February 25, 2024

Archives for February 2013



In the last stress busting article, we discussed the power of diaphragmatic breathing to reduce immediate symptoms of stress.  Today, we are going to explore another technique that complements deep breathing to reduce stress symptoms:  Deep Muscle Relaxation

You can’t be tense and relaxed at the same time

It’s true.  When it comes to stress, your body is either in a state or relaxation or a state of tension.  You switch back and forth between these states throughout your day. Stress is typically related to tension.  So, it makes sense that anything that induces relaxation will reduce tension and thus reduce stress.  Slow, deep breathing works because simulates the breathing of a relaxed state.  Similarly, inducing your muscles to release tension and relax will simulate and ultimately BECOME a state of relaxation.

The problem with tension

There are a number of problems with having chronically tense muscles.  Tense muscles use more energy and fatigue our body quicker than relaxed muscles.  Chronically tense muscles get damaged easier.  Tense muscles tend to lose some of their elasticity and thus can inhibit your range of motion and your ability to move quickly and easily.  Tense muscles also tend to ache more.  This then becomes a suck on your mental energy as you have to manage the creaks, groans, aches and pains of tense muscles.  This isn’t to say that tension is bad.  Tension is necessary. Without it we would fall to the ground like so much quivering jelly, unable to move.  The trick is to have just enough, but not too much tension.

When we carry tension in our body for a long period of time, we tend to become blind and unaware of this tension.  The feeling of tensions and achiness becomes normal.  This is the real problem.  We train out body and brain to accept excess tension and then let it inhibit out daily activities. Over time this builds up and can gradually erode our quality of life.

It is important to do things that allow you to get your muscles to relax (and let you re-learn what relaxed, tension-free muscles feel like).  By making a practice of these exercises, you can learn to stay relaxed throughout more of your day.  Your heightened sense of relaxation will also let you activate tension when you need it much more quickly (because your muscles won’t be tired all the time from maintaining a chronic state of tension).  Top athletes are masters of utilizing the power of relaxation and tension and can thus demonstrate incredible feats of speed and power as a result.  For the rest of us, I’m just suggesting master relaxation and tension to give us more control over our stress for a happier, healthier life…if this also give a faster 100 meter dash, all the better. J

Techniques to induce relaxation and retrain our sense of tension

1.      Massage

Without a doubt, one of the best treats you can get for yourself is a good massage. Getting someone who knows what they are doing to knead your muscles is a fantastic way to induce deep muscle relaxation.  Now, I know that this can get pricey.  An alternative is to get a book on massage (such as Massage for Dummies) and convince a significant other to read it and then practice on you.  You could reciprocate.  Also, for parents, learning basic massage techniques can give you another tool to help relax reactive children.

2.      Progressive Relaxation Training

This tried and true technique is generally a part of any good stress/anxiety management protocol.  Here, you sit or lay in a quiet, comfortable place.  You then tense each muscle group in your body and then let it totally relax.  Doing this mindfully and in conjunction with deep breathing can help you learn to distinguish between muscles under tensions and muscles in relaxation.  Purposefully making muscles tense and relaxed highlights the differences between the two states.  Also, tensing the muscles helps wear them out so they are more prone to be relaxed.  Doing this on a regular basis will allow you to learn to quickly get your muscles to relax with but a thought.  Parents can teach this to children by having them practice being like uncooked spaghetti then being cooked spaghetti.  This fun game can help teach them how to induced muscle relaxation on command.

 3.      Sauna/hot shower/hot bath

Long exposure to hot water can also induce deep muscle relaxation.  Taking a long hot shower or bath is great way to sooth and relax sore muscles.  If you have access to a sauna or hot tub, all the better.

 4.      Self-massage/foam roller

Weight lifters have known about the benefits of this for a long time.  They use this technique to recover from strenuous weight training sessions and to speed recovery.  They get foam rollers and then roll their body over the rollers to relax and massage their muscles.  If you google the terms “myofascia release” and “foam rolling” you can find all sorts of videos demonstrating this.  You can use anything from long foam rollers to tennis balls to accomplish this form of self-massage.  It should be noted that this can be uncomfortable at first and may take some getting used to.

 5.      Neuro-feedback training

Also called “biofeedback.”  This method will involve the help of someone trained in neuro-feedback.  Special sensors are connected to your head and body that then send information about your brainwave patterns and muscle activation to a computer.  This information is displayed graphically.  You can use the graphic display as a means of feedback as you practice relaxation.  As you successfully relax your body and mid, you will be able to see your progress on the computer monitor.  This can be very effective in learning how to induce a deep, relaxed state.  However, it can also be costly.



The methods listed above are not in any particular order (other than that’s the order I thought of them).  Any or all of them might be effective to help you learn to induce deep muscle relaxation.  The list is also not all-inclusive.  There are probably many more methods that could be used to learn to relax.   Please share other relaxation methods with me in the comments section below.

