The health benefits of counseling for older adults

“Ann” is 70 years old and recently came to Family Service seeking treatment for depression.

She said it all started with the death of her son 10 years ago. She became the primary caregiver for his children after his death, and ignored the signs and symptoms of her own depression. 

Three months ago, her husband passed away and Ann realized her depression had never really gone away and was now intensifying.  She was also suffering panic attacks, in which she felt anxious and afraid of dying. She was no longer engaged with friends or family and reported not wanting to get out of bed, loss of appetite, and feelings of worthlessness.

Ann said she had “lost her own identity in caregiving” and now felt that she had “lost my role… my purpose in life.”

Ann’s situation highlights the disabling affects associated with depression in the elderly population, and emphasizes the need for treatment of this highly prevalent, but treatable disorder.

Depression is the most common cause of emotional suffering in older adults. It is NOT a part of normal aging.

With counseling, Ann was able to experience a reduction in stress, depression and anxiety. She was able to formulate coping and self-care strategies, enhance communication skills resulting in healthier relationships and experience improved both physical and emotional health!!

Cathy Thompson is the Director of Older Adult Services

A Literary Escape! The perfect books for kids and teens during Mental Health Awareness Month

As an avid reader, books definitely have a very important place in my life. That place is typically in my hands at 2:00AM, but that’s a story for another time. As part of #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, we had some of our counselors recommend their favorites for children and teens to enjoy. Look closely, these aren’t your typical mental health themed books.


You’ve Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave and Nick Maland

, recommended by Jennifer Nolley

“‘Dragons come when you least expect them. You turn around… and there they are.’ Worries, fears, anxieties… they are all dragons and they sneak up on most of us at one time or another. Lots of people get them. Even really really good people get them. And sometimes they are hard to get rid of. So what can a young boy with a bad case of the dragons do?”

You’ve Got Dragons is all about how to address anxiety and worry, giving kids coping skills to deal with those feelings.


Blueloon by Julia Cook

, recommended by Jennifer Nolley

“I’m a blueloon. I’m supposed to be a regular balloon, but I’m just not having fun like the others. I’m kinda dull, and I’m kinda flat. My string is tied up in knots. I have a case of the blues…that’s why I’m a blueloon. I’ve felt like this for weeks!”

Depression is normally thought of something for adults, but children can have it too. This book shows them what it all means (as they might not understand depression), and how friends can help them “bounce back.”


The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

, recommended by Frannie Gaeta

“’That’s impossible,’ said twins Jeremy & Liza after their Mom told them they’re all connected by this thing called an Invisible String. “What kind of string?” They asked with a puzzled look to which Mom replied, “An Invisible String made of love.” That’s where the story begins.”

Overcoming the fear of loneliness or separation can be hard for anyone, this books helps  with an children can easily identify and remember how to cope with such hard emotions.


Rabbityness by Jo Empsan

, recommended by Frannie Gaeta

“Rabbit enjoys doing rabbity things, but he also loves un-rabbity things! When Rabbit suddenly disappears, no one knows where he has gone. His friends are desolate. But, as it turns out, Rabbit has left behind some very special gifts for them, to help them discover their own unrabbity talents!”

Rabbityness celebrates individuality and encourages the creativity in everyone while positively introduces children to dealing with loss of any kind.


The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

, recommendation from Melissa Hays-Smith

Ferdinand is the world’s most peaceful–and–beloved little bull. While all of the other bulls snort, leap, and butt their heads, Ferdinand is content to just sit and smell the flowers under his favorite cork tree.

This classic has been around for 80 years, but the lessons are timeless. Teaching kids about individuality, critical thinking skills, and how to accept how you are.

You might be thinking that I said these were books for teens as well as children. As promised, here are some of my personal favorite YA books that deal with mental health.


The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

This is one of my favorite reads. It takes a completely different look at what happens to those people who aren’t fighting zombies or whatever is trying to end the world. With a close look at dysfunctional families, eating disorders, and general mental health, it’s definitely worth a read this month. ADDED BONUS: includes LGBTQ relationships because diversity is important!


I Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

As someone who does not suffer from schizophrenia, this really opened my eyes to how different it is compared to the stories we normally hear about this condition. I fell in love with the unreliability of our narrator, Alex. Everything you think you know… you don’t.


Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The movie is coming out this month, so read this one soon! As sappy as the trailer may seem, love literally does save Maddy’s life, but love is also what did her in. Confused? Read it.


13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Okay, I know this is everywhere. We wrote about it too. Even if you already binged the show, read the book! It’s a whirlwind of feels and there are just enough differences that it will feel new. Come on, I know you loved it enough to go through it again.

What is the connection between counseling and eating disorders?

“What you get the patient to tell you

is worth much more than what you tell the patient.”

Counseling—especially through asking the right questions and practicing therapeutic listening skills—can save the life of someone struggling with an eating disorder.

Daryl Smith-Oswald, RD, LD, LLC, tells us in Today’s Dietitian article “Insights From Eating Disorder Counseling,” about a client who described her relationship with her “best friend,” cookies and ice cream.

The girl said she got excited about her best friend every night, but felt disgusted after each binge.

The counselor asked the client what she would do if a human friend made her feel that way. “I would probably dump her!” the client responded.

