Category Archives: Family

Marriage and Family Therapy offered in the mid-western Michigan region.  The emphasis is upon relational, interpersonal systems within which we all live, work and play.

Areas served include the communities of Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, North Muskegon, Grand Haven, Ferrysburg, Spring Lake, Fruitport, Ravenna, Bridgeton, Twin Lake, Dalton, Whitehall, and beyond.

Sexual Conduct Correlated to Sexual Behavior in Movies

News Flash!

A recent study has revealed that exposure to movies that contain sexual content has an impact upon teenage sexual behavior!

This assertion was measured along two dimensions:

1. Sexual Debut – A correlation was found to suggest that “Movie Sexual Exposure” led to teens having their initial sexual experience at an earlier age.

2. Risky Behavior – A relationship between “Movie Sexual Exposure” and an increase in ”sexual risk taking’ was also found suggesting an increase in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The study further determined that there may be an interrelationship between teenage exposure to sexual content in movies, sexual debut and risky behaviors.

This study is discussed in more detail on the Baptist Press News website and it provides something of a wake-up call for something we already know.  These common sense correlations raise red flags to parents and verify that it makes sense to take care of a few things at home.

1. Be clear about your own personal sexual values to make sure they are in alignment with your own faith and beliefs.  Throughout the Bible, for example, there are clear teachings about God’s gift of sexual expression and the boundaries that surround it.

2. Lead by example by making sure that, as adults, our sexual values and our movie watching habits are in alignment with each other.  Let your children catch you doing the right thing by watching movies and surfing websites that reinforce those values that you wish to pass on to the next generation.

3. Be prepared to talk to your pre-adolescent children and teenagers about the contrast between your family’s sexual values and those of Hollywood and the entertainment industry.  Better yet, make time to proactively discuss this with them in age-appropriate ways; rest assured they are already being bombarded from other sources.

4. Demonstrate your love and concern by monitoring the movie and entertainment habits of your teens.   Transparent tools such as Covenant Eyes can help curb the temptation and empower parents.

Of course, there are no guarantees for success in passing on parental values to our children and teens.  It just makes sense to communicate and encourage values that we believe in–and that we live by–to give children and teens a touchstone from which to make their choices in life.  Counseling teens and their families can be helpful for setting boundaries and shaping behaviors.


Children & Family Therapy

Family Therapy for children recognizes problem behaviors in families from a family systems perspective.  What that means is that the Marriage and Family Therapist recognizes that family members who are having difficulties can be the problem while, at the same time, they can be the symptom.  For example, in a dynamic often seen, when mom and dad focus upon a child who is misbehaving it helps divert attention from the interpersonal conflict they are having with each other.

At the same time, a child’s misbehavior can be more than a symptom of the family’s relational challenges; it can also be due to a number of other factors that need to be addressed first.  For example, children with obsessive-compulsive behaviors or chronic depression may be dealing with chemical imbalances that need immediate attention.  Nonetheless, the family is still a factor as they have developed patterns that may perpetuate the problem or, even, unintentionally make it worse.

Helping children deal with  intense, negative feelings in constructive ways can be challenging, especially when those feelings are already being expressed in ways that are extreme or inappropriate.  A part of helping children deal with intense emotions is to help them learn to identify feelings with words that describe those feelings.

Always looking for new ways to help kids communicate this link to a mother’s attempt to help her child identify feelings and to act appropriately is interesting.  Many children play these video games starring Angry Birds.  Perhaps one way to clarify feelings is to give your child some expressive faces, verbal associations and some idea of consequences associated with good and bad behaviors and words.

It usually takes a great deal of energy for a parent to finally pick up the telephone or send an email asking to schedule an appointment for counseling.  One of the first questions a therapist will ask is “What event or situation led you to set up a time to meet?”  The answer to that question begins the process of identifying the problem which immediately lends itself to specifying the goal of therapy.  In solution-focused, brief marriage and family therapy the therapist will want to know how the problem started, how the family addressed the problem and what factors may be going into maintaining the problem.

By the second or third session the therapist begins the process of formulating a strategy to help the family tap its own resources to address the challenges in new and different ways.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  Rather, the wonder of the family systems approach is that healing often involves a rich mixture of behavioral changes, re-alignment of perceptions and assumptions and a creative channeling of the family’s focus and energy to promote healing and stronger relationships.

