Month: November 2016

Compulsive gambling

Compulsive gambling is the symptom of an emotional disorder. The emotional disabling factors involved are: low self esteem, immaturity, instability and obsessive behavior patterns To the casual observer the compulsive gambler gives the appearance of being an enormously egotistical person. A closer look at his coping style reveals an entirely different picture. The fact that he needs continually to find ways to feed his undernourished ego belies this idea. In the first stages of his compulsive gambling he may want the largest car and the finest clothing available to him, which is his way of reassuring himself of his self worth.

Compulsive gambling therapyIn his struggle to relate to others he creates the image that he is a philanthropist and an all around “good fellow”. He is considered by most to be a very charming, lovable person, a “Good Sam”, so to speak. His family may feel that he has concern for everyone except them. The gambler usually sets unreasonable and unrealistic goals for himself, which in his frustration he is never able to reach. He has a tendency to expect much too much from those around him as well as from himself.

When he is faced with his failures in life, he escapes the frustrations of day by day living through fantasy. He seeks relief from his poor self-image by dreaming of a Monte Carlo type existence filled with friends, new cars, mink coats, penthouses and beautiful women. Pathetically, there seems never to be enough big winnings to make even the smallest dream come true; probably, because whatever monies won, are to him, sacred. He must always return to win more. Ultimately, he gambles in reckless desperation and his dream world brings him no relief. He feels emotional conflict and group acceptance only when gambling. His self destruction is a terrifying experience for his family; it may involve their destruction as well. As his illness progresses, gambling, his problem solving device to relieve anxiety, tension and unpleasantness, fails to anesthetize his pain. Thus his obsession to gamble is accelerated. Through all the various stages he must wear his mask of “happy-go-lucky” fellow.


Most compulsive gamblers cannot admit a need for help until their obsessive, compulsive behavior has made their life intolerable. Each must find his own depth of despair. This could be any number of experiences such as: the loss or threatened loss of the person or thing most important to him. It may be loss of freedom, because of impending incarceration, loss of his family or the final realization of his complete loss of self respect. When his crisis presents itself, and he reaches the point where he is willing to admit his loss of control of gambling and the complete chaos of his life, he will be ready to accept help. He will find the help he needs in Gamblers Anonymous.

If he is to abstain from gambling indefinitely it is necessary that he be in regular attendance in this self-help group. There he will find the identification, emotional comfort, group acceptance, and assistance in the arduous task of changing his life coping style.

If any of the above issues concern you, please contact George MacGregor or your physician for help.

— George MacGregor is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Substance Abuse Specialist for the Montville Counseling Center.

By George P. MacGregor
Specialist in Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Certified Compulsive Gambling Counselor

Montville Counseling Center

Both Sides of Life’s Rich Tapestry

Our life is like a rich tapestry and each thread tells a story of its own. Often we are so busy with the process of weaving our story, and our focus is so concentrated on making the outcome of the picture to our liking ― that we’re not paying attention to the details that are happening on the other side of our grand design. Instead we continue to be occupied with completing the unique artwork that will become our life.

From time to time, we pause to admire the progress of our handiwork. We become curious to see what it took to create our ideal picture and turn over the tapestry. We now see the entire picture in all its glory ― a jumbled mass of frayed threads with no seeming order ― each thread telling a story of its own.

We see for the first time the weightiness of murky black threads that seems to go on forever, the bumps and knots, the threads crisscrossing each other, the remnants of loose threads that were cut away and discarded, and the imperfect intermingling of colors and fibers ― all creating the flawless compilation of our expressive character.

In tapestry, just like in life, the placements of color make the patterns of the design. And it’s when we realize that we can change the quality of fibers and the richness of colors at any time to affect the outcome ― that we have control over our lives ― is when we have the power to create joy in our life.

Upon closer examination, we notice a bright and beautiful gold thread peeking through the tangled chaos, playing off the dark threads in perfect contrast. And that’s when we realize that the flip side of every eventual success is the struggle it took to make it happen ― the reverse side has an abstract beauty of its own – the real story of the perfect picture that we have woven.

The back is not a separate story; it’s the complete story of our experiences. Underneath the perfect “front” that we show to others is the magnificent reality that we hide against a protective wall.

Montville Counseling Center wants to show you how to discover and appreciate your complete picture. Call today for a free 15 minute consultation and connect with a caring therapist in a supportive environment to help you not just survive, but thrive.

