Holding Hope Services

Julie Fanning LCSW


mental health

Considerations – Your Child and Counseling

You would do anything for your child.  It hurts when you see him or her struggling.  Maybe there has been a family trauma.  Maybe a parental divorce and you want to make sure your children are doing OK.  Maybe your child is anxious about school, has bullies they are dealing with, friendship issues or grappling with feelings of self-worth.  Maybe they are struggling with issues such as drugs, sex or cutting.  There are tons of reasons your child might benefit from counseling.  First,  give yourself some praise if you are thinking about helping your child with therapy.  It might feel as if you failed somehow but you haven’t!  Life is difficult for adults and it is sometimes even more so for children and teens.

I believe counseling can be valuable for everyone. I would caution you to consider, that therapy for a child or teen, may look different than for an adult.  As an adult, we know why we are going to therapy.  We may be looking for someone to clarify and ground us or looking for answers to numerous different questions.  At some level, we buy into going to therapy for ourselves, but your child may not have the same buy-in for their therapy,  Even though I believe the relationship is always paramount, an adult may find what they are looking for in a few sessions, but this more difficult outcome when working with children.  The dynamics are different in child therapy.

Continue reading “Considerations – Your Child and Counseling”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Although May is just about over – speaking out about mental health is ongoing.

mental health awareness

(This article originally appears:

Did you know May is Mental Health Month?  May is designated to highlight the discussion of mental health and helping fight stigma.   The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that over 43 million adults live with a mental illness every year – that is approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States.  This means that you know many people who are struggling with mental health issues.  If you are in a helping profession you are likely encountering many individuals whose mental health is affecting their day to day life.

What can you do to promote mental health awareness and your own mental health?

  • Talk about mental health issues. Secrecy can breed shame and there is nothing shameful about mental illness.  Talk about your stories and talk about how you take care of your own mental health.   Mental Health America this month encouraged individuals to tweet about their own mental health experience (#mentalillnessfeelslike) – Check it out.
  • Consider the language you use every day.  I actually struggle with this one.  I would always use the word “crazy” to describe situations.  With clients, I’ve learned to use the word symptomatic when discussing behaviors or their symptoms.    I still struggle when trying to describe other types of situations so I’m often testing out words other than crazy in my everyday life!
  • While considering your language – remember that individuals who have a mental illness are not just their diagnosis.   Don’t say someone is schizophrenic – say he has a diagnosis of schizophrenia or is living with schizophrenia.
  • Consider downloading and using mental health apps that are available for your phone and tablets. There is an abundance of free and low-cost  apps out there.  Go on a search and see if you find any that fit you. One comprehensive list of mental health apps is  This list is broken down into every area you can think of including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, weight control,  anxiety, children and much more.
  • Advocate for mental health services. You may not be on the street protesting but there are a lot of little ways to advocate for mental health services.  You still can sign a petition or vote for individuals who support mental health.  Mental Health America states there is 1 mental health provider for 790 adults.   I supervise a team that helps individuals successfully transition back to the community.  Anecdotally,  I know when we try to find individual’s psychiatrists in the community, that the first available appointment is often several months from the time the person needs it.  Talk to your insurance company and local businesses about making sure to have mental health resources available.    Encourage Tele-psych andTele-counseling for individuals who are unable to find or get to traditional services.  When you see an opportunity – speak up and have your opinion known.
  • Take Care of your own mental health.   When you are caring for your own mental health you generally feel better and more confident and you are able to help those you love and those you come across live better also.  Below are some ways to help your own mental health.
    1. Try therapy and counseling. Therapy and Counseling is not just for individuals with severe mental illness or someone going through a severe trauma – although it can certainly help in those situations.  Therapy can help you focus on next steps in your life.  It is undivided attention from someone who is showing you unconditional, positive regard.  Therapy can make your life clearer and more full.  It can help motivate you  or help you work through little things before they become big things.  Sometimes therapy offers validation that you may not be able to get from family or friends.  If you plan on being a therapist yourself, I would strongly encourage you to participate in your own therapy.  I have seen great therapist debates about if therapy is necessary to being a good therapist.  I believe only ones self can answer that.  However, I know I am a much better therapist because I engaged in therapy.  (I also think I am living a happier life!)
    2. Get enough sleep. Our bodies need to rejuvenate.  We need enough sleep and my guess is 5 hours each night doesn’t cut it.
    3. Have something to look forward to. I actually end most of my sessions with clients with the question  “what are you looking forward to?”  Answers vary from something they are doing today to future events to broad plans.  Make sure to have things to look forward to.  I try to have some type of trip planned all the time so I can spend time making plans and getting excited.  You don’t need to be elaborate but plan activities for the future.  It can be planning a road trip someday or spending a day at the museum.  Whatever it is, find activities you can do to get ready for your adventure.
    4. Have a day (or even a few hours) where you just read or catch up on TV shows. Give yourself permission to do nothing.
    5. Laugh and enjoy the relationships in your life.
    6. Add your own. Look back on when you feel relaxed.  Is it a warm bath or a hike outside.  Is it playing the piano or dancing to music or praying?  Whatever it is that brings you peace – go ahead and do it.