At the end of the day, it is important to pick a method or two and practice it.  The more frequently you can practice, the better.  Eventually, you will be able to sense when your muscles are getting tense and induce them to relax with a thought.  This, combined with deep breathing will allow you to combat the effects of stress inducing situations much more effectively.

I hope this information proves useful.  Breathe….You got this.

Please leave your tricks for managing stress in the comments section below.  For more information or to make an appointment, go to www.erikyoungtherapy.com or email me at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Copyright 2013  by Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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LIFE WITH JEREMY — An Adoption Story



I know, dear readers that my articles are usually of the “How-to” variety.  This, one is going to be a bit different.  While there are certainly lessons to be learned here, they won’t be spelled out in easy step-by-step directions.  I totally understand if this is not your cup of tea.  It’s cool.  But, this is a story that I’ve been waiting almost a decade to tell.  It’s an important story to me and I hope you forgive me a little bit of self-indulgence.  I promise more “How-to” articles will be published soon.

February 8, 2013

“You do understand that if I enter this judgment, it is irrevocable? Jeremy becomes your child now and forever just as if he was born to you. ”

This is what Judge Fritch said to me and my wife during our adoption hearing.  Here’s the running commentary scrolling through my mind at this time: “Of course I understand, why wouldn’t I understand?  Wait, did he say IF?  What does he mean if??  Could he say NO?  This was supposed to be a done deal!  Why would he say no?  What will I do if he says NO?  I’ll get upset is what…if I get upset I’m going to open my mouth that’ll mean a contempt of court charge.  I’m not gonna apologize though.  No judge is keeping me from my son.  If I don’t apologize I’ll go to jail.  Can I handle jail?  For Jeremy?  I sure can.  No problem….”

Thankfully, that was just in my head, I simply looked the judge in the eye and said “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Judge Fritch entered the motion and Jeremy, who had been living as our son for almost a decade since he was 12 years old became our legally adopted adult son.

Adoption day!

Adoption day!

How it all started

Just about 11 years ago, my wife and I were looking for a little extra income to make ends meet.  As it turns out, working for a non-profit organization is not the path towards being independently wealthy and socially secure (shocking, I know).  In the course of looking for new income opportunities we started providing respite care for special needs kids form Devereux’s teaching family program…we were essentially part-time foster parents.

When my wife lost her job as a daycare teacher, the director of the teaching family program (Maria) mentioned to me that we would make great full-time special needs foster parents.  I laughed.  This was funny.  I already spent 40-60 hours a week working with autistic and intellectually disabled teens…doing this at home meant doing my job 24/7 without a break.  No way, no how, no thank you.  This attitude lasted all of 2 hours until I got home.

“Lorrie, Maria sad the funniest thing to me today.”

“What’s that?” replied my lovely wife.

“She said we should be full-time teaching parents.  Can you imagine doing that full-time?  I’d go nuts!”

My wife just sat there pensively and murmured “Hmm….”

All I could think was “Uh oh…”

Into the breach…

We didn’t take the plunge right away.  We talked about things for a while  The fact I would essentially be working without a break was a big deal and not something to be taken lightly.  However, I love my wife dearly, and it was obvious she adored being Mom to all these different kids that came to our house.  She had a knack.  Furthermore, I’d been espousing for a number of years the therapeutic benefits of a loving family to the treatment of behavior disorders.  This was my chance to put my money where my mouth was…to walk the walk.

Our first child turned out not to be a good fit for us (but her story had a good outcome).  It was with her I learned the true meaning of “attachment disorder.”  However, the second child we considered turned out to be our first and most enduring success.

His intake packet read like a horror story.  He was prone to sudden violent outbursts.  He was a biter.  He broke his sister’s arm when she was only 5 years old.  There was hardly a single positive thing in that intake packet.  However, families often accentuate the negatives when they are desperate to get their child into placement.  I used my pull as a Devereux clinician to ask his therapist about him.  I found out that, as I suspected, the info in the packet was a more than a little exaggerated.  My colleague said that Jeremy was a good kid who was very bright and would probably have a normal IQ but for the communication issues that came with his autism.  He encouraged us to go ahead and at least have him do some visits to see if he would be a good fit.

Jell-O Cheesecake and Flubber

So, we had our first dinner visit with Jeremy.  I picked him up from his group home.  His staff told me that she was working on getting him to eat more vegetables and that we should make him eat those first before giving him preferred foods.  I didn’t get any other words of wisdom.

Jeremy and I drove back to my house.  I tried making small talk with him, but as he was pretty much non-verbal at this point, it was pretty one sided.  God I was nervous.  The kid was so serious…never cracked a smile.  He just stared at me…through me…with these deep blue eyes.  Was I making a mistake?  Did I have what it takes to work with a kid like this?

