

So...you're a Christian Counselor?

I currently see clients at Community Presbyterian Counseling Center (CPCC) in San Ramon. At the center, we often get questions from clients like "Presbyterian? Do I have to be a Christian to come here? Are you going to use the Bible in session?" The root of these questions is about how faith plays a role, or doesn’t, in professional counseling. You may have even wondered the same. Here are a few answers to common questions:

What is Christian counseling?
Christian therapists may answer this question differently from practice to practice. I answer that I am a therapist who is also a Christian, whereas other therapists will advertise themselves as Christian therapists. These answers likely impact the type of integration of faith into sessions. I believe that good, evidenced based mental health care can be an extension of God's healing hand toward spiritual, emotional, and relational wholeness. The desire to integrate faith into the therapy room, or not, is always exclusively the client’s. I will always respect the values, worldview, and beliefs my clients bring into counseling.

Is this Biblical counseling?
No. Biblical counseling is typically provided by lay counselors or pastoral counselors and is generally aimed at understanding the challenges of life solely through what is written in the Bible. Though some biblical or pastoral counselors may have advanced training or certifications, it is not generally regulated through a licensing board nor does it require advanced degrees. Biblical counseling does not always take into consideration what we know about mental health from research. My undergraduate and graduate training is in psychology and marriage and family therapy; though my education took place in Christian institutions, I am not a pastor. If you are looking for a Biblical counselor, I may not be the best fit for you.

Do I have to be a Christian to come here?
Absolutely not. I see clients of all faith backgrounds and clients without any religious association. Some clients come to CPCC because a shared Christian faith feels comforting. Many clients walk through the doors because they have heard we provide professional quality help in the community. In practical terms, therapy sessions between these two groups of clients may be indistinguishable.

How will faith be part of therapy?
The decision to integrate faith into therapy, or not, is exclusively the decision of the client. We all walk through life with a worldview lens, which may include religion. We may explore the ways your worldview affects your experiences or find ways to help you live more congruently with your values. If faith is part of your worldview, this may come into sessions. Some clients appreciate the understanding of a shared faith background, and desire no further explicit conversations of faith in sessions from week to week. Other clients explicitly do not want faith to be discussed in session. Still others request elements of faith to be included on occasion in counseling sessions. I will follow your preference and level of comfort.

Do the counselors use the Bible or pray during sessions?
Praying, using the Bible, or other spiritual practices are sometimes requested from clients of faith. If these elements are included, it is always after a discussion of comfortability with the client’s expressed faith, and not intended as an influence from the counselor’s values. Similarly, prayer or Scripture may only be used if it supports the overall goals of well-being and mental health of the client, which may be discussed between therapist and client.

If you have more questions about how faith and counseling interact, please contact me.

Practicing Gratitude in the Midst of the Struggle

Practicing gratitude when life is smooth sailing is easy, but practicing gratitude in the midst of struggle is where new muscles are developed. Celebrating Thanksgiving can be really challenging for those who are grieving or in the midst of a painful season of life. When pain is in the forefront, offering gratitude is often the last thing we want to do. Try a little experiment with me -- put your hand directly in front of your face with your nose touching your hand. What can you see? Just your hand! Now gradually move your hand away from your face. Notice how your vision changes. Similarly, expressing gratitude does not erase pain, but it does help provide a larger perspective. Here are a few challenges to try to help you practice gratitude:

