everybody welcome to another episode of The YouSchool podcast, I am the one and only host, Scott, you're stuck with me if you're listening. And today we've got a guest on that I don't remember when we met, but it's definitely pre pandemic, which is how I gauge relationships now, which means that puts us in the four or five, six year category. And actually someone that I respected more from a distance, we haven't spent a ton of time together. But this topic now is really important. And I really wanted her to be on the show. So today, we have Ashley Cox therapist, tell me about you tell us about you, your backgrounds. And you're just a little bit what's your focus is just so good to be here. Thank you so much for thinking of me, Scott, and inviting me to join you today. And
oh, gosh, so I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. And I've been in the field for 10 years. And I
mostly have always worked with kids, teens, families, and like young college age, I love it. I enjoy every bit of it, I actually went to school, thinking I would do couples, and I had very little interest in working with kids and actually kind of tuned out that class. And I was
like, I mean this. And then I ended up doing all of my my practicum in a child outpatient clinic. And I was like, I like that. I'm good at it. Kids seem to respond well, and and they're so open to change. And they're so open to like, be moldable and and you know, working on things. And I just saw so much growth and I just enjoyed the work so much. So that made that my specialty instead. And now I don't do couples at all. I refer them to other people. So yeah.
Yeah. And then I've got a practice here locally in San Diego. It's called vibrant outcomes counseling, have a nice office in Claremont. And
it's been great, cool.
You're I was just saying this right before we started, you're you're in the right business at the right time. And the past two years, especially since pandemic mental health is top of mind for most people, especially parents and educators. And I'd say obviously, that's, that's a progression of where the culture has been going. In general for many years. And, and I think it's been a while for me, since I've heard any stigma from parents or kids about the idea of going to therapy, which is a great thing. And then finding a good therapist can be complicated, especially now, finding someone that has availability and finding someone that you can trust. So this is a little bit of my endorsement for you. I've known families who've
done therapy work with you. And the results are, you know, the proof is in the pudding. And I wouldn't recommend somebody that, that does it and says because I like them, or I think they're smart. This This work is life on life work, as you know. So I'm just curious, as you're working with teens, you mentioned being that they're moldable that they're open to change. Maybe you can share a little bit your perspective, now that we're two plus years into the pandemic, what what are you seeing that maybe is different or the same? Just more of it? Um, yeah, well, right now, right, finding a therapist is still tricky. The hope there was no shortage of work in my field during the pandemic.
There's still weightless, there's there's still difficulty, you know, getting in to see somebody and there's still need, you know, we're still kind of coming out of this and recovering and navigating. And the landscape is coming back to normal but it's not there yet.
You know, in kind of the heat of it all I had all of these teenagers you know, it's like the season of life where friends and tears and socializing are actually like a part of your development. It's not just like a nice to have it's like a need to have. And there they are at home in front of rooftops, trying to do school, basically on their own. Can't see their friends and man my you know, I was in private practice for seven years. At that point. I had never sent a child to the hospital.
I had a county work but never in private practice work. And then in the in the year of the pandemic I sent week
gets to the hospital for suicidal ideation. And it just took such a toll on them. And now two years of very little socialization, missing out on really key events, especially the high schoolers and the things that they were supposed to experience. And now all that's just now starting to come back. And so the need for mental health is still there. And they're still higher rates of anxiety, higher rates of depression,
some support needed for working through failing conflict. And, you know, also just reintegration back into social skills.
So it's all there. I can remember the challenge of being a teenager, I guess, because I talk about it right about a lot. I spend a lot of time thinking about my own teenage years. And I remember this distinct shift, going to middle school, where in elementary school, I really felt confident,
liked a group of friends. And then all of a sudden Middle School, it seemed like the game had changed. And I didn't get the rulebook. Like, all of a sudden, the kids I was friends with were unkind, mean,
I wasn't wearing the right thing, and you get called out for that. So it just felt like constantly on guard. And I guess I present that I'm curious, your perspective.
