Category Archives: Uncategorized

WFC Launches Maternal Mental Health Program


Westport Family Counseling has just launched a Maternal Mental Health Program to support the needs of women in the Fairfield County area.  WFC is pleased to offer this new service and area of specialty.

Westport Family Counseling supports women during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and counsels women and couples grieving perinatal loss, or experiencing infertility struggles. Maternal Mental Health refers to the lifespan of reproductive joys and challenges.  We are here to walk alongside your reproductive journey moving towards healing, wellness, and the search for meaning.

Westport Family Counseling’s Maternal Health Therapist, Carolyn Yates LMFT trained intensively at the Seleni Institute in New York, NY and specializes in diagnosing and treating Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, as well as working with women and couples.

For more information about our services, please visit our newly launched webpages:

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders

Miscarriage, Child Loss and Infertility

Holiday De-stressing

The holidays are traditionally a time for festivity and cheer. However, the pressure of traveling, hosting, cooking, and gift-giving can sometimes make the holiday spirit a little less bright.That’s because our bodies respond to stress, and stress affects almost every system in our body. Therefore, finding healthy ways to manage stress over the holidays is just the right gift to give our bodies and our minds.

Here are a few tips on how to have a more positive holiday season.

1) Bah-hum-BUG to bugs and colds and flus… ‘Tis The Season To Be Healthy!

With the change in season, November and December are notorious for catching a cold, the flu, or the stomach bug. Be diligent about disinfecting, staying hydrated, exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy.

  • Buy extra tissues, lip balm, hand sanitizer, and hand cream…
  • Bring your own bottle of water or tea with you, everywhere you go!
  • Set your alarm to make sure you get up to go to the gym… and go!
  • Make sure you have three meals a day… and not too many snacks!
  • Give yourself a little something extra, like a trip to the massage parlor.


2) Ho, ho, ho… No, no, no!

It’s okay to say “No” to people… even if they offer holiday tidings and cheer. There’s only so much we can do, year-round. The holidays can be especially taxing, because of the time crunch we often feel with trying to fit in gift buying and festivities, while school is still in session, and our workload is mounting. So… though you might usually say, “Yes” to the many things your kids want to do, after school… you may decide it’s better to let them play in the basement, while you take care of yourself.

Be realistic about your limits!

If someone on the PTA has asked you to bake five dozen cookies for the school holiday party, don’t just automatically say, Yes. Think a moment. Before agreeing, ask yourself, am I already feeling stressed? Will this just add to the pile? Is there a way to divide up this task so it doesn’t all fall on me?


3) Be A Responsible Giver

Don’t overextend yourself with gift-giving. You may want to get your daughter the computer she’s been asking for, or the latest smartphone, because all of her friends have one. However, look at your budget and make an informed decision based on how much you set aside to spend on gifts, instead of just saying “Yes,” on the spot. You want to give freely, and not with a heavy heart!

4) Relax!

Self-care isn’t just saying “No” to overload… it’s saying “Yes” to experiences that are rejuvenating!

Try to find ways to nurture your mind and spirit during the holidays.

  • Draw a bubble bath, and give yourself a break from wrapping presents.
  • Light holiday scented candle, and awaken your senses.
  • Play music in the car… in the kitchen… in the bedroom… in the bath… create music playlists that suit each environment!
  • Take a walk to get some fresh air and collect some pine cones…
  • When stress is at it’s height, it can be a great time to try meditation, yoga, or mindfulness fitness.
  • Practice Daily Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills… grounding, self-soothing, becoming present!

Westport Family Counseling is Sponsoring Westport Art Center’s Art Slam! this Saturday 6/20 from 6-8pm

WFC is teaming up with the Westport Arts Center to sponsor their Art Slam! this Saturday 6/20 from 6-8pm.  Art Slam! is a one night only art party featuring work from 12 local teens and music by local performers. This event is free and open to the public, and will also include food furnished by The Cheese Truck and the GRANOLA bar.  As the event sponsor, a clinician from Westport Family Counseling will be offering an art therapy activity that all guests can take part in.  Stop by the Westport Arts Center on 51 Riverside Ave in Westport this Saturday, June 20th from 6-8pm.