— By Dr. Elizabeth MacGregor

Groundlessness and the Numbing Down of America

These are turbulent times. Twitter-led revolutions, terrorist attacks, multiple wars, mass shootings, privacy issues, a mortgage crisis, a financial crisis, the “institution” of marriage and basic civil rights being challenged, environmental scares and the healthcare controversy are enough to make a person want to stay under the covers and not come out again.

This is the basis for personal development. Amplifying all of this chaos almost around the clock is the screaming media, friends on Facebook and Twitter, radical and fundamentalists political blogs, personal interactions with friends and acquaintances, and the opinionated clerk at our neighborhood grocery store. The only break we get is when we sleep, and studies show we aren’t getting much of that either.

The tendency for many is to “check out” with overeating, the never ending distraction of our electronic devices, excessive drinking, reality television shows, overspending or prescription drugs. Indulging in numbing the senses is epidemic while we are starving our creativity and dulling our innovative thinking.

And then unexpectedly, there may be a shocking event that collides with our center of gravity to knock us out of our numbness into the deep side of fear. Something that challenges our basic safety, the basis of our reality, and how we thought the world worked.

This feeling of groundlessness can be felt individually and collectively as a nation. Many people feel this singular event like a thunderbolt striking at their core foundation when losing their house, job, marriage, health or retirement savings. Careful plans of enjoying the golden years in comfort and security are abruptly ripped apart.

Regardless of personal, political or religious viewpoints, what people think is true for them can suddenly feel anchored in smoke. Some people may experience it as “having no center” or “having the rug pulled out from underneath them.” The effects can be felt as pain, anger and depression making it more difficult to recover equilibrium.

There is a general feeling of uneasiness as we examine our basic truths and how our beliefs may have been deeply influenced by external forces. The earth’s stabilizing gravity field ceases to exist, our guiding map is blown away in the changing wind and we are left with nothing to hold on to while our anxiety rises. Life can seem to be coming apart with a physical, mental and emotional unraveling.

But no longer having reference points or anything firm to grasp can lead to positive change. Through groundlessness, our beliefs and thought- patterns are turned upside down so patterns of habit that long ago stopped serving us can be brought to new awareness. Re-evaluation of what we thought was true in our own universe can change our whole world view and self-image.

Our vulnerability can be an opportunity for growth. Small cracks in our psyche can be what are needed to let the light in and air out our stale views. Although groundlessness can temporarily spin us out of control, we can choose to stop spinning by the pull of our own center. When we see things in a new light, it can spark our creative expression and spur us to improve our own situation, and in turn, influence our wider world. Groundlessness can crack us open and cause us to step off the sidelines and fully into our awaiting life.

Crossroads and Life’s Changing Decisions

All of us reach a point in our lives, where our decisions inevitably create profound changes in our hearts, our minds and our world. Fears can be the charging force pushing on the direction of our thoughts, dictating our movements. Sometimes these are hidden fears that we are not ready to confront.

But eventually, we all come to a crossroads where we need to make certain life-changing decisions, regardless of our fears. At this point, the direction of our movement must encompass confronting our hidden personal fears and feelings that play such a powerful role in our decision making.

Fear of the unknown can shake our resolve in moving forward as we begin to face our heart pounding moments that inform our personal actions.

Our decisions are unconsciously influenced by our experiences during childhood, adolescence and adult life. We grow up in survival mode, learning to protect ourselves from the verbal, physical and emotional onslaught of our parents, siblings, teachers, school yard bullies and others.

These learned survival traits compound and confuse our thinking of who we are and the direction of our lives. They affect our daily actions, at times giving us distressing results in our confrontations, causing us to begin asking more contemplative questions at new crossroads: How do I decide what to do? What is my problem? Where do I look for helpful information? Why is it so important to know about my past? Who can help me with my decisions? When should I begin the search? Such thoughts radiate through our decision making both internally and outwardly.

Whether we are sitting in our car at a crossroad to an unknown destination or at a crossroad in our mind confronting a fear resulting from an experience, can we determine who we are and what we are all about? What does all of this mean for us?

It means courage. As we walk through life, we, individually, carry our failures, losses, hurts, and other issues experienced while growing up with family or alone. We ask ourselves, “Are we any good? Are we worthwhile? Are we broken?”

These are scary and real questions that may present themselves at our crossroad. How do we explore thoughts and confront fears resulting from our actions, or the actions of others, that have affected our lives?