Finally, we pulled into my driveway.  I escorted Jeremy cross my lawn and into the front door where my family was waiting. As Jeremy entered, my wife greeted him with a big smile and a “Hi Jeremy!”  In reply, he dashed right past her, grabbed a video off the shelf and proceeded to decipher our TV and vcr (in all of about 3 minutes…the kid was gifted!).  The movie was Flubber.  Jeremy sat himself in my big blue easy chair and happily watched Robin Williams blow cgi green goo out his pants.

For dinner, we had salad (first of course…he ate it without a problem) and hotdogs (he verbally asked for two…guess the boy could talk) and French fries.  For dessert, we had one of those no-bake jello cheesecakes.  Jeremy ate like a man on a mission.  He attacked his food with singular purpose.  It seemed to me that if I could bottle that intense concentration, we’d have a cure for ADHD. In fact, this is how Jeremy lives his life…from objective to objective…a man on a mission.

After dinner, we put in another video and enjoyed just being together, trying out the new family dynamic.  At one point, Jeremy went to use the bathroom.  No issues there, he’s pretty self-sufficient.  However, on the way back from the bathroom, he dashed into the kitchen.  I followed but a few seconds later.  There was Jeremy scarfing down half a cheesecake.  I’m serious; he devoured that half a cheesecake in about 15 seconds flat.  If I were a less ethical person, I could make a fortune betting on him at eating contests.  In any event, it was clear he fit in perfectly with our family.

Five lessons I learned from Jeremy

1. The “N” word — We learned pretty quickly that the combination of Jeremy and the word NO was problematic.  Saying that word to Jeremy was a good way to get bitten.  We very quickly learned that we needed to be very creative in how we denied Jeremy access to desired tangibles.  No was replaced with such phrases as “not right now”, “later”, “try this instead”, and “Look!  Elvis!” (that last one didn’t work so well, but it made my kids laugh).  Now, over the years, we did a lot of hard work with Jeremy.  We taught him that he could trust us.  Because he could trust us, he learned that we would give him things he wanted…eventually.  Now, we can use the “N” word.  He still doesn’t like it, but he accepts it.  He knows that we love him and that the things he needs will always be there when he needs them.  The lesson here is that trust needs to be established and maintained in order to help your loved ones change.

2.  Changing clothes is bad —   On one of our early outings, we took Jeremy to buy clothes.  He was so excited to pick out new outfits.  Lorrie, not knowing his sizes, took him to the changing rooms at the store.  Jeremy quickly put on his new clothes.  We figured out what fit.  The problem came when it was time to take OFF the new clothes and put the old clothes back on.  Jeremy had a meltdown in the store.  It was ugly.  However, Lorrie was calm.  She persevered.  The clothes were purchased.  We did not take Jeremy back clothes shopping for some time.  We had similar problems when Jeremy would try to dress himself in an inappropriate outfit (such as long sleeve shirt and jeans  in 90 degree summer weather).  We got creative in setting out his clothes.  We made sure that we stored weather inappropriate clothes so he couldn’t put them on.  We even went so far as to throw out clothes that no longer fit…Jeremy would retrieve these from the garbage when we weren’t looking.  At one point, I had to drive a favorite shirt three towns away and dispose of it in a dumpster because Jeremy kept putting it back in his dresser.  Eventually, we taught Jeremy to be a little more flexible.  We praised him for dressing so handsome.  We rewarded him with praise and new cool clothes when he could tolerate changing clothes.  It took years.  The lesson?  Be patient.  Change comes slow to the autistic child, but it can happen.  Don’t try to change too much too fast though.

3.  I put Ketchup on my Ketchup – Jeremy LOVES ketchup.  He puts it on just about everything.  .  At first we tried complicated reinforcement and teaching programs to manage the flow of ketchup in the house as the level of ketchup abuse seemed problematic to us.  At one point, despite our best efforts, we were going through a large bottle of ketchup a week! It turns out, Jeremy was sneaking down to the kitchen in the middle of the night and drinking straight from the bottle.  We gave up on our fancy plans and just let Jeremy have his ketchup.  If he wanted it that bad, why stand in the way?  The only thing we did was not buy new ketchup until it was time to do the shopping.  Eventually, ketchup consumption returned to more normal levels in our house.  The lesson?  Choose your battles.  Just because you think it’s weird doesn’t make it a problem.