Artists were selected by TAC members and are:

Katherine Coogan, “Longshore”
Madison Dick, “Living Life.” 
Sophie Driscoll, “Real”
Lauren Fraites“Patterns in the Sky”
Sarah Holmes, “Autumn Walk” 
Blair Marine, “It’s a Grey Day”
Celeste Matte, “The Garden Arch” 
Alexandra McMahon, “Tiger Lily”
Audrey Seo, “Fun with Knives”
Katherine Simpson, “Stay Gold, Ponyboy” 
Alex Spadacenta, “Just Another Day”
Rachel Wolfe“Colorful Crab”

TAC Is a group of 20-30 elite teens who serve as ambassadors for the arts in the community by creating program and event opportunities for their peers. Founded in January 2015, TAC currently accepts applications on a rolling basis. To learn more about TAC, please click here.

Grief Within The Human-Animal Bond

An inevitable part of the animal bond relationship is one of loss. Our pet’s lifespan is commonly shorter than ours. However, we are often unprepared for the levels of despair and deep sorrow that we experience, when they die.

Many times, we do not know what to do when animals pass away. In part, it is a societal issue, as there is a discrepancy between how we mourn the loss of a person and how we mourn the loss of an animal. In addition to observing a person’s death through rituals, customs, and protocols, we actually have grievance and counseling paradigms that help us cope. But, it is not the same for the loss experienced in the human-animal bond. There is much less observance, understanding and agreement about customs and protocols.

It is hard to share about one’s grief, when we experience the death of a person. It seems to be even harder to share about the loss of an animal. Friends and family may offer condolences, but are often surprised if the sadness or depression lasts more than a short time.

Whether people know it or are comfortable with it, mourning the loss of an animal is normal. And, just as most people would agree it is healthy to mourn the loss of a person, it is healthy to mourn the loss of an animal…for as long as necessary.

Because our connection with animals is deeper than we are often aware of, we may also be unclear about how many layers of loss exist. For example, the loss experienced in the death contains, within it, the additional loss of an identity that was defined by the relationship, itself.

Additionally, something many people do not consider, the loss of a pet has the potential to retrigger previous loss. The importance and identity of having a bond with an animal may be as important as that with a brother, father, mother, or wife. The pure love and devotion does not feel replaceable.

It is important people understand just how deep the connection can be. The animal-human bond warrants that we allow ourselves to grieve, when we experience the loss of an animal we care about.

Stopping or inhibiting the grieving process is problematic. Just as in the death of a person, when people experience the loss from an animal’s death, people may experience an increase in anxiety and depression.. thought process and judgment can become impaired, and behavior may shift dramatically. This may be compounded if a person feels loss, but experiences an incongruence with other people’s perceptions about the loss. If a person has disturbance, but feels trapped and unable to express themselves, life’s functions may become even more impacted.

Curiously, there are people who may be afraid of feeling loss about people, or loss in their own lives, related to their Self. However, these same people are able to feel mourn at the loss of their pets. In treatment, people may resist recounting and processing the traumas of war, or the deaths of loved ones, only to break down at the loss of a pet, who had quietly helped the person to weather these past storms.

In the many ways we look at our relationships with animals, it would seem that we should not be surprised at the feelings that they invoke in us. After all, they often demonstrate that our happiness is one of their primary intentions.

There is a profound connection that exists in the human-animal bond… and it is important that we come to terms with our loss, when that light is extinguished.

For more information on treatment for pet bereavement, contact Vera Muller-Paisner.

Written by Vera Muller-Paisner, LCSW


What To Expect When Transitioning Into A Blended Family

Making the transition into a blended family is a challenging one, no matter the circumstances. Especially for the children, coming to terms with a new parent entering the picture is not always going to be easy. Understanding what to expect during this transition period, and the best ways to cope with your new family dynamic, can improve your ability to handle the challenges.


