Meet Our New Psychologist!!

Dr. Amanda Zold recently joined the Country Counseling team as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She received her doctoral degree in Clinical-Community Psychology with a Rural and Indigenous Emphasis at the University of Alaska. She completed her predoctoral training at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson followed by postdoctoral residency at the Institute of Living/Hartford Hospital. She specializes in the treatment of chronic and persistent mental health disorders and trauma, including treatment of psychosis. She provides evidence-based, recovery-oriented care for individuals, couples, and families. She also provides group therapy in modalities such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, supportive therapy, and body-based approaches to symptom management. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with her two pups (Daisy and Dingo), yoga, and exploring new places!

Changing the Way We View Autism

April is known as Autism Awareness month.  People used to have varying diagnoses when it came to Autism.  The field of psychology is ever growing and changing.  By today’s definition, Asperger’s is no longer a valid diagnosis.  Now, someone newly diagnosed would not be given this diagnosis, but be told where they are on the spectrum of Autism.  These kinds of changes can be challenging for the general public to understand, especially those that formerly had an Asperger’s diagnosis.  The rates of Autism allegedly skyrocketed when this change was made in the field.  We feel it is important to inform the public, that we simply changed the categories for diagnosis, creating an artificial surge in the cases of Autism.

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, can be incredibly challenging at times and no two people are the same.  We are trained to use what is called ‘person-first’ language in our field.  What this means is simply shifting from saying that an individual is ‘Autistic’ to saying they ‘have Autism’.  Why is this important so important?  Why did this shift occur?  We recognized that saying someone was Autistic made them nothing more than their diagnosis, removing their personhood.  By simply changing that statement to ‘they have Autism’ grants them the freedom to be a person, first and foremost, and makes their diagnosis secondary.

This subject is one that is near and dear to my heart, as I have watched my sister raise my niece, with Autism, for the last 22 years.  There is something so special about who she is as a person, I couldn’t imagine thinking of her as anything else.  Yes, she has behaviors that are incredibly repetitive and can be a lot to handle at times.  She also has a job, buys her own food, keeps a very regimented schedule (which she makes sure others stick to as well), and thinks that baby sheep are ‘so cute’.  She can get frustrated, but most of the time, nothing bothers her.  She is one of the happiest people I have ever had the pleasure of having in my life.  My sister had to work really hard to help her become what us neurotypical folks would consider ‘functional’, and I have hope that my niece will be able to live independently one day.  She doesn’t worry about the silly things the rest of us do, she just lives her happy life.  Her passion is all things Disney.  The really amazing part about that, is she can name every movie Disney has created since 1982.  She knows most of the people that are the voice actors in each of the movies by heart.  Her knowledge is even expanding to other movie producers now, but Disney will always be her favorite.  Most of the time, by the end of the day, I couldn’t tell you what I had for breakfast that morning or the name of the movie I watched last week.  My purpose in sharing our story, is to show that individuals with ASD are special, and should be accepted as such, even though they come with a unique set of challenges.  It has been purposed that April be changed to April Acceptance Month.  For more information, check out this article: Autism Acceptance Month

Inner Calm and Connection

Struggling with racing thoughts, rapid heart rate, and anxiety?  Feeling disconnected from the rest of the world during these strange times?  You are not alone.  Try this meditative practice: Wheel of Awareness. Our clients have found it helpful, historically. For more resources from Dr. Dan Siegel, visit his website at https://drdansiegel.com/. We have no direct affiliation with Dr. Siegel, we simply wanted to share this free resource. If you enjoy the practice and would like to learn other relaxation techniques, we would be happy to teach you other practices.

All of the techniques we know are evidence-based in research.  Research has shown that regular meditative practices can lower heart rate, blood pressure, improve mood, and even retrain the nervous system to be less reactive.  We all have fight, flight, and freeze responses that are hardwired into our brains and bodies.  These responses were originally designed to protect us from threats in our environment, like encountering a bear, for example.  Today’s stressors look more like rush hour traffic or poor interpersonal communication that results in these types of responses.  Taking time to utilize techniques like mindfulness or meditation, will not make these reactions go away.  It will, however, lower the amount of time you spend in the fight, flight, or freeze state and the frequency with which you experience them.  This can be especially beneficial for individuals that are quick to anger or have high stress jobs.  It has been a year now, since we were first told to ‘stay home, stay safe’.  The stress and grief of this year has taken its tole on many.  With springtime just around the corner, we could all benefit from taking time to re-center, refocus, and decrease our stress levels.

Another one of our favorite tools comes from the HeartMath Institute, called the inner balance.  This device hooks up to your phone via Bluetooth and teaches you heart-focused breathing.  This technique is similar to meditation, or deep breathing, but allows you to connect with what’s going on with your heart.  According to the HeartMath Institute’s research, there are more signals going from the brain to the heart, than the heart to the brain.  By utilizing heart focused breathing, you can increase the level of coherence between the two organs and ‘get them both on the same page’, so to speak, increasing one’s ability to alter their emotional states, or accept them better.  Again, we have no affiliation with the institute and do not make any money from their devices or software.  They are a non-profit organization that utilizes the money from purchases to advance their research.  If you are interested in learning more about the institute, their resources, or their technology, visit their website: https://www.heartmath.org/research/research-library/.  If you want to give it a try before buying anything, we can schedule an appointment for you to try it with one of our counselors.  Heart-focused breathing is only one of the many techniques that can be learned with this technology.