Kids these days have missed out on a lot, that socialization that you're talking about that's necessary. I also look at it with a, with a touch of
gratitude. I think, being a dad, who's had two kids go through middle school through the pandemic, I was joking, my dude, there's so lucky.
I'm just curious, is there any brightspot
is rough time, you know, and
you also have been like, kind of, you know, stay with the same same cohort, you go, you know, all the way through. And those will set a timer, kind of awkwardness and developing social skills developing physically, hormones are kicking in lots of mood changes, and trying to figure out who's loyal, who's not what's cool, what's not. And I think most people can be actually prefer than high school in some respects. I remember middle school being actually a lot harder than high school was. And it's a little bit more like,
microscopic in a way. Like there's there's a smaller group of kids. So there's a little more focus on, on what you're doing from other people. And I think high school.
Yeah, interesting. So I've seen that too. I know what you're talking about. And, you know, I think it's great that your kids are now going to get to go into high school, who's pandemic and hopefully got more of that normal school experience again.
Yeah, the main question, it seems that kids are asking themselves and it's it's not question that they articulate, or at least I've never heard him say this. But the idea of, Am I okay, am I acceptable? Do you like me to have any worth I have any values? And, you know, those are different ways to answer really the same question
has a lot of life like a lot of energy for for everybody? I think so it manifests itself through?
Do I look? Okay, am I wearing the right thing? Am I listening to the right thing? am I laughing at the right thing, like a lot of these externals? And they're I don't think there's anyone that escapes the mirror back at some point, and some way more than others where the mirror is saying, dude, you're not cool. You're not okay, you don't have worth, you're the wrong thing. You laughed at the wrong joke.
And I've always been jealous of friends of mine that don't seem very sensitive.
Because I think I was always really sensitive to that.
You know, the cool kids, they seem, it seems to not affect them until you go, at least for me until I go to my high school reunion and find out everybody felt the same way. Just some people hit it differently than others. So I want to present that as I guess, the theme of this conversation. And I've narrowed it down to talk about inner acceptance. So the shift that ultimately has to happen or could happen to somebody it doesn't always where what you're looking for from external validation shifts, and it starts to come from inside. And I'm curious how you see that or, or the language that you would use to describe that as you work with a kid. Yeah, and I've been I have clients that will have a lot of anxiety and usually it's around this
notion that they're
being judged, but they're constantly being judged. And then everyone's looking at what they're doing, what they're wearing, how they're speaking, how they participate in a conversation. And, you know, there's a lot of pressure there to come across a certain way to be accepted to be acceptable. And
a lot of fear, you know, fear of being unworthy fear of
being awkward, or not being enough. And some of the conversations that we have when we're like, you know, in the room this is coming up is.
One is, how much are you paying attention to what other people are doing? And they're going, Oh, well, like, not really. And I'm like, odds are, it's the same. Like, we think we're being watched much more than we really are. You know, and so trying to, like, bring some, like a shift in perspective of you think this is happening, and you think it's happening at this really big scale, but the odds are, it's not, it's not happening at that larger scale, people are not that interested in what she's just, you know, that for a split second, or what you wore that day, and, and,
you know, it's probably not as bad as your brain is making it out to be. And so take some comfort in that.
And like, you know, hey, like, do you remember what that person were yesterday? Well, no, no. Do you remember what they said in that conversation? Well, now, you know, okay, well, it's probably the same. And other people are probably having the same insecurities, like you mentioned. Like, they're probably evaluating themselves anyway. And oh, my gosh, I just last forever, did I Yes. Did I come on too strong? Like, we're all, you know, evaluating ourselves more than you ought to. And we're assuming that other people are doing the same, and they're probably not.
So that's part of the conversation that comes up. Yeah. Yeah.
That reminds me there was years ago, I was working with this group of ASB students. And typically, obviously, those are the more popular kids are outgoing, extroverted.