When entering a new family dynamic, such as blending two families into one, the challenges that arise come from unknown expectations. Unfortunately, the variability of these transitions and the subsequent reactions to them cannot be planned for in advance. Acknowledging the hurdles and understanding the need for communication and resolution is vitally important. Westport Family Counseling Director, Nicholas Strouse, suggests factoring in a ‘distress tolerance’ as the transition unfolds. “Feelings will be hurt, and unexpected feelings will come up arbitrarily. Things may appear to be going well, and still there will be feelings that were not planned for.” Understanding that these feelings need to be expressed and addressed in a safe environment is critical to ensuring that each family member feels secure and comfortable.

It’s also important, and rests on the parents, to take time for self-reflection. “Examining your habits and thinking about how you’re feeling ultimately allows you to assess how you’re affecting others,” says Strouse. “And in addition to self-reflection, one must reflect on other members, too… even, and especially, if they are not.” An important word of advice is to look at the bigger picture, and the development of the individuals and collective members of the new family… everyone’s evolution over time. Strouse tells us, “The examination of new boundaries and the needs of family members may not be resolved in the first six months, as many new dynamics are likely to only become apparent over time… It requires this type of ‘active listening,’” to ensure that each family member’s feeling, thoughts, and concerns are recognized and addressed, respectfully.


At all stages of life, each and every situation poses a new challenge. That can be difficult, or demanding, for even the biological parents. It can present a particular challenge for the parents of a blended family, because of the tendency for a biological parent to feel a certain level of protectiveness of their children. Maintaining an open line of communication regarding conflict management and resolution, as well as discipline, can ensure that the couple stands united. By discussing these types of matters, outside of a crisis, partners can reach resolutions that ensure both are on the same page if, and when, something does crop up.

Strouse also offers a few rules of thumb to keep in mind throughout the blending process.


  • Patience is Key – Although the family may “blend” over the course of a move-in day, the process can last much longer. Understanding that there is a “learning curve,” of sorts, for both children and parents alike, can make each family member more amenable when challenges do arise.
  • Be Open with the Children – No matter their age, children deserve an age-appropriate frame of reference from which to view this new family dynamic. Explaining the situation, as well as stressing that open communication is vital, can help to ensure the children feel heard.
  • Listen and validate – The transition may have seemed “seamless,” and the family may appear to be doing well, as a whole. However, keep checking in with each other. Remember that each member can have a different experience.


Ultimately, there is no one method that will make the transition into a blended family a perfectly smooth process. But, understanding what to expect during this period can help both parents and children to manage it in a healthy and productive way. By maintaining open communication and practicing empathy throughout, the transition can be a more pleasant experience for all involved. Being conscientious in these ways may help a blended family get closer, and actually bring a close family even closer together.

Are you encountering challenges navigating the transition into a blended family? Westport Family Counseling can offer insights through family counseling. Contact us to learn more about these services or to schedule an appointment.

Depression, That Which Is Unseen By The Naked Eye.

Someone who is depressed can appear to others around them, to be “well.” That is because depression can be felt all the time, and hidden most of the time. As much as people do not want to feel depressed, they generally do not ask for help, because they do not want anyone to know they are depressed. In fact, the instinct to mask feelings of depression is very common. People suffering from depression often find it difficult to participate in social activities, isolating from the world around them. They frequently succumb to inner pressures that compel them to avoid any interactions, even if it means missing school, work, or important events.

Severe depression can be compared to cancer in the way it ravishes the body and mind. Yet, for all the inner turmoil depression inflicts, it cannot be seen in the way that cancer attacks the body and can be detected by blood work. This can be hard to comprehend for those that have not experienced severe depression …how it is that a physically healthy looking person, someone who is able to interact and seem cheery in one situation, is then unable to answer the phone, stay at their job, or sit at dinner.

Three of the most prominent, and crippling, features of depression are the thought patterns, Negative SelectivityPleasure Deprivation, and Running Commentary. Negative Selectivity is the tendency to selectively become most conscious of what is “wrong” with an experience. As such, it becomes routine to note failure and disappointment. Negative Selectivity begins to direct all interpretation and experience, until it becomes habitual. People with depression begin to expect a “lack” of appreciation and rejuvenation when eating, sleeping, listening to the sounds of nature or music…looking at beauty, reading, or even thinking. Most experiences are stripped of the “nutritional” value, the dimension and nuance that makes them special. The depression leads people to almost exclusively report what was “wrong” with their day, how “unpleasant” work was, how they slept, “terribly.” The depressed person’s new “norm” becomes that of the “lack of pleasure.”

