Saturday, December 3, 2016

Couples on the Brink

By Susan Morlock, MA, LPC

Nearly everyone enters marriage or a committed relationship with the dream of a lifelong union. But many couples reach a crisis point where breakup is on the table. Usually there is one “leaning-out” partner, who thinks that splitting up might be the best way to move forward, and one “leaning-in” partner, who wants to preserve the relationship and make things better.
            If this is your situation—one of you leaning out and the other leaning in—it’s a tough place to be. Traditional couple’s counseling may not be helpful if one of you is not sure you want to work on the relationship at this point.            
            Fortunately, there is a new way of helping you. Discernment Counseling can help you find clarity and confidence about next steps. It can help you find a deeper understanding of what’s happened to your relationship and each person’s contributions to the problems. It’s not couple’s counseling aiming to solve your problems or bring you closer. Instead, Discernment Counseling helps you figure out whether your problems can be solved and whether you both want to try.
           Discernment Counseling focuses on three paths:
  1. Staying married or partnered as you have been
  2. Separating or divorcing
  3. Making a six-month, all-out effort in couple’s therapy to see if you can make your relationship healthy and good for both of you.

           As you consider these paths in Discernment Counseling, you will learn more about your relationship and about yourselves as individuals—information that will help you make a good decision about the future.
         Discernment Counseling sessions involve mostly conversations between each individual partner and the counselor, along with some therapy time as a couple. The counselor respects each person’s perspective—reasons to end the relationship and reasons to preserve it.
         Discernment Counseling is short-term work, as brief as one session and as long as five. You are committing yourselves to only one session at the outset; then each time, you decide whether to return, for up to a maximum of five sessions. The first session is two-hours long and any subsequent sessions are one-and-one-half hours.
         Confronting problems in a partnership can be painful. But Discernment Counseling can help you clarify your intentions in an accepting and nonjudgmental setting. When each person feels validated, the pressure can lift, and decisions about the future of the relationship can be made with compassion and clarity.
Susan Morlock, MA, LPC is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She has specialized training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Trauma Therapy using EMDR, Discernment Counseling, Internal Family Systems, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, stress and anger management, job and career concerns, eating disorders, and relationship issues. To find out more about Discernment Counseling or to get in touch with Susan, call 773-929-6262 x 20 or email

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Awaken to Action: Celebrating Acceptance

By Amy Y. Grabowski, MA, LCPC
No matter whom you voted for last month, I’m sure you’ve been aware of an atmosphere of anger, discord, and fear that has permeated our community, our city, and especially our country. Many, myself included, felt anxious, confused, and helpless. Reading about how people were reacting with acts of violence and bigotry was very distressing. The day after the election, my friend’s 5th grade son came home from school very upset. Apparently, one of his classmates walked down the hallway, pointed at other students, and declared, “You’re deported, you’re deported, you’re deported. You’re white, so you can stay.” My heart ached when I heard that! Our children should not be learning these attitudes and behaviors! That is not the way I want the future of our society to be! 
            I strongly believe that, as Mahatma Gandhi said, we must be the change we wish to see in the world. If we want a society that is accepting and loving, we must be accepting and loving. The staff at The Awakening Center and I believe that we all need to DO something to help heal ourselves and those around us. It felt good to meet together as a group and come up with ideas that will help turn the hatred around. 
            Going forward, each month, The Awakening Center will celebrate a quality that we want to see in the world. Throughout December, TAC will recognize and honor ACCEPTANCE! We will post “challenges,” which are little actions you can take to spread acceptance. Some are easy: “Smile at someone you don’t know.” Others take more effort: “Learn about another culture.” Our hope is that by doing simple challenges you will feel empowered and hopeful about the future of our society.
            We hope that through these simple acts of celebration and acceptance, we can strengthen our sense of community and reaffirm our support for one another. We can embrace our differences of race, ethnicity, heritage, language, and culture. We can celebrate our diverse religions, beliefs, and customs. We can honor our sexual orientations and gender identities. We can embrace our special needs. We can celebrate you and value you as unique human beings. 
            Let’s protect and take care of each other. Let’s speak up and support one another. Let’s fill our hearts with love for each other. 
P.S. We are trying to get 1,000 “Likes” on our Facebook page, so check us out at And please consider sharing this on your own Facebook page and encourage others to “Like” us as well.