And, yeah, my extroverted and we were having this conversation around a failure. Like, what's your as I asked him this question, what is your experience? Or what's your thought on failure to bunch these students? And this the senior class president, who I'll never forget, he was just absolutely decked out in patches and badges on his Letterman's jacket, and handsome. Just the profile is all American teams. Yeah. All American? Yes. And he shared at the as we're talking, raise his hand, he hadn't said anything yet. And this hour long class, and he said something like, you know, the only time I ever feel really confident about myself is after I've won a game, we're after I got a really good grade on a test. And so I was like, okay, and then he said, but when I don't, I feel absolutely crushed. awful, terrible. I hate myself. And he's sharing this in a in a pretty emotional way, especially for a young guy. And I was one very impressed by him sharing that, but to what struck me was I was watching the other kids in the room, listen to him share. And, and then the bell rang. So everyone left. And there were two or three teachers there and administrator who are evaluating the work that we do. And I just walked up to them and kind of shrugged like, you know, how do you think it went? And they mostly ignored me. And, and I remember one of the teachers saying to the other teacher, can you believe that? He just shared that, yeah, in front of these kids. And the other teacher said, Yeah, that's a game changer. Like he's the most confident he is the role model for everybody. And if that's what he's dealing with, I mean, what grace to offer students and that's, that's the only experience I had was that and I was like, it's amazing.
But it's like this upside down world. Yeah. And I guess what I'm,
what I'm curious about, you mentioned it coming through an anxiety for feeling judged. What other what other versions of that? Do you see when when kids are looking for validation? Trying to find it? What how does that how does that show up? It could show up in like other ways. So you know, you've got your typical like high performers, which I get those clients that I get more females that are athletes, athletes, high performers, academically, you know, want the complete curriculum vitae for their college applications, and everything is there and there's no way that a college could deny them. And there's a lot of anxiety and there
as per a lot of pressure to perform and to be college worthy. So I've seen a lot of that, and then have the pressure of being socially acceptable and popular. And then even, you know, the other thing that I wanted to pull into it is when they even observe their parents being a little bit more critical, and they're not even necessarily the parents aren't even necessarily critical of them. It's just in general, there's this notion of, you know, a mom or dad nitpicking about, oh, did you see what that person did? Or do you see what they're, you know? And it's like, oh, and parents, well intended, probably, you're just making light conversation trying to relate to their kid or just making a side comment. But what it's doing is it's creating this this open door, have a wow, if like, my mom or my dad are having these judgments of these random people, then I guess, everyone's fair game. And either they're including me. And and I've seen that too. Were inadvertently parents are being more just, you know, vocal? I again, I don't think there's any intention behind it. But it just creates
a little bit of like this. Oh, well, if that's kind of how my parents are, then like, yeah, yeah, it's
fair game, like anyone is going to sit, sit back and judge. Yeah, and I've seen that too. That's a good as you're saying that I'm imagining this kind of fill in the blank eyelids exercise, you, according to your family, you're only good enough if that then fill in the blank, or you're only good enough when so every family's got a version of that if you're clean and tidy, if you're, if you're thin if you're articulate if you're successful. And then the opposite, you hear the critique, you're only gonna have if you don't have these things, qualities, attributes, and your age, you just you pick that up over time. So fitting into that mold.
What, you know, some kids can do it, I was pretty good at it, the imposter playing a role. But some kids can't. Some people just can't they try and they just can't help themselves writing themselves, which is such a beautiful, ironic there. And I want to I want to ask you, and maybe this is a little bit of trying to get some free therapy, it gets sets up.
My question, last night, I was up in the middle of the night. And this hasn't happened to me a long time. So it felt old felt like oh, man, here we are again. And I couldn't say and what was going through, there's like these old tapes of you're not good enough. You didn't get back to that person. He's probably upset with you. She thinks you're whatever. And it just was like on repeat, which is a reason it feels old. That feels like that feels like my teenage years, and almost not really been able to stop it. So I guess my therapy question is, because I've talked to students who wrestle with that same sense of feeling overwhelmed, and they can't break that cycle. What What can you do on a practical level, when you're stuck in this little
are what are some techniques or tips? Yeah, that's great question.