The ongoing lack of pleasure, or Pleasure Deprivation can become a serious condition. Like the lack of Vitamin D, or Iron, it is most often an unknown occurrence that goes on for an extended period of time, until acute symptoms demand the person seeks treatment. In the case of Vitamin D and iron deficiencies, a person may experience serious fatigue, memory lapses, or syncope. Pleasure deprivation resulting from depression, on the other hand, is not routinely tested. In fact, there is no conventional screening that people think of to explain the tendency to focus on negativity. This penchant for focusing on negativity is looked at as a habit, not something that can be diagnosed.

Without treatment, deficiencies cause compromise in capability, and create adaptations that provide only temporary solutions. More often than not, deficiencies produce secondary and tertiary conditions. In the case of Pleasure Deprivation, people who are depressed are likely to develop, “Anhedonia” (from the Greek, an = “without,” and hedone = “pleasure”). Anhedonia has two components, Motivational Anhedonia, and Consummatory Anhedonia. The first is the lack of desire to engage in an activity; the latter is the loss of pleasure from the activity, itself. Nothing is pleasing. Meals are “only alright.” Activities, such as physical intimacy, or social engagements seem “Not worth the effort.” Trips to places that would appear to be amazing fall flat. Routine activities, such as listening to music or going out to the movies, become unfulfilling, and, in fact, seem to require, “Too much effort.” As with an iron or vitamin D deficiency, a person’s energies and appearance shift. Because of the way we organize ourselves socially, people who cannot enjoy themselves sometimes cause others to feel uncomfortable, challenged, angry, or helpless.

The chain of events lead people with depression to feel alienated, and ultimately to become more isolated. As a result, people suffering from depression often find themselves becoming increasingly distant from acquaintances, friends, and loved ones. The alienation energizes the depression, as the experience of loss and isolation is interpreted as confirmation of ineptitude and worthlessness. Almost as a defense, or a means of conservation, the repetitive and consistent deprivation of pleasure results in a shutdown of part of the Self.

The bombardment of negativity and pain caused by Negative Selection and Pleasure Deprivation directly influence Running CommentaryRunning Commentary is a thought pattern that is an endemic symptom of depression. It is a form of circular thinking that gains hegemony over all other waking thoughts. The commentary seems to be linked to the belief system, as opposed to being experienced as a separate “oddity” that the person suffering with depression can examine at arms length, with an objective perspective. As such, the commentary is experienced as if it is insidious, like brainwashing. Day in and day out, this commentary interprets the person’s ideas, efforts, actions, and achievements as having a quality-range from poor to embarrassing… from failing to repulsive and exemplary of what is abhorrent…not to be conveyed or displayed to others for fear of judgment.

With these internal experiences governing their external experiences, people suffering from depression frequently feel incompatible with others and not in sync with day-to-day routine. Someone suffering with depression is likely to have a distinctly different experience than those around them who are not depressed, or not familiar with the depth of depression. Herein lies one of the most difficult aspects of depression: how to bridge the gap between the individual’s “inner world” and the “world around them.”

From the earliest age that a person can think about themselves, people suffering with depression grapple with the notion that they ought to be able to “fix” the problem, themselves. Just as the onlooker does not see the thoughts and beliefs within the depressed person…the person suffering with depression also cannot make sense of how there appears to be no external source for the internal suffering. There appears to be, “Nothing going on,” but it feels as if, “Everything is wrong.” Mistakenly, depressed people are often misperceived by themselves, and by others, as stubborn, or lazy, because they do not follow their own practical advice, or the suggestions of others.