4. Macy’s, elevator, bathroom —  Recently, Jeremy was writing one of his many lists.  When he writes a list, he’s usually asking for something.  This list was unique.  It said, Erik, Rhi Rhi (my daughter) Macy’s, elevator, I want bathroom please.  He wrote that list daily for a couple of weeks,  For whatever reason, he wanted me and my daughter to accompany him to the mall.  One evening, I didn’t have a lot scheduled, so we piled in the car and went to Macy’s  Jeremy was clearly excited.  Once at the mall, we let Jeremy take the lead, curious to see what he wanted to get.  He did his little speedwalk through the store, didn’t stop to buy or even look at anything.  Once through the store he made a beeline for the elevators which we rode to the first floor.  From there we walked around the outside of Macys until we came to the mall bathrooms.  There Jeremy went in, peed, then washed his hands.  Once done he smiled at me and declared himself finished. He was happy and content.  I must confess I didn’t get it, but I was happy that he was happy.  We went home and the lists stopped. The lesson?  Don’t ignore the little things.  Take time to enjoy the little pleasures in life.  Don’t question them either.  Happiness is where you find it.

5.  Family is more about DNA – Here is a picture of me and Jeremy.


This says everything about our relationship.  We have a special bond.  Mere words can’t adequately describe it.  I would take a bullet for Jeremy.  One of my colleagues, after recently becoming a new Dad, asked me about my children as we were waiting for a meeting to start.  I described all my kids, biological and foster.  He asked me if it was different with the foster kids.  I replied that of course it was different; raising special needs kids is different almost by definition. He said, “no, the love. You love them less right?”  I said, “No, of course not…I love all my kids equally.”  I could tell by the look in his eyes that he didn’t believe me.  He didn’t get it.  I wish I had that picture on me then.    The lesson?  Family is about who you love.  Not who conceived you.  To be successful as a (foster) parent, you have to accept the children as your own, and treat them the same as you treat your own.

In closing, I owe Jeremy a huge debt of gratitude.  By sharing his life with me, by letting me be his Dad, he taught me to be a better parent and a better therapist.  When I talk about bringing together clinical knowledge with practical experience, I’m talking about life with my son, Jeremy.

Thank you son…you are the best!

I want to hear about your stories of life with your special kids.  Please share them in the comments below.

I welcome your questions.  I can be reached at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Find out more about me and schedule a complimentary session at www.erikyoungtherapy.com

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed.,LPC

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ANTECEDENT MODIFICATIONS (in “Normalspeak”, changing what happens before the behavior)


doctor cartoon

Did you ever hear the old joke about the guy that goes to the doctor?  He says to the doctor, “Doc, it hurts my arm every time I do this,” (as he raises his arm).  The doctor, looking thoughtful, says, “Well, don’t do that!”  I’ll bet you’re wondering, “What does an old vaudeville routine have to do with behavior modification?”   Simple!  By avoiding or changing the THINGS THAT TRIGGER behaviors, we can better manage them.


Behaviorists describe behaviors in three parts labeled “the ABC’s”:

  1. 1.     Antecedent,
  2. 2.     Behavior,
  3. 3.     Consequence.

Antecedent behavior consequenceIn the previous articles, you learned about the Behavior (What is the function?) and you learned about consequence (reinforcement).   This article will focus on antecedents...the things that happen before the behavior.

For practical purposes we are concerned about two things that happen before a behavior:

  1. 1.     Triggers  &
  2. 2.     Setting events.

Triggers are the things that consistently cause the behavior to happen.  For example, if someone jumps out and startles you, you jump.  Analyzing the triggers allows us to answer the question: “What is the function of the behavior?”.  It also allows us to predict when a behavior is going to happen .

Setting Events are situations and environments where the behavior is more likely to occur.  Example: I am not much of a morning person.  To get through the morning, I rely on set routines because my brain is not typically fully engaged when I first wake up.  Change my routine even a little bit and I am more likely to forget things, become grumpy, etc.

What do we do with this information?

At the very least , if you understand the triggers and setting events of behaviors…you can use that knowledge to  eliminate the behaviors by:   1) removing triggers and/or 2) avoiding setting events .  Conversely, you can elicit  desired behaviors by:  1) creating setting events and/or 2)  putting triggers into the environment .


Try this to reduce “stop” behaviors:

  • Write down all the possible setting events and triggers of the behavior.  (You should have a good idea about this from when you were figuring out the function of the behavior).


  • Now, for EACH event and trigger, ask yourself,  “Can I make this go away?”


  •  If the answer is yes, then take steps to eliminate the stressor.
  • If the answer is “no”, then ask yourself “Can I reduce this or make it happen less often?”
    •  If that answer is yes, take steps to make the stressor less prevalent in your life.
    • If that answer is “no”, then ask yourself, “What do I have to do to live with this?”

v  The answer to that question will lead to a CONCRETE PLAN you can follow.  Simple…but not easy. Most good thing in life are like this.

Try this out and let me know how it’s working for you.  Above all, DON’T PANIC.  Breathe.  You’ve got this.

I welcome your questions.   I can be reached at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Find out more about me and schedule a complimentary session at www.erikyoungtherapy.com

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed.,LPC

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