Amy is the Founder and Director of The Awakening Center and the author of An Internal Family Systems Guide to Recovery from Eating Disorders: Healing Part by Part, which will be published in 2017.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

EMDR--Breakthrough Therapy

By Susan Morlock, MA, LPC
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a relatively new therapy, and research shows that it can be effective in reducing symptoms of trauma. Like our body, the mind can heal itself. Usually, this natural process occurs when we sleep during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle. EMDR mimics this process by having the individual recount the past trauma experienced, while moving his or her eyes back and forth in a clockwork-like fashion, known as bilateral stimulation. With repeated sets of eye movements, the traumatic memory loses its intensity as it becomes neutral and stored in the past where it belongs.
What happens when we get traumatized?
Trauma--which is an event that falls outside our usual human experience--causes distress. Trauma can be grouped into two types: Big T and little t. A big T event could be auto crash, war, losing a loved one, or sexual abuse, just to name a few. Little t events are at a more personal level such as loss of a personal relationship, loss of job, being teased as a young child, or a phobia or fear of something. When these things happen, our natural coping mechanisms become overwhelmed, and our brain freezes (flight or fight response). These memories are left unprocessed, and then when the trauma is triggered, the body reacts as if the event is occurring in the present. EMDR helps teach the brain that the trauma is a memory. All trauma has an effect on how we view the world and shapes how we cope with life after an upsetting event.
What is EMDR session like?
The amount of time to complete treatment will depend on your history. The three-pronged approach involves targeting past memories, present disturbances, and future actions. By adding a bilateral stimulation in a safe environment the disturbing event is recalled in detail. All the emotions and body sensations are explored. The idea is to shift and weaken the negative emotions and reactions to help make them less disturbing and symptomatic by turning them into resolved feelings and stored adaptive memories.
What are some symptoms that EMDR can help?
Eating disorders
Test anxiety

Can EMDR be helpful for you? Talk to your therapist or contact me for more details. We all deserve to have happiness and a full life.

Susan Morlock, MA, LPC is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She has specialized training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Trauma Therapy using EMDR, Discernment Counseling, Internal Family Systems, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, stress and anger management, job and career concerns, eating disorders, and relationship issues. To find out more about EMDR or to get in touch with Susan, call 773-929-6262 x 20 or email

Monday, October 24, 2016

How Nature Can Remind Us to Be Present

Bryce Canyon, Utah. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Buikema

By Kimberly Buikema
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir, early advocate for US wilderness preservation
Throughout 2016, the National Park Service has celebrated its centennial anniversary, with its actual 100th birthday having taken place on August 25. Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit any of the national parks can attest to their overwhelming beauty and majesty. Visiting them, whether for a few photographs, a brief stroll, a hike, or camping can invoke a sense of awe, wonderment, and peace.

So what is it about that experience that makes it so special? There are most likely scientific studies out there that explain the benefit of getting back in touch with nature and the earth. Instead, I’d like to mention why visiting the national parks have been so special for me.

  • The parks remind us that we, as humans are all connected, both to each other and the grander universe. 
  • Fresh air and sunshine can work wonders for mental and physical well-being.
  • The views are simply awe-inspiring and humbling.
  • The quiet and solitude, while being surrounded by beauty, reminds me that I am OK just as I am. 
  • The only distraction is nature and abundant life as seen in vegetation and wildlife. I never even look at my phone (unless it’s to take a picture).

I’m seeing new things and views I don’t usually see in the city. The colors are so different and vibrant.

Here in Chicago, we aren’t close to The West where national parks, mountains, deserts, and canyons are abundant. So what can we do here, among the high-rises, sprawling suburbs, and expressways do to feel closer to nature?