Without clarity, the person suffering with depression, and those who try to help them, do not understand that depressed people often can’t follow the advice of others. It is not that they will not, it is that they can not. In fact, people who are so depressed are unable to will themselves to do much of anything that would appear to be constructive, productive, or positive. The whole experience, for both, seems irrational and can even become maddening. Blame and self-blame are usually unavoidable. The premise that the depressed person could “fix” the situation if they, “Just did ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z'”–though not true–becomes the framework and perspective by which the depressed person regards themselves as a failure. In fact, in the depths of depression, people think that they are the only depressed person who cannot follow “common sense” to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There is an idea that people with depression can use common sense and will themselves to reconnect with others and let go of their negative beliefs about themselves. Of course, though untrue, this idea is utterly convincing to someone suffering with chronic depression. At its worst, people with severe chronic depression have a rapid succession of thoughts that are dehumanizing, and so painful, that the “action” of these thoughts cause the individual to slip into deeper darkness. Devastated, but hidden, the Self fades…until unseen by the naked eye.

Written by Westport Family Counseling Director, Nicholas Strouse, LCSW

Depression and Suicide – A Life Lead in Quiet Desperation

The death of the highly regarded actor, 63-year-old Robin Williams, has rocked the world, after having allegedly taking his own life the night of August 11th. His wife, colleagues, and fans have been grieving since the unsuspected tragedy occurred. Mr. Williams was one of the greatest comedians of our time, and known by many to be a genuinely kind person.

“We never saw this coming,” was the general sentiment that emerged during initial interviews of those closest to Mr. Williams, a response not unique Williams’s case. In fact, loved ones and friends of suicide victims often report surprise when these types of events occur. It is not because of lack of caring, but rather the absence of understanding about the circumstances of suicide that creates this separation. Many do not realize just how prevalent a detachment between an individual contemplating suicide and the loved ones who surround them tends to be. Mr. Williams’s death, while a terrible tragedy, may serve as a catalyst to help us connect to a deeper understanding of depression and suicide.

To better understand the circumstances of suicide, it is important for us to eliminate the misconceptions surrounding it. Professionals and laymen alike have proposed that these attempts are the result of anger or even appear as acts of vengeance. Some react to suicide by deeming it a selfish act, blaming the victim by stating “if only they had… this never would have happened.”

Contrary to these notions, in many cases, suicide is an act of desperation and utter hopelessness. Many times, victims are seeking an end to the terrible anguish and physiological pain they have lived through for years. Their perception of their situation is one of despair, debilitating symptoms, anguish, and physiological dysregulation.

Nicholas Strouse, the Director and a clinician at Westport Family Counseling, explains severe chronic depression in the following way:

Picture the pain of losing someone you love… pain that causes you to weep and promise God that you will do anything in exchange for things to go back to the way they were… pain that causes you to lose focus… lose your appetite… pain that keeps you up all night… pain that won’t let you get out of bed in the morning… Imagine that pain amplified exponentially… and then imagine that pain continuing for years.

In addition to psychic pain, severe depression creates a myriad of symptoms, ranging from stress-disorders to psychosomatic disorders, (headaches, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome), insular thinking, and reclusive behavior. Depression also impacts the immune system, coursing through the body like cancer.

However, whereas cancer is a concrete medical condition, depression is a term that refers to a cluster of subjective symptoms that include psychic pain, physiological manifestations, emotional dysregulation, psychosomatic conditions, and is therefore harder to pinpoint or define. Depression, unlike cancer, is abstract and intangible.

It is a common belief among individuals who are depressed that something is inherently wrong with them. This ego deficit precipitates the desire to hide and invariably leads to isolation, increasing self-blame and self-loathing. Because of this type of thinking, severely depressed individuals often just “put on a happy face,” in order to stop people from asking about the issue. Sadly, Robin Williams may have done just that.

It makes sense, then–as irrational as it may seem–that people contemplating suicide do not often reach out for help, and try to hide their pain. Many who suffer and stay silent lead lives of quiet desperation. However, hope lies in our potential to propel a collective shift in perception. The goal is to raise the level of empathy, understanding, and compassion, to open communication lines with those who are suffering. If we are successful in our objective, it will become less likely that friends and loved ones of suicide victims must say, “We never saw this coming.”          

 -By Mark Renchner-Kelly, WFC