  1. Keep a daily gratitude journal. Fill the pages with moments small and large that you are thankful for. Even on bad days, push yourself to find at least 3 things you are thankful for -- for example another day of living, health, the sun rising, a favorite song playing on the radio, a smile from a stranger, etc. This discipline will become more natural over time as you continue to practice gratitude daily.
  2. Tell someone you love the reasons you enjoy and appreciate them. Be intentional and specific.
  3. Go on a nature walk to enjoy the beauty around you. Leave your phone at home and let yourself stop at whatever catches your eye. Savor the textures, smells, sights, sounds, etc
  4. Write down as many things you can for which you are thankful for about a trying situation. In a particularly hard season of my life I used this challenge as a discipline. I pushed myself to write down 50 things I was thankful in the midst of my pain and anger. I was amazed to see the small ways hope and healing and joy were surrounding me, but how often I struggled to see it. Writing down the names of people that had come into my life, deeper relationships, more awareness of myself, engagement with my feelings, etc. was a great reminder of the growth I was experiencing in my pain.
  5. When a negative thought invades your mind, intentionally reframe the thought to find the positive. For example, if angrily stuck sitting in traffic, I may remind myself that I now have some extra moments to myself or to prepare for my day.
  6. Create a visual gratitude board. Cut and paste images, quotes, or drawings that represent gratitude or things you are grateful for.
  7. Share your moments of gratitude daily at the dinner table with family and friends. Create a daily rhythm of practicing gratitude in a community. Not only can gratitude be contagious, but sharing together also provides accountability for this new practice.
  8. Thank people for a job well done. Whether this be a barista after a good cup of coffee, the grocery store clerk, coworker, friend, your partner, or your child, be intentional about thanking them for their effort.
  9. Volunteer for an organization that uses your gifts and passions. Volunteering with others in pain can also provide a wider perspective on life.
  10. Remind yourself of ways previous struggles and challenges produced growth of character in your life. Reflecting on the ways you have overcome previous struggles can enable you tap into strengths and skills that will help you cope with your current struggles.

Remember that practicing gratitude does not necessarily mean that you feel grateful, and that’s okay. Keep with the discipline and your thoughts and feelings may change over time.

Do I have to lie on the couch? And other questions you have about therapy

Therapy is so much part of my world that I sometimes forget how mysterious the concept is to many people. When I first started seeing clients, I heard the same joke over and over: "Do your clients come in and lie on your couch?". A very Freudian comic book-esque scene popped in my head, with a distressed client lying on a long, red velvet couch and a quiet therapist wearing oversized glasses studiously taking notes and nodding behind him. The question reveals the many myths and questions that still float around what it means to go to therapy.

1. Do I have to lie on the couch?

You can sit wherever and however you are most comfortable in the room. Most people sit comfortably in a chair or a couch, depending on the furniture of your therapist’s office. The room will probably feel like a cozy living room, with chairs, a desk, bookshelves, and art on the wall.

2. How long will I have to be in counseling?

The length of therapy depends on a variety of factors, including the client’s goals, the needs of the clients, the model of therapy, and resources available. Most clients are in therapy for anywhere between 2-6 months, though many stay for longer.

3. If I go to therapy, does that mean I'm crazy?

Therapists see people from all walks of life; we all need support from time to time. Therapy is a great resource for everyone, particularly for people processing through a new transition, grieving, wanting relational help, having family struggles, personal growth, seeking help for anxiety, depression, anger, addiction, parenting, etc. Every day I get to see tremendously brave people walk through the doors and make changes leading to freedom in their life.

4. Will you make me talk about my childhood?

The content of sessions will depend largely on your specific goals and the theoretical orientation of your therapist. Our past experiences shape us in huge ways, so most therapists will want a brief history on your life, including your childhood, to get a fuller picture of who you are.

5. Will a therapist fix all my problems?

There is no magic wand in therapy. What you put into therapy, you’ll get out of it. My job is to partner with you to help you make changes in your life. Deciding to go to therapy takes a lot of courage, and requires a lot of work! If you want to build new muscles, you need the discipline of going to the gym regularly, experiencing the strain of tearing down old muscles in order to form new stronger ones. Similarly, going to therapy is like tearing down old emotional muscles, breaking through knots & tension, and rebuilding new patterns and emotional strength.

6. Aren’t all therapists are the same?

Therapists operate under different modalities, different techniques, and different personalities. Research indicates that the relationship between a client and therapist accounts for 30% of the success of therapy! It is crucial to find a good fit for you, so make sure you feel connected!


If you are ready to take the leap to try therapy for the first time (or ready for a refresher), reach out today and I'd be happy to answer any more of your questions!

Welcome to my new site!

Welcome to my new therapy site. Whether you landed here looking for help, for information, or to see if we may be a good fit to work together, I'm so glad you are here. Stay tuned for bi-monthly blogs about life, relationships, mental health, addiction, recovery, and reclaiming joy.

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Here is to reclaiming joy together!

-Mackenzie