Here are 4 simplified steps that can help:

  1. One needs to explore the ways we protect ourselves unconsciously, from the anxiety of recognizing singular or multiple traumatic events that have shaped our decision making. We do this in order to defend against a fear or troubling emotion, which becomes the catalyst for our actions.
  2. In my therapeutic experience, when looking at those unconscious fears that interfere with our decision- making, it’s advisable to attempt to understand only one issue at a time. Otherwise, we may experience frustration, aggravation and other emotions, resulting in nothing being done at all.
  3. Once the issue is brought out into the “light of day,” exploration of our feelings can be utilized using “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” and “how,” to try to understand how our unconscious manipulates our thoughts and emotions. Recognizing our basic emotions and understanding them is just as important as being able to accept the defenses we utilize in protecting our fears. We often experience interacting emotions producing thoughts that may result in anxiety, anger, apathy, despair, doubt and indecision. I have personally experienced issues causing the complexity of emotions to interact and force the outcome of emotional interplay to action. We direct ourselves to play out emotional entanglements by interjecting ourselves into circumstances we have unconsciously designed. Those emotions and fears we have to deal with unconsciously affect the decisions we make as we travel forward into the crossroads of our lives.
  4. Once we understand our feelings and survival techniques, goals can now be visualized, empowering us to resolve those fears that have impeded our life’s changing decisions, allowing us to move forward. The many crossroads encountered during our life can now help us to strengthen our belief about ourselves.

The most recent crossroad and decision-making that I have confronted was heart surgery. It was determined on the operating table that the surgery could not be performed because my heart was covered by plaque, closing my aortic valve by over two-thirds. If surgery continued, a stroke would most likely occur since the procedure for this type of surgery was so recently developed

Afterward, I was informed that there are surgeons currently training to perform this next level of surgery. So I wrestled with two decisions: Wait for the training to finish and risk having the surgery, or do nothing and let it go.

This life decision was not easy, as it affected not just myself, but my family. In the end, I elected to let go of the surgery. In coming to terms with this difficult life- changing decision, I have become more comfortable with managing this arduous crossroad.

The life-changing decisions and crossroads we experience are different for all of us. Trying to use complicated methods to explore our issues can result in the opposite of the desired goal. A simplified way to begin the process of understanding who and what we are all about, may have a greater positive influence on the changes in our life and the decisions we make that are right for us.

Teacher Burnout

Teaching is a calling. The pull to teach emerges from a deep desire to make a difference in the world by helping society’s next generation reach their full potential. Teachers spend a lot of time with our children, and have a profound influence on shaping their minds and character.

Teaching can also at times be a daunting occupation. Some of the rosy glow can wear off for newly minted teachers and veterans alike in the face of numerous professional challenges, sometimes leading to teacher burnout. Here are some of the hurdles that teachers are constantly jumping:

  1. Work overload. Many hours are spent outside of actual teaching in the classroom; grading papers, keeping the rooms orderly, preparing lesson plans, maintaining complete and accurate academic records, responding to parent’s emails, making and returning phone calls to parents, and meeting with school administrators. Snarled communication between teachers, administrators, parents and students is part of the fallout.
  2. Time management/organization. Learning effective time management and organizational skills sets up the teacher and student for success. The Common Core is producing a whole host of new time pressures, deadlines, and complexity, causing lack of proper classroom preparation to meet the latest standards.
  3. Classroom Management. Defiant and negligent student behavior; repeatedly not following directions, not handing in homework and project assignments on time, not studying for tests, general classroom disruption, and blatantly using cellphones during lessons will erode motivation for teaching and learning. With proper coaching, teachers can learn valuable classroom management skills to take control of their classroom.
  4. Lack of support / respect. Teachers feel a lack of power and control of their own classroom structure. Ironically, they are taking the brunt of the blame for all that’s wrong with the school system in this country. Having a skilled ally who can guide the teacher through managing what is within their control is vital for the mental and emotional health of the teacher.
  5. Anger Management. Each of these challenges can simmer under complete control on their own burner, until a flame is turned up on one burner, and then another, and another. If not properly managed, these culminating challenges can quickly get out of hand, and start bubbling over. Learning anger management strategies are critical for successful intervention in coping with a student’s anger, as well as the teacher’s own feelings of anger.

The Common Core Connection to Teacher Burnout

The Common Core is turning up the tension dial to pressure-cooker intensity. Demanding new teaching approaches and education policies, including classroom evaluations three times a year by the school principle, is magnifying teacher stress. High-stakes rigorous testing takes its toll on teachers and students, building frustration and resentment.

“Teach to the test” is fast becoming the new education mantra. If students don’t perform sufficiently, then the reality is many teachers could be fired. Squeezed between politicians, policy-makers, administrators, parents and students, teachers struggle to find their balance under the crushing weight of all this intense scrutiny.