Traits of a Healthy Family

How do you define a healthy family?  What traits might characterize normal families?  The answers to these questions begin with some basic assumptions.  Dig a little deeper, however, and those characteristics become increasingly unique.  Rather than glossing over those things that make us unique, what an adventure life together can be when we start probing those more illusive qualities that each person brings to their family.

Sometimes families struggle with things to talk about.  Once we get past sharing information about work or school, the weather, the latest in sports events and other both necessary and more lighthearted topics, we struggle to talk about the deeper issues of life.

Looking for some suggestions?  Cited from a book by Delores Curran entitled Traits of a Healthy Family*, below are the findings she uncovered in her research.  Why not open some of these topics for  a family discussion?

The healthy family…

Trait 1: …communicates and listens.

Trait 2: …affirms and supports one another.

Trait 3: …teaches respect for others.

Trait 4: …develops a sense of trust.

Trait 5: …has a sense of play and humor.

Trait 6: …exhibits a sense of shared responsibility.

Trait 7: …teaches a sense of right and wrong.

Trait 8: …has a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound.

Trait 9: …has a balance of interaction among members.

Trait 10: …has a shared religious core.

Trait 11: …respects the privacy of one another.

Trait 12: …values service to others.

Trait 13: …fosters table time and conversation.

Trait 14: …shares leisure time.

Trait 15: …admits to and seeks help with problems.


* Curran, Doris. Traits of a Healthy Family: Fifteen Traits Commonly Found in Healthy Families By Those Who Work With Them, 1983.

Marriage & Family Therapy Involves Familes

When speaking of ‘Family Therapy’ we are talking about evaluating the system of relationships that surround a person or a couple.  That system begins with the individual and expands outward.  Over a family life cycle the dynamics of those relationships can stay the same at various levels while changing at other levels.  It is in the transitions in relationships that problems can occur.

Most families develop some type of coping mechanism as family members…and their relationships…change over time.  But on occasion there are times when families get stuck.

When the focus is on the family as a system the Marriage and Family Therapist begins looking for patterns, perceptions, and beliefs on a relational level that, when addressed, can begin the process of altering the entire family system so that everyone shares in the responsibility for change and maturity.

So, it’s not uncommon for a Marriage and Family Therapist to invite the entire family unit  for the first session.  This way he or she can observe the family, tentatively diagnose the problem and begin talking about treatment alternatives with the family.  Afterwards the therapist may meet with the family at other times or he or any one person or with various combinations of family members.   In solution-focused, brief marriage and family therapy, the therapist works with the family to establish a goal in the first or second session so that everyone will know when the goal is achieved.

At Southshore Counseling, LLC, there are no charges for the first session.  This allows time for the family to determine their comfort level with the therapist.  The key is that Family therapy focuses on the family dynamics of the system, not the disease or problems of the individual.  It does not assign blame but does place emphasis upon personal responsibility for change.  It is goal-directed so we all know when we are done.

Family therapy represents a breath of fresh air to the mental health professions that provides a tested and proven alternative to more traditional approaches.

Marriage & Family Therapy With Children

As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist I am often asked if I see children and teens in my practice.  The answer is yes; but, not in the traditional sense.

In Family Therapy, the first few sessions of psychotherapy with a child or adolescent will also involve meeting with either or both parents and their siblings.  The therapist’s task is to consult with the family to assess their unique interactional patterns, to define the problem and to specify the goals and objectives of therapy.

During the assessment phase someone in the family describes the problem.  The Family Therapist may bring the whole family together for a session.  He or she may also meet individually with other family members based upon the belief that  a child’s problem or adolescent’s behavior is best viewed in the context of the interaction patterns between family members.

During the process of goal formation these communication patterns are important.  First, they contribute to the psychological health of the family and, second, they clarify the dynamics of the problem as defined by the family.

Finally, drawing upon the strengths and wisdom of the family the therapist works within the interactional patterns to help bring about a solution to the problem.  Therapy is concluded when the goal that the family identified is achieved.

