Grief Defined and Discussed

Grief is defined by most people as a feeling of suffering or loss that often occurs after the death of a loved one. While death causes one type of grief, there are many other times we experience grief. Any major life changes such as a breakup, loss of friendship, illness, or major injury can lead to feelings of grief because of the loss of life (or part of it) as we knew it.  Therefore, a better definition of grief is: The physical, emotional, somatic, cognitive, and spiritual response to an actual or threatened loss of a person, place, or thing to which we are emotionally attached.  While the experience of grief is different for everyone, it is often associated with certain feelings, physical sensations, thoughts or beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. While it is difficult to define “normal” grief, one may experience the following:

– Numbness
– Denial
– Anxiety
– Shock
– Anger
– Loneliness
– Fatigue
– Yearning
– Relief

Physical symptoms:
– Nausea/upset stomach
– Fatigue/lack of energy
– Shortness of Breath
– Tightness of Chest
– Panic Attack-like symptoms

Common thoughts:
– Confusion
– Disbelief
– Sense of presence
– Lack of concentration
– Dreams/nightmares

Common behaviors:
– Absent-minded behavior
– Appetite disturbances
– Sleep disturbances
– Social withdrawal
– Dreams of the deceased

Common experiences:
– Denial
– Anxiety
– Depression
– Anger
– Guilt
– Fear
– Bargaining

There are many theories of the stages of grief. While each one has a different number of stages with different names, they are all alike, consisting of some combination of these or similar experiences. The most important thing to remember is that everyone experiences grief differently. You may experience different stages for different lengths of time than your friends or loved ones, even if grieving the same loss. It is an important process that allows us to come to terms with the loss
we have experienced and find a new normal.


Leah Coady is a therapist with Step By Step Counseling. She holds the credentials of a Provisional Licensed Professional Counselor.

Trauma and EMDR?

Word has gotten around in recent years about how effective EMDR therapy can be.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing; you can read more about it here.  As you may already know, EMDR was developed as a therapy to help those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  This brings us to a question I have heard from some of my clients considering EMDR: What constitutes trauma?   To answer this question I could quote from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or even from the dictionary, or I could provide a list of traditionally “traumatic” events.  But this list couldn’t possibly be exhaustive and, more importantly, it is not my job to say what is or isn’t traumatic for another person. So I’d like to suggest using a different word altogether: impact.  Certain life events impact us in a way that leaves a lasting impression.  The type of impression it leaves can be influenced by our age at the time of the event, how physically and mentally well we were at that time, who else was there, how long it occurred, whether or not it was repeated, and what happened immediately after.

I have heard clients say things like “this shouldn’t be that big of a deal” or “other people have been through worse.”  Please keep in mind, as professionals we do not rate emotional pain on a scale and our initial response to stress is usually involuntary.  Our “fight or flight” instinct works for us without asking permission first. But sometimes that instinct sticks around past when it is needed.  EMDR can help your brain learn the danger has passed and it is okay to move on.

So if something is weighing you down it doesn’t matter what you call it; trauma, impact, baggage, stuff.  Remember healing is possible.  EMDR can help.

Katherine Kruse is an adolescent and adult therapist with Step By Step Counseling. She holds the credentials of a Licensed Professional Counselor and EMDR Therapist.

Collaborating With Professionals

The desire to protect our children, youngsters and young adults, can be a strong emotion for parents.  Protecting a child’s privacy is essential, however there are circumstances where it could be helpful for the adults involved in a child’s life to have insight into some of the more seemingly private aspects of their lives.  Whether that means talking with a child’s teachers about a change happening at home, or speaking with their pediatrician about a child starting therapy; all of these adults have a child’s best interests at heart and are able to do their job best when they have the whole story.

Teachers with students that begin to act differently in class may find it difficult to continue providing the finest educational experience possible if they are unaware of some of the pieces of the puzzle.  If a students is arriving late to school everyday because they have to help a younger sibling in the morning, alerting their teachers and school professionals can help alleviate some of the stress this can cause between the student and the attendance office.  Pediatricians who are unaware that a child is receiving therapy services will be unprepared when speaking with the parents and/or children, hindering the collaborative process which allows physicians to make the most accurate analysis.  Coaches will be able to assist children to perform their best when they are able to tailor practices to a child’s particular situation, collaborating with parents is essential.

By collaborating with professionals in your child life, it helps the professionals understand what’s going on and allow them to be more proactive in caring for your child.  Collaboration ideas:

  • Update personal information with school professionals, physicians, coaches, etc
  • Meet with teachers and coaches in person to discuss your child’s performance
  • Keep key players informed of major life changes in your home



Zones across the Week

Going along with the theme of Zones of regulation, in the past few blog posts, as a parent or caregiver, you can track your child’s zone across the week. Some parents can use this option, to reward good behaviors that they might see. Tracking can be as simple as having a sheet of paper with all 7 days written on it with a blank next to each day or it can be set-up in more table like manner with the 7 days across the top of the table and the four zones on the side of the table. Each day you and your child can think about how they mostly felt that day. While a child can fluctuate in and out of the zones throughout the day try to think about the day overall and what zone would you label that day. Be sure to reinforce the idea that having a green day is having a good day. Optional: At the end of each week if the child has more green days than yellow or red days, reward your child in some manner whether it be money, sweets, a toy, etc.