Keep up the discussion for mental health awareness all year long.



Assisting Individuals With Mental Illness – October MSWonline blog post

Happy October!  My favorite month of the year and it is coming to close.  I struggled with this month’s blog post for MSW online.  I have a passion for helping people who help those with mental illness but had trouble with demonstrating that passion in my writing.   This is geared to people considering a career in social work or new social workers, but I think it can be used as a nice primer for everyone!

Original blog post here:

As a social worker, you often work with vulnerable and struggling clients.  One such group, you may work with are individuals diagnosed with a mental illness.  Mental Illness does not discriminate.  Any population you work with, will likely have some people living their life with mental illness.  Sometimes because of media portrayals and other misconceptions, working with people diagnosed with mental illness can be scary or daunting.

There are many types of mental illness. The DSM-V (where the criteria for different mental health diagnoses is listed) has about 991 pages.

Below are some basic definitions of common diagnosis you might come across.

One definition of Mental Illness I like is from the Mayo Clinic

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions —disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.


I like this definition because it normalizes mental health issues.  Mental health conditions run on a continuum.  Just like people, mental illness is complicated and some people struggle with more difficult issues than others.

Specific Diagnosis Definitions (Also using the definitions from the Mayo Clinic.)

  • Major depressive disorder — prolonged and persistent periods of extreme sadness
  • Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia isn’t a split personality or multiple personality. The word “schizophrenia” does mean “split mind,” but it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking.                                          (

Those are just some of the diagnoses you may come across in your work.  Let me share some tips for a social worker to remember when working with this population.

Continue reading “Assisting Individuals With Mental Illness – October MSWonline blog post”

My Rant on Being Fat!

I am fat.  I’ve been told this my whole life by both friends and society.  Sometimes I will look at a photo of myself from when I was young and will wonder why everyone thought I was so fat.   Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophesy but I am fat and that has been part of my identity as long as I can remember.  At times it has determined what risks I have been willing to take and what experiences I participated in.  I would blame it for relationship troubles or truly believe it was one of the reasons for general unhappiness at different times in my life.   As I’ve gotten older I am able to more often recognize that I am not just a fat person and my weight doesn’t determine my happiness.   Also – and this important for people to remember about themselves too – what I weigh does not determine my worthiness as a person.  I am going to repeat that.  Our weight does not determine our worth as a person.  The value I have as a human and my happiness are not dependent on numbers on a scale.   Each of us is worthy of love, happiness and kindness,  regardless of how much or how little we weigh or our physical appearance.

Right now I am doing the whole30 challenge.  I get accolades about how great it is that I am doing this.  If I lose weight, I will get praise for losing weight.  People will say “You look so good.” Or “It is so great you are hanging in there.”  I soak up any praise and it it is a motivator to keep eating healthy. However,  when it comes down to it, if I choose to live healthier, if I lose 40 pounds or if I end up gaining 40 pounds – it makes no difference in who I am.  I am a not better person if I weigh 40 pounds less.  I will not be less worthy if I gain 40 pounds more.

In my private practice both women and men come in and virtually with each and every person there will come a time where there is a discussion about weight and negative feelings surrounding it.  I have worked with so many teenage girls who have issues around their weight.  They tell me “My mom (or my grandma) told me I need to lose weight.”   These are teens who are active and within the norm of weight for their age and they will cry and ask why their parents can’t accept them if they don’t weigh the right amount.

Then I have adult women come in and tell me the same stories of family members and friends telling them they needed to lose weight.  They are told they will be all alone in life because they are fat or if they didn’t lose weight they would never find happiness.  Generally, these messages are well-intended.    You want the people you love to be happy.  Only, the feelings these messages induce don’t go away.   It sends a subtle implication that you are not quite good enough because of your weight.  You might not even notice you are saying these things to others or yourself because it is such a part of our culture.  It is difficult to step away from thoughts about weight because American society is filled with the messages everywhere telling us that thinner is better.

