Abby Editorial

By Abby Maher

We live in a society that regards heterosexual and cisgender as the norm. For LGBTQ+ folks, this means we are so often excluded from the institutions and traditions that were built on the premise that heterosexual, cisgender people are the standard against which everyone else is judged. As an LGBTQ+ person, this can feel extremely isolating. It can feel as though there isn’t space for us. When we are simply tolerated by heterosexual cisgender people, it can feel as though we should praise them because they made room for us to simply exist in their world. In my personal experience, the feeling of constantly being on the outside has made conforming to heteronormative ideals seem like the most appealing option. I have felt the pressure to fit myself into the boxes that are considered “normal” in order to get along in an environment that didn’t want to tolerate me as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I have also encountered many kind, well-intentioned people who wish to be inclusive and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, but I have found that even inclusivity can come with constraints. I think society as whole doesn’t really tolerate things that it can’t explicitly define and place in a box. So for those of us who exist outside of the heterosexual, cisgender boxes, society has created a new set of standards about what a lesbian is supposed to look and act like, what a gay man is supposed to look and act like, what a transgender woman or man is supposed to look and act like, and so on.  Once I discovered that I simply couldn’t squeeze myself into the heteronormative box society tried to place me in, with a swell of pride in my identity, I searched for inclusivity within the LGBTQ+ community. I tried really hard to ascribe to the values, thoughts and ideas I was “supposed” to have as someone who identifies as a lesbian.  A lot of those things don’t define who I am at my core, but after all I am a human and I crave love, inclusion and acceptance. I have had to ask myself however,  if I have to betray my authenticity in order to receive those things, is it even love, inclusion or acceptance?

So therein lies the dilemma, as an LGBTQ+ person I am often outcast from the majority of society because I cannot mold myself to fit, and I often feel outcast and left behind within my own community because I do not see myself reflected in the assumptions society makes about me.

As a future mental health counselor who hopes to work with the LGBTQ+ community, I hope to use this feeling to guide my work. I am aware that these boxes I have mentioned often tell LGBTQ+ people how to love, how to have relationships, how to express themselves, and how to find acceptance. If I had one wish for any of  my fellow LGBTQ+ folk, it would be for them to be able to see beyond the constraints of these boxes, to get in touch with how they want to love, how they want to have relationships, and how they want to express themselves. Above all, I wish for them to feel that their truth does not make them less valid if it doesn’t align with the standard, and finally I wish for them to know that they can find unconditional acceptance through these truths. As a counselor I see it as my role to help clients do the work of silencing the voice that tells us as LGBTQ+ people what we should be, so that they can find their own voice that tells them who they truly are. Beyond that, I see it as my role to help clients feel empowered enough to share that voice with the rest of the world, so that they may be loved, included, and accepted without conditions.

My Experience with Alpha Stim

By Abby Maher

The alpha-stim device has been billed as a drug-free treatment option for pain anxiety, depression and insomnia. It functions by passing a low-voltage electrical charge through the body between two electrodes.  For treatments involving anxiety, depression, or insomnia, the electrodes are placed on each ear via clips. The device is worn for 20 minutes and treatments can be done daily or as needed.

According to research, alpha-stim has been found to assist sleep and elevate mood by stimulating associated brain regions and hormone producing portions of the brain. Devices like this have been in use in the United States for 50 years and have been considered safe.

How does it feel?

Placing the electrodes on my ears, I felt a little reservation. The device comes with instructions that says to gradually increase the intensity of the charge until you feel seasick, then turn it down. I didn’t really believe that the two little clips could make me feel seasick until I felt it for myself.

Once I had it at the correct level for me, it felt like a gentile tap on my earlobes. It was easy to ignore and not painful at all.

Does it work?

When I had the clips in place, I felt a little tired and was fairly relaxed. Once I removed them, the feeling continued for a little while. I am not currently suffering from any of the conditions that alpha-stim is designed to treat. However, I can imagine that the calming effect of the alpha-stim would be effective for use in treating those issues.  I think alpha-stim could be a useful part of a treatment regimen and is worth giving a try.

Infertility, Treatments, and Stress… OH MY!

By Nattalie Roepke

Have you or your partner had difficulties conceiving? If so, you are not alone. According to womanshealth.gov, 10% of US women struggle with becoming pregnant or carrying to term. Infertility is defined by the World Health Organization as being unable to conceive after 12 months of regular unprotected sex. Some reproductive specialists believe that this is overgenerous. They believe that after 6 months, couples 35 and older should begin the testing process for infertility.