  • Don’t be afraid to get outdoors! Chicago can be hot and muggy (or REALLY cold) but can you spare a few mindful moments to feel the air on your skin, the earth beneath your feet? Even if the weather is uncomfortable, can you incorporate that into your experience? Can you feel the sweat collecting, the heavy humidity on your skin? 
  • Take a moment to listen. What sounds do you hear? Is there wind rustling leaves in the trees? Dogs barking? Birds chirping? Cicadas?
  • Open up the windows when the weather allows it. Let natural, fresh air fill your home. Notice how your home smells, feels, or sounds different with the windows open. 
  • Take a moment to admire the sky. We have our fair share of lovely sunsets, not to mention clouds, thunderstorms, and stars. 
  • Take your meditation or yoga practice outside. 

       Although these ideas seem simple, simplicity is often involved in practicing mindfulness. It allows us a moment to pause, breathe, notice, and connect. Connecting back to nature and the earth can help us feel connected to others and our inner selves.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.” – John Muir
Kim Buikema is a graduate intern at The Awakening Center. She is currently in her second and final year in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. She believes that goodness and truth lives within everyone and hopes to help people find their own inner-truth and goodness through counseling. She has a regular yoga and meditation practice, and enjoys traveling and music. She has recently returned to Chicago after living in the UK for ten years.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Power of Language: Part 3 Negating Words.

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC
            In Part 1 of this three-part series on language we explored rigid words. Part 2 delved into pressure words
            In this final installment, we’ll look into words and phrases that keep us from being open and accepting of ourselves and others. These are negating words or phrases, such as but. These types of words close off opposing forces that co-exist in our everyday lives. For example, yesterday I walked by a beautiful pair of shoes, and I thought, “I want those shoes, but I need to save money for rent.” (Notice the pressure word need that slipped in there? Could this mental fight have been avoided had I changed it to want? Just a thought) I walked away and didn’t even try them on. I continued thinking about those shoes and fighting with myself about them all day:  
“Those shoes were so pretty.”
“But you can’t afford them, Sheana.”
“But they were so perfectly edgy, and they would look great with that one dress…”
“Sheana, you always spend too much money on things you don’t need.  You’ve got to stop!” 
(Notice how the mental fight escalated and how I used the rigid word always with myself.) By throwing the word but into the middle of that initial phrase, I negated the part of me that wanted the shoes. By replacing but with a period or and, I could allow room for both parts of myself to have a say in whether or not I bought the shoes. So, had I stated “I want those shoes. And I need money for rent,” I would have opened the conversation up to choice. I still might choose to not buy them; however, I gave myself the space to fully experience wanting them. This allows me to feel more confident in, and to better understand, my choice. 
            So, consider following these steps to change this language pattern.
  1. Notice that you have used a negating word.
  2. Change it to a period or and.
  3. Allow space for both opposing items to exist at once. 

            Working to change these categories of words takes time and patience. These are words we use in our everyday language. So, go easy as you begin to catch yourself (nonjudgmentally) in the act of using them. Then, when you feel ready, move onto Steps 2 and 3.
           I hope these tools allow you to live your days more openly, accepting, and peacefully.

Sheana is a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Awakening Center working with individuals and groups. She creates an empathic, accepting environment in which she walks with her clients on a path toward peace and happiness. For inquiries or to set up an appointment, please contact her at (773)929-6262 Ext. 16 or

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Power of Language: Part 2 Pressure Words