      Julie in first grade   "Too fat to have friends"
Julie in first grade
“Too fat to have friends”

When I started first grade there was a girl who told me she wished she could be my friend but she couldn’t because I was too fat to have friends.  I wasn’t even six years old.  Now, almost 40 years later I remember this and I know it became part of my identity.  I don’t remember the girl’s name or face but I remember the conversation.  Probably one of my brain’s first lessons on starting to believe “don’t be fat or you will be all alone.”     How much more will words about heaviness stay with someone when it is a family or friend saying them.  You might say “I worry about their health, I want them around for the grandkids” or a hundred other very valid reasons why someone would be better off losing weight.  You are just trying to help.  I would argue that if the person is an adult – they are very aware of how much they weigh.  It only amplifies the shame to be reminded that your fat bothers others and you are not quite good enough because you don’t lose it.   There are ways to be encouraging and supportive without adding to pain.  It is up to the person to decide how they want to tackle their weight.  People have very complicated relationships with food and weight.  You can be pithy and say “just don’t put it in your mouth” but there are often many factors at play.  It is not necessary for you to let someone know they need to lose weight.  Even disguising it with “I worry about you” is still saying “you are not good enough because of your weight.”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t help your children be active and maintain a healthy weight.   I would just say consider how you promote it with your children.  Eat healthy and be active yourself.  Don’t hold others to expectations you aren’t able to sustain.  Live by example.  Which also means recognize that each time you put yourself down for your weight or your eating or exercise habits you are teaching your children and others that your importance has something to do with your physical looks.  You are even reinforcing your own beliefs.  “See I’m not good enough because my body isn’t perfect.”  Stop yourself when you find yourself putting yourself down.  Stop comparing yourself to others.  I bet virtually everyone who reads this has thought at one time or another “at least I’m not as fat as that person.”  I have thought it.  Unfortunately it just reinforces the idea that if I weigh less I am better.  Being a little healthier than someone else does not give us the moral high ground.

Not making your weight be such a huge factor in your identity doesn’t mean someone can’t make changes and be healthier.  I want to live healthier.  I want to lose weight.  I want a better relationship with food.  These are reasons why I am doing the Whole30 challenge.  However, this is my journey.  If I don’t succeed I will be disappointed with myself but it doesn’t make me a failure at life.  Conversely, if I complete the challenge it won’t make me a better person.  Happiness, love, money and opportunity won’t just fall out of the sky to me because I shed a few pounds.  My life will still be my life.  If you are working on changing your weight do it for you and not because you think it will make others accept or love you more.

I want to note that it is OK to accept yourself at whatever weight you are.  You don’t owe anyone explanations on how much you weigh.  You are allowed to be happy and enjoy life and it is not dependent on your size.  You are worthy of love and joy and you will find the people who really matter don’t care how much you weigh.

I know as someone who is heavy that it is easy to forget to live life because you are waiting to lose weight.  Just don’t do that.  I am working hard at living the life I choose, embracing opportunities and not letting my weight stop me from living.  Whatever we are on the outside does not determine our happiness unless we let it.  I know that it is easier said than done, but my hope is that instead of focusing on our perceived shortcomings that we instead embrace life.  You are worthy because you are alive.   Instead of feeling shame over your weight focus on embracing experiences, loving those dear to you and being kind to all.

Julie- July 2015 Living Fully Pacific Ocean
Julie- July 2015
Living Fully
Pacific Ocean
With BFF Karen Campbell Embracing Life Accepting Me
With BFF
Karen Campbell
Embracing Life
Accepting Me

You are the Flowers on the Path

In my meanderings around the web I came across this story and fell in love with it.  (Directly taken from Here  Also, I only skimmed over the transcript so I have no real idea what point the author was trying to convey.)

 “Back in the days when pots and pans could talk, which indeed they still do, there lived a man. And in order to have water, every day he had to walk down the hill and fill two pots and walk them home. One day, it was discovered one of the pots had a crack, and as time went on, the crack widened. Finally, the pot turned to the man and said, “You know, every day you take me to the river, and by the time you get home, half of the water’s leaked out. Please replace me with a better pot.” And the man said, “You don’t understand. As you spill, you water the wild flowers by the side of the path.” And sure enough, on the side of the path where the cracked pot was carried, beautiful flowers grew, while other side was barren. “I think I’ll keep you,” said the man.”

There are so many meanings that can be found in this vignette.  I think about how easy it is to discard that which isn’t shiny and new anymore or even that which doesn’t live up to expectations.  Conversely, how often do we not realize our own value?

When you feel like you are at the end of your rope, step back.  Maybe your relationship isn’t easy and all consuming as when you began it but perhaps you’ve gained something more like security or spontaneity or wisdom.  You can be sad about your relationship not working out the way you thought but that doesn’t mean it is all lost.  Instead of living a disposable life, take time to see if there are aspects of a situation or item that you hadn’t considered previously.  Maybe there is beauty, or benefit or flowers that you didn’t notice before.