For more information please see the reference below:

Kuypers, L. M., & Winner, M. G. (2011). Chapter 3: GO!!! In The zones of regulation: A curriculum designed to foster self-regulation and emotional control (pp. 86-90). San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing Inc.

Checking In with A Child’s Zones

Piggy backing onto the last blogpost about the Zones of Regulation, one thing that you can do as a parent or caregiver is a Zones check-in. This helps a child be able to verbalize how they are feeling. It is a simple activity that you can hang on the fridge or somewhere out in the open. This activity is to help the child recognize what zone they are currently in. On a sheet of paper or dry erase board write “I feel ______, I’m in the ______ zone.” As a parent/caregiver, you can make color coordinated squares that say Green zone, Blue zone, Yellow zone, and Red zone. These will fill the “I’m in the (Blank-insert square) zone.” You can also cut out different feelings that coordinate to each color zone. For example, write Happy on a green square. Having multiple squares can make it easy to change the zone and feeling. As a parent or caregiver, you can also do this as an activity with your child to explain to your child what feeling coordinates to what zone. Communication is key and it can be important as a parent/caregiver to ask your child how they are feeling and what zone would go with that feeling. This helps the child to recognize and comprehend what they are feeling and how it relates to each zone. It is important to note that a child can move through different zones throughout the day. If you realize that your child is starting to move into a different zone, then you can go back to that dry erase board or paper and switch out the zones and feelings. This can let your child know that you are paying attention to them and help them to see that they might be losing self-control.

For more information please see the reference below.

Kuypers, L. M., & Winner, M. G. (2011). Chapter 3: GO!!! In The zones of regulation: A curriculum designed to foster self-regulation and emotional control (pp. 96-99). San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing Inc.

The Zones of Regulation – Review

Are you looking for a way to help the children in your life, identify their moods and control their emotions?   The Zones of Regulation were created to help children learn self-regulation and emotional control. Self-regulation also known as self-control or impulse control is the ability to control one’s emotions, needs and impulses in order to meet the demands of the environment in a socially acceptable way. The Zones of Regulation is a way to teach children how to develop and progress self-regulation by educating them how to recognize and communicate their feelings. The zones can also teach children how to effectively use different tools and techniques to move throughout the zones. There are four zones of regulation: Blue, Green, Yellow, and Red.

Blue Zone: This is when the body is in a low state of alertness and the body or brain is moving slowly. Typical emotions can include: Sad, Tired, Sick, Bored, Shy, Depressed, or Hurt.

Green Zone: This zone shows a regulated state of mind or being in control. This zone is optimal for schoolwork and being social. Typical emotions can include: Calm, Happy, Focused, Proud, Good, Relaxed, or Thankful.

Yellow Zone: This zone is when the body/mind is in a heightened state of alertness where a child can be squirmy, sensory seeking and starting to lose some control. Typical emotions can include: Stress, Anxious, Silly, Annoyed, Frustrated, Overwhelmed, or Nervous.

Red Zone: This zone is when there is an extreme heightened state of alertness or very intense feelings. Typically, a person is not in control of one’s body when in this zone. Typical emotions can include: Aggressive, Anger, Elated, Yelling, Panic, Terror or Explosive Behavior.

For more information please see the reference below.

Kuypers, L. M., & Winner, M. G. (2011). The zones of regulation: A curriculum designed to foster self-regulation and emotional control. San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing Inc.



Anger Busters

Here are a few things to do when you or a loved one can start feeling angry:

  • Sing along (yes, outloud!) to your favorite song
  • Go to the batting cages (or golfing range)
  • Draw or paint what your anger looks like (or feels like)
  • Seek out someone (or a pet) to give you a hug
  • Count to 10
  • Go for a run
  • Call a friend who you can talk to (vent)
  • Throw ice up against a brick wall (or down at the grown on your driveway or sidewalk)
  • Garden (pull weeds, plant things, rake leaves up)
  • Journal
  • Take your dog for a walk (or neighbors dog!)


Jennie Wilson is a child and adolescent therapist. She holds the credentials of a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor.



I came across a facebook status that said, If you FAIL never give up because F.A.I.L. means “First Attempt in Learning”   I love this message and smile when I see it because such a small word has such a huge meaning.  So many times when someone make mistakes or fails at something the first reaction is to immediately give up. Why give up?   Some give up because maybe they have no encouragement from others.   Others don’t attempt their tasks or goals again because maybe it’s too hard or it took too long.