So there's a narrative, right? Like there's a narrative playing in your mind. Usually, the narrative is coming from an assumption.
it's hard to always pinpoint without assumption is, so you can kind of back yourself into it from two different angles, you can either identify what you're feeling first.
And then, you know, try to recognize, well, when did I start feeling this way? Like, was there a moment today? Was there an incident today, where that feeling came? And what happened? And then, you know, again, kind of reverse engineer to when that happened, what did I immediately assume? What was my like, default or immediate belief in that moment, about the situation about myself about my worth about others? And then looking at, is that the right belief? Was that belief stem does it come out of a place of fear, doubt, insecurity? You know, and, and it's, it's a really common technique, cognitive behavioral therapy, where you look at the thought you look at the automatic belief, and then you look at the corresponding emotion and then you look at
what you're doing as a result of that thought and that emotion? Yeah. And you can you can come at it from another angle, you can start with the feeling sometimes the feelings more obvious, and it's in your face. And you're you don't, and you can't get clear right now on what was I thinking? Or you you're, you know, you're having a spinning kind of moment where your mind is fixated. And you can get it always just get curious, like, don't judge it just to curious. And okay, what am I thinking about? And Where's that coming from? And could it? Could it be something else? Because the immediate, you know, survival skills in our brain want to go to worst case thinking and fear based scenarios? It could be okay, this is what I'm assuming. But is there evidence to support that? And is there other evidence that doesn't support it? Or is there another option here? And what we do is you look at the other ways of considering the situation and come up with what's called a more balanced thought.
And then you apply that more balanced point of view, like, well, you know, I know that that person didn't, you know, wave to me today. And my initial thought was, they were, you know, upset, or they were,
you know, but maybe they were busy, maybe they didn't see me, maybe they were on their phone or whatever. And then if you apply that more balanced thought, usually the feelings kind of balance themselves out to,
you know, I have a friend that that, you know, talks about, love believes all things, so just believing the best. And that's a hard thing to do. I know, I've gotten it wrong some days, where if you're not the best of me, you know, the thoughts took over the and then the actions followed. But, but if you're looking at,
you know, if you operate out of a place of going to, okay, what's a better way to look at this and what's, what's more balanced perspective, functioning out of that place, you really can't go wrong, because you're going to feel better, and you're going to interact with people out of a healthier place to.
And back that CBT cognitive behavioral therapy.
idea, if you're, you're intentionally giving yourself a different thought and alternative thought, which then will likely shape how you feel, which then will shift how you respond to how you act how you behave.
not like, automatically, oh, yeah, I believe that one more, so sometimes you don't? Yeah, but you have to like almost like your brain and chance to adopt it.
Yeah, over time, I'm building new neural pathways in your brain that are starting to, by default function that instead of the old way.
Yeah. That's cool.
I know, it's become my last question, that it's so important for anybody for young person, especially to build to build an identity to have a role to,
to know who you are like that. Scott, he's the fill in the blank. He's he wears that uniform, he's got that nametag on. And it can provide a ton of structure that can help you organize your life. And then at some point later on in life, you know, fulfill in quarter life crisis, midlife crisis, or, or failure, rejection. At some point, for most people, that identity runs its course and you realize that no longer works for you. I guess my question is, when do you start having that conversation? Because I, I'm tempted as this
is, because I love these deeper conversations. I want to have these conversations with kids like your soccer player, right? Right. It's what you
are, I'm the I'm the kid that's into robotics. I'm the theater kid, or I'm the gamer. And I want to say now let's, let's, let's strip that away from you, and then figure out who you are. I don't know what the question is for that. I just kind of I just love to hear your thoughts on that. What's, what's healthy, what's unhealthy? What are how do you get to walk the line with the coalition through that? And I think that
it's really easy to get caught up in an identity in high school based on what you do, you know, and what group you belong to. And you get a sense of belonging and a sense of identity committed we do with adults too. It's not just young people. And where, if that is the
The defining thing about you if that is what makes you worry that is what makes you important is that you're good at something, or that you're part of a team.