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC
As noted in Part 1 of this 3-part series, we’re exploring how language can affect our peace of mind. In this post, I’d like to delve into pressure words, or the words and phrases that keep us from being open and accepting of ourselves and others. Examples include have to, must, should, and good enough. I lovingly say that when we use these, we are shoulding all over ourselves. I can appreciate how these types of words are usually trying to motivate us. However, in my experience, we end up pushed into tight corners with few acceptable outcomes.
            For example, if I tell myself “I have to finish writing this blog post by tonight,” then I’ve created only one acceptable outcome. (Did you notice the rigid word only that popped up there too?) What happens if I don’t finish the blog post by tonight? Odds are the mental fighting begins, and I shame myself for not getting it done. But imagine, if I said to myself “I would like to finish this blog post by tonight.” There’s so much space now. If I don’t get it done, that’s OK because my language allows me to understand that it wasn’t the only possible outcome. I can get it done tomorrow!
            One way to create space within these phrases is to follow these steps:
  1. Notice you’ve used a pressure word or phrase.
  2. Consider why you might actually want to complete the task or engage in the activity.
  3. Change the pressure words into more giving words, such as I want, It would be nice if, I would like to.
Now, you might be thinking, what if I have a task that I don’t want to do, such as laundry. First of all, I am with you. I know very few people who enjoy doing laundry. However, how happy will you be when you have clean underwear tomorrow? So “I have to do laundry” becomes “I would like to do laundry today so I’ll have clean underwear tomorrow.” Now you have created motivation. And if you decide you really don’t want to do your laundry, then you can go commando, and all will be well.
            Now, let’s consider that you have a work task with a firm deadline. It must get done. The word must automatically adds pressure to the situation. If you are anything like me, odds are this type of pressure causes you to play one too many games of Solitaire to procrastinate. Consider instead all of the reasons you want to complete the assignment. Perhaps you will get accolades from your boss, or you might feel good once you’ve completed the task. The idea is to add joy back into your to-do list and extract the pressure from it.
            This week, I encourage each of you to try step 1 with pressure words. Once you’ve mastered this step, you can move on to the others. And, as always, leave any judgement out of the work!
            Look for the Part 3—Negating Words—coming soon!

Sheana is a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Awakening Center working with individuals and groups. She creates an empathic, accepting environment in which she walks with her clients on a path toward peace and happiness. For inquiries or to set up an appointment, please contact her at (773)929-6262 Ext. 16 or


Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Power of Language: Part 1 Rigid Words.

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC

Language plays a powerful role in our lives. It allows us to communicate with others and with our Selves. The language we use can either open us up to considering multiple options and outcomes, or it can close us off from them. In the next three posts, I will pose three basic categories of words and phrases that tend to keep us from being open and accepting: rigid words, pressure words, and negating words.
          Today, I will talk about rigid words, including always, never, exactly, only, every, and none. These words tend to close us off from other possibilities or outcomes. For example, last week I was changing my sheets, and, as usual, I struggled with the fitted sheet. I often have a tough time knowing which is the long side and which is the short side. I took my best guess and got angry with myself when I got it wrong, thinking “Uggghhhh… I never do this right.” I ripped the sheet off, turned it around, and put it on the bed; I was in a bad mood for about 10 minutes before I realized what happened. I had insulted myself, and a part of me felt insecure and belittled.
          A mental fight ensued, leaving me in a bad mood. Can you imagine how much more peaceful that 10 minutes would have been had I said to myself “I often have difficulties putting a fitted sheet on the bed”? Go back and read that last sentence in an angry tone. It doesn’t have the same effect, does it? By nature of the word choice, it is a more accepting statement.
           Now, let’s double back to the time I was in a bad mood. Imagine that my partner was in the room with me, asking for my help with the laundry. Perhaps my patience was limited because I was preoccupied with the mental battle within. I may have snapped at him and told him to figure it out himself. This is one of the ways the language we use with ourselves can seep out and affect our relationships with others. 
            You can change the quality of these rigid statements by following these steps. 
  1. Recognize that you’ve used one of the rigid words with yourself or someone else.
  2. Take a step back from it--perhaps with a deep breath--and consider with curiosity the validity of it. Is it true that “I NEVER put a fitted sheet on correctly?” Of course not! I’ve gotten it right at least one time in my life.
  3. Change the phrase into a more accurate statement: “I often have difficulties putting a fitted sheet on the bed.”

         A key to doing this work is to leave judgement out of it. This week, I encourage all of you to try Step 1. Take time to notice when you use a rigid word. Notice what it does to your mood and how it effects your day, without judgement.  When you feel ready, continue on with steps 2 and 3.  It is easiest to begin stepping back from and changing words and phrases in less emotionally charged statements or subject matter. So begin there and work your way up. Remember that eliminating these words from your vocabulary takes time, so go easy on yourself as you begin the process.       
            Over the next two posts, we will look at the other two categories, pressure words and negating words, to create more space for peace and acceptance within.

Sheana is a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Awakening Center working with individuals and groups. She creates an empathic, accepting environment in which she walks with her clients on a path toward peace and happiness. For inquiries or to set up an appointment, please contact her at (773)929-6262 Ext. 16 or