Many times, what people see in success is SUCCESS!  That’s it. What people don’t see is: the disappointment, the persistence, the sacrifice, the failure, the dedication, the hard work, discipline…we forget that failure is such a common experience!  Did you know some of the most successful people – have failed at some point in their lives? My favorite one to share with students or teens in my office who are struggling in their classes is Albert Einstein.  Did you know he was expelled from school due to failing grades?  I share with others another favorite  – Dr. Seuss.  Did you know his first book was rejected REPEATEDLY by various publishers before finally being released? Can any of us imagine our childhood without Dr. Seuss books? Thankfully Albert Einstein and Dr. Suess kept trying.

If you have had less than stellar experiences with a previous counselor or you have had disappointing experiences in previous counseling sessions, I encourage you to try counseling again. Whether your counselor failed you or you dropped out of counseling – it’s ok to start over again.  Sometimes that might be asking for a different counselor within the counseling practice you are going to. Or maybe that’s looking for a specific type of personality or specific credentials…keep looking until you can find someone who’s a good fit and who can help you on the path to feeling better.    Whether you are a couple on the verge of divorce and counseling “didn’t work”  try someone else.  Or maybe you have a resistant teenager who has blew through 3 counselors in the past 6 months because of one thing after another, look for someone who specializes in resistant teenagers.  Or maybe you have a 5 year old with some extreme behaviors that you are at a loss for what to do, seek out a provider who primarily works with this age and has additional education and credentials to help you and your family with those behaviors.

So, I leave you today – keep trying until you get the results you want.   In the words of Dory, from Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, Just keep Swimming,  Just keep swimming swimming swimming….”

Jennie Wilson is a child and adolescent therapist. She holds the credentials of a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Summer Edition

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Summer Edition

Ah! At last, summer has arrived! Take a deep breath and smell the warm, fresh air, feel the chill of a newly-opened swimming pool, and finally relax from the busier seasons behind. The idea of summer is typically what gets us all through, yet summer is not all it is said to be. From a psychological standpoint, summer can actually be detrimental to our health. So, let us take a look at a few themes that have been found within the minds of youth and even adults in this next season.


To begin, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real mental deficit that affects a large amount of people annually.  It is most associated with the winter season for the obvious cold, dark, and less-active trends. As we enter into summer, it is important to recognize the hidden trends buried within this supposedly “freeing” season.

ADHD Medication Withdraws:

As children/adolescents/adults are prescribed with ADHD medications throughout the general school year, summer seems to be a time to put these medications on hold. Students no longer have to focus in a classroom, so what is the point of these medications in the summer? Truthfully, this mindset can be problematic as these medications still hold great importance for children and adolescents. By skipping out on the prescribed medication for the summer, this could result in anxiety, mood swings, and depression. Keep in mind that it is important to stay on the medication as prescribed and if you are thinking of stopping, speak to your doctor first for the safest transition possible.

Depression and Anxiety:

Shockingly enough, it is possible to be depressed and/or anxious in the summer time. It is easy to neglect these feelings with all of the “fun” activities at our fingertips, but we should be making an effort to truly understand the dangers of these emotions. As our busy schedules come to a close and we suddenly have “nothing to do”, depression kicks in, with anxiety quickly following after. To prevent these detrimental mindsets, refer to the prevention techniques below.


With summer being far less structured than most seasons, loneliness comes into play as most people are out and about enjoying themselves with us left behind. For adults, loneliness may be near as work interferes with quality time in the day to enjoy the weather and fellowship. For children in school especially, summer is a lonely time as they have limited access/communication to their friends from school. It is important to create a stable community to surround ourselves with so that we feel that sense of involvement.


Prevention Techniques:

  • Go outside as much as possible to enjoy the weather
  • Sit down with your child and discuss medical goals regarding medication for the summer
  • Create structure in your day to prevent loneliness and depression
  • Volunteer, join a club, or participate in a sport to create friendships and self-actualization
  • Find a job that will give purpose to daily routines and allow structure
  • Set play dates for children to see their friends from school
  • Use vacation time wisely



Weaver, Rheyanne. “Dealing with Mental Health Issues During the Summer.” Therapy Blog. N.p., 30 Apr. 2012. Web. 01 June 2016.



Miranda Chaney is an Undergraduate Student Intern at Step By Step Counseling, LLC from Lindenwood University.

Katherine Boone Outstanding Play Therapist Award

Congratulations to our very own Jennie Wilson for being honored with the Katherine Boone Outstanding Play Therapist award, the biggest honor that someone can be given from the Missouri Association for Play Therapy. In order to obtain this honor she had to have been nominated by her fellow colleagues or peers in the field.  Additionally, to obtain this honor she had to be responsible for “…innovations in play therapy, for providing leadership in the further development of play therapy, or for performing an outstanding service to the school or community.”    She was presented with this award at the awards ceremony during the 2016 Missouri Association for Play Therapy’s annual conference in Columbia, Missouri.

Congratulations Jennie!


Here, Jennie receives her award from Missouri Association for Play Therapy's Board President Ann Elliot

Here, Jennie receives her award from Missouri Association for Play Therapy’s Board President Ann Elliot.