What a wonderful opportunity to discuss changes after such a power-packed statement.

February 26-March 4 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Family Service of Roanoke Valley wants you to know the connection between mental health and eating disorders.

A person suffering from bulimia, binge eating disorder, or anorexia may be suffering from depression or another mental illness.

Those struggling with an eating disorder can find the support they need.At the heart of treatment and recovery is the person’s support system—whether it’s family, friends, a counselor, a dietitian, or a combination as unique as each individual’s needs.

In the Today’s Dietitian article, five dietitians discuss one major life lesson each they learned working with clients who have eating disorders. 

Each “lesson learned” provides a new angle for how to work with a person suffering from an eating disorder.

Check out the original article and let us know what you think with a comment below!

Take care of yourself this holiday season

This is a good thing to keep in mind this holiday season! Our families may have lots of expectations they place on us, and coming home for the holidays can be stressful for everyone.

Remember that the most important person you have to please with the decisions you make is yourself.

Your family means well, but they all have their own ideas about what is important, and you probably can’t satisfy all of them. Concentrate on what you need to do to be happy, and don’t worry about what anyone else says.

Happy Holidays!

Holidays Can Be Hard!

Holidays can be hard! Our expectations are based on movies and media where we see perfect families having the most wonderful meals, wearing the most wonderful clothes, playing football on the lawn and we think this year… this year that’s my family!

I was interviewed on WFXR this week to talk about this very topic! Check it out here.

Basically…if Aunt Mabel is still asking whether you are engaged or not, or Grandpa believes the last good President was Herbert Hoover…it’s time to prepare yourself!!

In some 12 step programs, they use the acronym: HALT, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.  If you are any of these, Aunt Mabel might just be too much to bear. So, take time to stop, breathe, and take care of yourself — and you will be better able to handle your relatives and manage yourself!

Other suggestions:

1) You probably know your relatives and which ones will be the most challenging for you to handle. We can’t change them but we can change what we expect. We can adjust and adapt and remember that when the holiday is over, our real life is waiting and whatever happens around the Thanksgiving table won’t change that.


peaking of adjusting, we can adjust our physical position, keep moving… if Auntie is irritating, note that you haven’t seen Cousin Tom in a long time and you really must catch up with him and get moving away from your irritating Auntie. When Cousin starts in on politics, move on to someone else…

Don’t personalize it: your family probably cares about you but that doesn’t mean they get you. Whatever is most offensive to you is probably coming from their own issues or they are just being careless with their words and not noticing how offended you are.

Be realistic if you know this is going to be a chore, prepare yourself. Think of it as business, not pleasure. (If you are wrong-YAY) but if you are right you won’t be let down!

Plan a Friendsgiving or personal reward like a hike in order to get your own needs met!

Let it be… you can do lots of things but until you walked a mile in their shoes, you just don’t know why people act the way they do. So let it be, laugh it off, change the subject…

Be generous of spirit and plan to spread cheer (even if they don’t act they deserve it!) and maybe my friend was right, and you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! Just don’t expect to have this cheer returned!

Set the stage: Say, “I know we are all tired of the election and what is going on in the media so I propose we choose to talk about something else. I want to put a collection together of everyone’s favorite holiday memories, so when we talk that’s what I’ll be asking.” Or say, “I know we all want to share our opinions of the latest election. I am going to put on the timer for 15 minutes… when it buzzes, we can move to the table (or to the next stage of the holiday) but let’s promise we won’t talk about politics. Instead, maybe we can share what we hope to be thankful for next year.”

Focus on what you share-football teams, reading, movies, music, etc…

Get active: go hiking, play touch football, take a bike ride…

Mind your manners as my grandmother would say…be polite, be kind, be quiet!!!

Practice self-care: whatever this means to you. My introverted daughter takes time outs and disappears to her room every couple of hours. Take a book, practice yoga, journal, take a bath, run, bike, walk, go to the mall.

Don’t overeat or drink too much.

If all else fails… have a get-away plan. Transportation and an excuse for taking a moment (or more) to yourself.

Holiday suggestions with kids:

If you are traveling-buy something new to do in the car or on the plane… new book, new game, new movie etc…

Try to keep as close to your normal routine as possible

Advocate for your kids… this is not the time to force them to eat all of their brussel sprouts if they normally live on chicken nuggets… (or is that just my kid?) Speak up to other family members about your rules and expectations if they are different from your other family members.

Plan activities but don’t overdo; plan downtime; provide outdoor time and physical activity; do something with just your own nuclear family (hike, movie, mall, etc.)

Give your children an assignment: ask them to find out everyone’s first Thanksgiving memory or favorite Thanksgiving food; let them make the placemats, name cards, napkin rings, center piece or help make the pies… so they feel a part of this whole festivity!

Remember kids are kids… they will melt down at inconvenient times. They will punch their sister in from of everyone. Deal with it all as privately as possible! Don’t give in to embarrassment because everyone’s kids have done it even if your sister in law pretends hers didn’t. Don’t shame your kids but also don’t let them off the hook. Think about what happened and remember that sometimes kids need consequences but sometimes they need to sleep or eat or play or to be hugged!!!