Getting Out of the “Stress-loop”

A lack of feeling in control of the environment triggers fear and anger, and a “stress-loop” begins. Physical effects in response to the stress overload shows itself in eating too many sugar and carbs, drinking too much caffeine, eating disorders, overindulging in alcohol or drugs, and not getting enough sleep or exercise.

The result of this mind numbing emotional strain can be nausea, headaches, stomach pains, mental fog, exhaustion and weight gain or weight loss and susceptibility to immune system break down. All this overwhelming stress often creeps into personal relationships, compounding the stress load and keeping the momentum going in a “stress-loop.” Teacher burnout can morph into life burnout.

Avoiding burnout can be done by learning practical techniques for managing work-related stressors from a trained expert on teaching management strategies. Understanding your own thinking and behavior preferences, and changing how you think about stress-inducing situations can also help reduce the frustration and other negative emotions. Don’t suffer another day. Call us to get the support you need to get the balance you deserve in life.

Testimonials from Teachers and Educators

Dr. MacGregor has been working with me for almost 3 years.  She has helped me immensely and that largely comes from the fact that she cares about the well-being of her patients. She creates a relaxed, non-judgmental environment while also challenging you to face your issues head on. The best thing of all is that she works with you to provide you with the tools necessary to deal with your issues so that you are better prepared to handle them moving forward. Since working with Dr. MacGregor, I am a happier, calmer and more confident educator, mom, and wife.

– Michele C.

I chose to start working with Dr. MacGregor because I was impressed with her level of experience and qualifications and I have not been disappointed. When we started, I lacked self-awareness and the skills needed to be successful and balance a demanding job while building a satisfying personal life and rewarding marriage. Dr. MacGregor not only helped me resolve long standing issues, she has helped me reach my potential both personally and professionally. I am truly grateful for her services and will never forget her impact on my life.

– G.B., Client/School Psychologist

Although I have only been seeing  Dr. MacGregor a few months now, I feel her straight forward personality combined with her many years of experience as a therapist has already begun to change both my personal and professional life as an educator.

– JC

The Sacred Dance of Caregiving During Dying and Loss

All relationships are a dance. We do our best to keep in unison to the rhythm, and try not to step on our partner’s toes. Some partners have danced so long with each other that the movements become almost second nature. Others are just getting the hang of the steps, when tragedy strikes. Living with dying changes the music for everyone. Couples, parents of young children, adult children with aging parents, siblings, friends and family must all learn how to move with the new rhythm, and clashes and tense negotiations will happen in the best of relationships during a terminal illness.

As a caregiver, watching your loved one living in pain and deteriorating before your eyes brings a helpless feeling. Grieving the loss of their independence, a loss of their cherished activities, loss of cognition, loss of future dreams, loss of their identity, loss of our own identity, and the immeasurable other losses is
agonizing and heartbreaking.

Experiencing your loved one fading away a little more each day brings another fresh layer of grief for the new loss, chipping away at your fragile endurance. The mental and physical toll of hyper-vigilance, anxiety and dread of the weighty shadow of the ultimate loss adds to the exhaustion. There may be an anticipatory grieving of death and a melancholy wish that the beloved would die to end their pain and your battle-like fatigue.

Consciously Transforming Suffering

Navigating your way through the process of dying while still living your life can be a sacred time for you. Often partners will try to protect each other from the pain, which onlsy increases the feeling of isolation. Finding your way toward honesty with your dying loved one so that you can share your authentic feelings can be part of the sacred process.

End of life can be a time for love, reconciliation and transformation. You will likely evaluate your life and reflect on your past experiences and relationships. The search for meaning in our lives is a deep-seated human need. This time can be a jarring gift of openness to mend fences and say the things that may need to be said to work through family dynamics and conflicts.

Practical considerations can be discussed and carried out in arranging personal affairs, saying goodbye, and passing the torch, giving a feeling of some control, which can be especially comforting for those who don’t like change. Spending time with the dying person and allowing them the space to tell you their thoughts and make their own decisions, or to simply quietly sit with them and hold their hand can be a profound experience.

As the caregiver, moving through your loved one’s final months of life, you may feel relief that the end is near or feel glad that they have finally died. You may also find yourself in retrospection of how you could have done things differently. You may confront thoughts of your own death, and life without your partner or loved one, and your own shifting identity.

It’s important that the caregiver take some time off so there is a release of the build up of emotional pressure and a pocket of normalcy. Therapy with a counselor on the phone or in person can also be a tremendous help in sorting through complicated emotions, and transitioning from caregiving through bereavement to the next hopeful chapter of life.