This emphasis upon the family system as opposed to focusing exclusively on the individual sets family therapy apart from more traditional approaches.  In the end, this approach makes sense as key members of the family are engaged with and invested in change for the better that will last beyond the therapy sessions into everyday life.

‘Chronicle’ as a Metaphor for Adolescent Anger and Restraint

Our youngest daughter showed us a trailer for a new movie named ‘Chronicle.’  She was fascinated with this newest adolescent X-men styled release; I was fascinated by the metaphorical message about adolescence.

From the very beginning we all struggle to have power over our personal space and the people who move in and out of it.  From infancy through the various stages of the life cycle, we all struggle to have power over our personal space.

During the transition from childhood to adolescence, this struggle for power takes on a new dimension.  The child begins to realize that he does have power over those who have, heretofore, exercised commanding power over him or her.  Explosive rage can be extremely effective in helping the adults around back off because this kid is now capable of doing some serious damage if unchecked.

It is at this stage that parenting skills need to go through a signifiant transition.  The natural reaction to raging children is to rage back at them to bring them back in line.  When the child retreats the adult concludes that this must be an effective tool for controlling extreme behavior.

The mistake is significant at two levels.  First, intimidation and the assertion of power through explosive rage is being taught and learned at the same time.   Second, because a respected person is using it as a tool for managing others the child may accept this as a reasonable response to inappropriate behavior.  It is not.

After seeing the movie it did, indeed, depict teens who have a new found power that came to them from outer space…a meteor or spaceship…it didn’t really matter in the story.  Discovering that they can use their new-found power to do all kinds of things they now must exercise their ability to control it…if they are able.  Will they use it to benefit those around them?  Or will they use it for to satisfy their hunger for dominance over their surroundings?

In the end, isn’t this really the struggle of the every person who has come to realize that he or she now has physical power that can reinforce their desire for dominance ?  For all of us, the challenge is to learn to master and control our anger, expressing it in more appropriate ways to bring about the best possible good for all concerned.

At the end of the movie trailer the question is asked: “what are you capable of?”


For families coping with anger and rage, the answer is, “A lot.”

For more information about the Effect of Anger on Families check out the website of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy under Consumer Updates.

A Morning Person

I used to think I would never become a morning person.  Actually, I used to be one back in Junior High school.  College changed all of that for me.  Late nights cramming or playing hands of ‘Rook’ would keep me going until the wee hours of the morning.

Late nights seemed productive for me over the years and, certainly, a great deal of work was done while everyone else in my house was sleeping.  As in all good things, however, there came a time when I needed to change and so, I decided to become a morning person.

The transition was not as difficult as I had convinced myself that it would be over the years.  It began with a trip to Finland and the jet lag challenge that comes with returning home.  Instead of fighting it, however, I chose to go with it and I crashed in bed, first thing.  Waking up at 4 am I got up, dressed for the gym and started the routine that has continued to today, more than 3 years later.

Now Pam is the night owl and I’m ready for bed by 9:30 in the evening.   She gets to greet the kids when they come home at night…come to think of it, being a morning person does have its advantages.

Family Life: My Dad’s Bible

Dad’s Bible

During a recent visit with my family in Searcy I found one of my dad’s Bibles that I knew he had used in Finland.  It is obvious that he had read it cover-to-cover.  It is pretty worn and frazzled with a couple of pages falling out.

There are the pencil highlights that verify his journey through every page.  Hardly a page in his Bible escaped a note or a pencil underline.

Then there are the pages folded over to mark special passages that he could turn to easily and that he did not want to forget.  One of those passages jumped out at me this afternoon.  Not only was it folded over; I also discovered one of my old business cards tucked in the fold of the page!  The passage is in Isaiah 1 verses 13 through 17.  It reads:

Stop bringing meaningless offerings
  Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations–
  I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
  my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
   I am weary of bearing them.

Later, God says,

Stop doing wrong,
  learn to do right!
Seek justice,
  encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
  plead the case of the widow. (NIV)

Reading this passage reminded me that my dad has always made a point of showing me his religion.  A man of few words, dad rarely lectured me on the truths of scripture.  What he has always done is illustrate the Word of God with his life with a consistency that still causes me to marvel, setting a standard that I still aspire to achieve.