As for your worth – you are much more complicated and awesome than you have taken to heart.  It is easy to get caught up in past shame or current problems or perceived shortcomings.  It is easy to fall into believing that life has let you down.  Take time to remember that you uniquely bring something to all your relationships from casual acquaintances to intimate partners.  Look for the flowers by the path that you bring.

When you read this story – what did you think about?

Gratitude and Worth

Share your pain

For some reason I am all about speaking up lately.  I was playing on Pinterest (you know – instead of doing something productive) and I came across this quote:

“I learned that now that one who speaks about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.”  CS Lewis

I have so much love for this quote.  It is so easy to not speak about what hurts us.  Sometimes it is to avoid.  If I don’t talk about something that bothers me then I don’t have to feel as bad.  Sometimes we don’t talk because a situation seems hopeless and nothing changes.    Sometimes it is because we think other people must be sick and tired of listening to us go on and on about it.  Seems like acceptable reasoning.

Only, the aftermath of not sharing can be so much more devastating. Not speaking can lead to isolation.  Not speaking up can lead to more feelings of hopelessness and desperation.  Not sharing can even lead to feeling shame.  Not sharing and speaking can lead to avoiding feelings which oddly enough often make feelings more pronounced.

I’m not suggesting you tell the cashier at Target all your problems but I bet there are some safe people in your life you can speak to.  People generally want to help us.   People generally are understanding.  Talk to a close neighbor, friend or family or even a therapist.  (Shout out for therapy from the therapist!)  You might be surprised at how speaking up alleviates some of your hurt and helps you feel more centered and whole.   

Mental Health Awareness Week

If there is one* message I could get out to the world it would be there is no shame in living with a mental illness.

Thankfully,  I saw this blog post so I could shout out that it is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (starting October 7, 2012)  this year is “Changing Attitudes, Changing Lives.”

“One in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans—

experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives

with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major

depression or bipolar disorder and about one in 10 children live

with a serious mental or emotional disorder.”

Taken from a NAMI FACT Sheet.

This means that you or someone you know has a mental illness.  Ask yourself what your preconceived notions are about mental illness.   When you think of mental illness do you think of those people at the extremes or do you think of your neighbor who works full time at the grocery store or your child’s classmate or the veteran who goes to your church or your sister who is raising her kids or someone like my mom who worked tons of hours, loved her family and had dreams and aspirations like most.

There is nothing shameful about having a mental illness.  There is nothing shameful about getting help.  Take some time and raise your awareness about mental illness.

*and by ‘one’, I mean one of many because when it comes down to it I have a lot to say (or at least a lot of opinions.)  Like being kind is never a bad choice among others.

For the past week, every time I try to sit down and write a blog post I get distracted by shiny things.  I just can’t get into it.  I looked through all my blog ideas and starts (and there must be 50 of them.) There is one on voting I really want to finish soon.  There is one on finding a therapist and one on positivity and I’m just indifferent to all of them.   I skipped over each blog start thinking, “boring”, “I don’t care,” “not interesting” and just passed them by.  I also save articles in my email for the purpose of blogging or Facebook and, no surprise; I was able to avoid writing by reading a bunch of interesting articles.  I just didn’t find a spark to write about.

I started to wonder about how my complete block  parallels our lives.   How often do we have a task we just can’t get around to doing?  Sometimes it is not just duty or tasks we don’t like to do, often people can’t even get started on enjoyable activities.  I have heard more times than I can count from people that there are things they want to do but just can’t seem to start.   I question how much people miss out on just because they can’t get started.   So, I decided to write about nothing.  It got me started and I already have the urge to finish one of the blog starts.

The advice to just get started might seem basic.  It may prompt a “duh!” response but there it is.  Just get started.  People tend to feel more confident, more purposeful; more accomplished when just doing something. It doesn’t have to be a big, major event.  It can be starting your cleaning project by emptying your dishwasher.  It can be beginning to write your great novel by typing up a paragraph.  It can be starting that new career by updating your resume.  It can be starting that hobby you’ve always dreamed about doing by just looking up information on the internet.    Just take action.  Stop being distracted by shiny things (whoops, that may be just me.)

Giant leap not necessary.    Just get started.


I came across a post today on Livejournal.  This post had encouraging words and things people think survivors of sexual assault should be told.  I looked over all the comments and they all seem very affirming.  The post is a couple of years old but the originator posted it again today because of some of the recent media stories.  She started the original post due to meeting a survivor of sexual assault who had never been told that they have inherent worth.

In my private practice I meet many people who have never been told that they are worthy and they are lovable.  I understand this struggle.  Often my wish is that I could help everyone understand how significant they are.  I want people to know they are worthy and don’t have to earn the love of others   You have meaning just by being you.  You are more than anything that has been done to you.  You are not irrevocably broken – you are whole just the way you are.

This is the link to the wishes for those who have been abuse –


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