It's, it's uncanny how often not always, but those things eventually get stripped away, either because you grow out of it, because new season, you get injured, you know, something like that happens. And suddenly, you know, you're gonna be shaken to the core if you if that was what made you important, if that was what made you worthy. And then that thing gets pulled away and stripped away. And suddenly, it's for who am I, and what what makes me valuable, what makes me important, what makes me worthy, and, you know, your identity really is, is you know, is to come from, you know, knowing who you are, and God, knowing who you are, because of how you were raised and the things you've come through and looking at your character looking at your integrity, looking at, you know, who you choose to be when no one's looking? And,
you know, and again, do we get it right all the time? No, but are we always striving to be better, you know, and that's knowing who you are. And, and that, you know, there's, there's value in getting feedback from other people, because sometimes we can be our own worst critic, too.
you know, I do exercises sometimes with families where I'll give them like a value sheet, or I'll give them some kind of worksheet. And I'll give each parent the same sheet. But I asked them to independently complete it and say, fill out what you think, are the strengths of your child. And they'll go through and they'll circle and they'll highlight things, and then they'll all sit down together and take turns sharing with the child. This is what I see in you. Because I actually want to get the whole family performance based acceptance. Yeah, because the kid is so certain that their value comes from their grades or their their athletic.
But when you sit down and go, no, no, no, no, no, that's, that's secondary. I want you guys to sit down with this child and let them know who they are because of the values and the integrity of the character they have and what you see in them, and start to build that inside. You know, and
as a family, it's a really exciting and,
you know, worthy conversation to have. Yeah, oh my gosh, imagine how many movies we've watched over the years where the adult is still trying to figure that out from their parents who are dying or dead.
And how many friends we have that are searching for that, that's, that is so beautiful.
Practically, that's an amazing exercise. So far, if you're a parent, you're a teacher, too. That's such a great takeaway from what you're sharing. And, and also, I think the, the warning of beware what you criticize out loud. And on the flip side,
pay attention to what you what you praise, and what gets honored or what you bless. Is it just externals? Or can you can I develop a deeper vocabulary for the things I see in my kids? And speak to them say those things to them? And that has a way? I know, for me, I'm like, they're not there yet. So I feel a little hesitant to saying, you know, you add so much to the family, my gosh, that you take
when you do giving something and it can even be on a you know, smaller scale, just highlighting that. And again, it's not always just did they do what you asked, or did they get a good grade? or what have you that like, you know,
when you see them being somebody that you you'd like and, and the other thing about that is, is when you do praise these specific, instead of just Good job, buddy or wow, like, you know, that was, that was great. Like, I love how you did XYZ, like, you know, I like how when you, you know, respond to somebody who's sad, you do these things, like calling out the specifics that they're doing, especially when it's their character or when it's their personality, and wanting to show them that you see it, and you see what they're doing that's making them a better person overall. Love it, actually. Thank you. And lastly, how do people get in touch with you how they find you? For you, I just started as you guys know,
with my group, but you can find me it's vibrant outcomes counseling.com And I'm on Instagram, vibrant, shout out
I'm start counseling.
And my my website is on Instagram too. So you can follow the link to that. And there's a way to check me out on there and fill out a,
you know, interest form and, you know, reach out to me out way and love to hear from everybody.
We're taking the mystery out of building a meaningful life with a step by step roadmap. In school, you're taught everything under the sun, from algebra to art history, to aerodynamics, but you're not taught how to understand yourself, or given the tools to make sense of all the questions life throws your way. Without it, most people will take the path of least resistance, hoping it all just works out someday.
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