If you or someone you love has ever gone through this, you may understand how difficult it is. 20% of couples who have been diagnosed with infertility, don’t know why. Many others are left with frustrating diagnosis such as premature menopause, low ovarian reserve, PCOS, low sperm count, or endometriosis. All of these disorders are outside of individual control and difficult, if not impossible, to treat medically leaving many couples with no other options except for expensive, and perhaps financially prohibitive, treatments.

There are many aspects about infertility that go unaddressed by medical practitioners. Women and men who discover that they are incapable of having children without medical support experience:

  • Shame
  • Isolation
  • Greif over the loss of this ability
  • Anger at their body or their partner’s body for not working
  • Confusion
  • Regret
  • Fertility hyper-awareness
  • Disappointment
  • Jealousy for other’s who do not have difficulty conceiving
  • Feelings of loss of control over one’s body
  • Guilt
  • Low self-esteem

While you may see a reproductive endocrinologist, gynecologist, and/or urologist for your physical concerns, many forget that mental health is equally important. Because many individual’s experiencing fertility challenges may not feel comfortable sharing them with friends or family, isolation and depression commonly occur.

What Can You Do?

If you have been involved in reproductive treatments for a while, you already know that reproductive health has a vernacular all its own. Step into any online chat community for infertility for the first time and the acronyms and drug names will overwhelm you. Individual’s new to the process may feel completely lost when speaking to doctors and may struggle to even know what to ask.

Reproductive mental health counselors specialize in providing support to individuals who are dealing with the stressors related to this process. As a patient of an infertility clinic, you may dig into supplements and diets all geared to help you produce the best quality eggs or sperm you can. While you are doing all that you can to take care of your body, don’t forget to take care of your mind.

Chronic stress can alter your hormonal balance. In an article written in 2008 in “Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience” researchers were able to tie stress related hormones to worsened pregnancy outcomes when patients are undergoing assisted reproductive techniques (ART). This seems to correlate with anecdotal stories that seem to show that couples are more successful when they are less stressed. Everyone has heard of a couple who tried for years. At some point they stop trying and go on a vacation and come home pregnant. Although this definitely does not work for most couples, lowering stress hormones can increase the effectiveness of treatment.

Help Is Available

Contact a mental health counselor who specializes in treatment of clients experiencing fertility challenges. There are many interventional therapies which can help you reduce stress and become more resilient when faced with the obstacles of infertility.

Meet Abby

Harmony US has a new intern we would love for you to meet, Abby.

Hello everyone, I am a master’s level student in Northwestern University’s clinical mental health counseling program. Having completed a practicum experience through which I provided supervised counseling to a variety of individuals, I am now in my internship year where I am able to provide counseling to individual adults, couples, groups, children and adolescents. My major areas of interest include working with the LGBTQ community, gender, sexuality, and healing from trauma. I am also a major advocate for the idea that counseling is for everyone, ranging from those who wish to heal from trauma to those who are experiencing the stress of every day life. I welcome the opportunity to work with anybody! My approach to counseling is very much relationship based as I believe that a truly safe, warm, collaborative and trusting environment can sometimes be the most powerful aspect of counseling. My hope is that the things you discover about yourself, and the things you learn through our counseling relationship can be applied to your life in order to empower you to become the best version of yourself.

Intern Spot Light

Harmony US is pleased to introduce you to one of our amazing mental health interns, Nattalie.

Hello Everyone. My name is Nattalie Roepke. I am a student at Northwestern University and have joined HarmonyUS to complete internship within my Master’s degree program. I am a Florida native and love calling Tampa my home.

I have worked as an educator and an education administrator for many years. I have my undergraduate degree in psychology and am excited to be completing my Master’s degree program and to be working within the HarmonyUS family.  

I have many areas of interest. I am currently working toward my certification in fertility counseling (which provides specific support for individuals and couples who are experiencing difficulties becoming pregnant, have had miscarriage(s), are seeking or currently using assisted reproductive techniques, or are building a family using egg donor, sperm donor, or surrogacy). I am also familiar with traditional psychoanalytic techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapies, and solution-focused therapies.

I am also familiar with the treatment of anxiety and PTSD with cannabis and can provide information and resources in this area.

I am available to see clients on a limited basis. I look forward to meeting you.