In the aftermath of caregiving, your story continues as you learn to cope with anniversaries, birthdays, and special holidays. Allowing yourself to feel the grueling pain of grief can help open the space for the wisdom that sharing the intimate experience of dying can bring, eventually opening doors for finding new meaning and fulfillment in your own life — and in the process discovering a revitalized dance that celebrates your renewal.

Struggling with Fertility Issues

Struggling with Fertitlity issuesThe heartbreaking experience of trying to become pregnant without success can take a person through a range of painful experiences and emotions, compacting a lifetime of stressful feelings into an all too limited timeframe that conversely seems to stretch on forever.

Some women decide to delay childbirth until later in life only to be caught by surprise by infertility after spending so many careful years avoiding pregnancy. Other women have long planned to “start a family” early in life only to be repeatedly disappointed each month. A feeling of helplessness begins to cloud over this usually joyful time as it slowly transforms itself to a life crisis — triggering for many individuals and couples issues of self-blame, depression, guilt, shame, intense anger, grief, and obsessive thoughts about infertility. The stress of the financial cost is one more emotional weight that gets added to the crumbling pile.

Living in the present becomes squeezed between scrutinizing the past and an increasingly uncertain future. Holding these devastating emotions together is both a daily burden and a small triumph, until a well-intentioned friend or tactless near-stranger cracks the thin and shaky facade with an off-hand thoughtless comment or question. Shouldering this stress with your partner can also begin to chip away at the relationship. A feeling of inadequacy builds, and self-esteem can deteriorate with each passing day.

Ongoing Individual and couples counseling during infertility treatments can be enormously helpful in coping with this continual emotional traumatic strain. Don’t go it alone. Give us a call today and get professional help and strategies in dealing with your infertility struggles.

Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Relationship

cupid's piercing arrowMoney represents love, power, self-esteem, freedom, control, and personal desires. When couples take the step to unite together in partnership, they are merging together their finances and money attitudes, as well as their hearts. While it may take some time for the honeymoon glow to wear off, money frictions have a way of rubbing it to a dull shine early on in the union.

Many people who struggle with money issues stemming from emotional triggers bring that baggage into the partnership, lighting the tinder underneath other existing conflicts within the relationship. Differences in spending habits and lack of clear communication continue to ignite disagreements, eventually turning harmony to hostility.

Although you may have merged your lives together, you are still separate people with individual needs and desires. Financial transparency maintains trust, and encourages open communication. Being respectful of your partner’s spending style while honoring your own comfortable limits is essential for maintaining a healthy connection.

Sit down with each other and establish a plan to manage expectations and emotions. The best time for honest and productive communication is during a calm moment at the kitchen table rather than when the credit card bill comes in and emotions flare. Setting aside undisturbed time for money management discussions also allows for couples to prioritize and re-prioritize family goals.

Digging to the Bottom of Clutter

cupid's piercing arrowClutter shows itself in varying degrees. It can be a mild annoyance of the occasional overstuffed closet or messy desk that needs a good cleaning out, or in more extreme cases, it can turn into hoarding. Extreme hoarding affects the functioning of daily life and can spiral a person into ever deeper piles that are difficult to climb out of without the help of therapy. Anxiety, depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), childhood trauma, traumatic loss, a stressful life event, and dementia can be lurking at the bottom of this often crippling dysfunction.

The chaos and oppressive weight of living with hoarding can also have a distressing emotional effect on the hoarder’s partner and their children, causing lasting trauma that trails behind them long after leaving the cluttered home.

For most people, compulsive hoarding behavior is a dysfunction that can be significantly helped with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Making decisions to let go can be difficult for hoarders, but the decision to get help with this literal disorder can be the first of many good decisions to come.

A Daily Practice of Love

cupid's piercing arrowFor some couples on Valentine’s Day, Cupid’s piercing arrow to the heart can miss the mark. The pressure of making the day perfect, and the stress of fulfilling unrealistic expectations, can lead to disappointment, frustration, and feeling let down. When anger and other unsettling emotions bubble to the surface instead of champagne, hurt feelings can be the result. Not exactly the romantic feelings most are yearning for on that special day.

Finding ways to show affection and appreciation, and spending time together all year long does more to sustain a relationship than one day of obligated or forced bliss. Honoring your own relationship’s unique needs and remembering to make an effort each day builds an authentic connection that keeps the romance lasting throughout the seasons.

By all means, celebrate the day. Just be sure to pay attention to your relationship every day. Give Cupid the daily target practice that both of your hearts fully deserve!

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