I learned early in my psychology career that family and couples’ therapy is often critical to child therapy.  Children learn how to cope by watching their parents. The focus of this article is on law enforcement families. However, many of the problems described are prevalent in families from all walks of life (medical, legal, industrial, political, education, sports, fire fighters, retail, the arts, etc.).

Melody and Paul are fictional characters seeking counseling prior to marrying and blending two families. I developed their story to help illustrate some of the fears and frustrations families face.  Any similarities to real individuals is co-incidental.  The counseling exercises included in the story have been successfully used many times in my office.

It is my hope that this story will help couples and families understand the process and value of counseling.  I prefer Imago Relationship Therapy because it is non-blaming, educational, and interesting to the clients.

The Counseling Session


 “Policemen weren’t on my criteria list for dating.”  Melody’s statement brought slight smiles to their lips, not reflected in either set of eyes.  Her eyes sparked with anger and hurt.  Paul’s face appeared stoic, as when feelings are blocked.


The eyebrows of Ms. O’Neal, their new counselor, arched with interest; she smiled slightly to lighten the mood and keep it safe for continuing.  “You have a criteria list for people you date?”

Melody nodded, matching O’Neal’s smile.  “I didn’t the first time.  I was too young to think of anything but my emotions.  My first marriage was to Chad,  a policeman in another city,”  the new client clarified.  “His shift work, long hours and extra jobs robbed our family of a dad and husband.  Chad was never home. Eventually, it felt as if I was a single parent at our children’s school meetings, plays, ball games, and even on holidays.  It seemed as if I was raising our children by myself.

“The worst part was that Chad seemed to drift from our family, even as early as his rookie years.  His partner and other officers he worked with became more important.  We stopped having fun together and no longer had anything to talk about.  He was too tired or disinterested to spend time with us.  But, apparently it was relaxing and okay to spend our limited income on fishing, hunting, poker or staying out to drink beer with the guys … and sometimes gals.

“In the end, I believed we were more of his burden than his family.  Our relationship fell apart in every area.  When it began to destroy me emotionally and physically, I got out of the marriage.  I don’t want to go through anything like that again.

“I’ve been single for more than five years now.  I didn’t think I’d ever want to remarry at first.  Personally, I’ve grown.  During my marrage with Chad, I seldom felt competent.  Becoming independent, finding a career I am proud of and enjoying supportive friends have helped me feel successful in many ways.  I suppose I’ve formed ideas about the kind of people I want in my life, hence, my criteria list.”

Melody turned to gaze warmly into her fiancee’s eyes, then continued,  “I’ve known Paul long enough to appreciate the kind of person he is, despitebeing a policeman.”

Paul squeezed her hand and winked at her.  Encouraged, Melody continued, “I’ve seen how important family is to him. We met at our sons’ baseball games.  Our children are good friends.  Eventually, we began sitting together at the stadium to watch and cheer them on.  As we talked more, I learned that we’ve been through similar experiences.  Single parenting has been hard on both of us and our children.  Since meeting Paul, I’ve  begun to miss being a complete family.”  Paul draped his arm around her shoulders protectively.

Ms. O’Neal wasn’t surprised Melody was considering marrying a police officer despite her experiences and criteria.  She explained, “People tend to be attracted to what is familiar to them.  Changes to unknown situations can stimulate releases of neurochemicals that cause discomfort while our defense systems determine safe responses.  Our subconscious minds recognize good or bad situations that we’ve had to cope with before.  Some experts predict that people tend to select mates similar to one of their parents.

Paul’s brow furrowed as he considered her words, “I’ve never thought of that.  My ex-wife is easily angered when she’s worried or her expectations aren’t met.  She can express concerns loudly, yelling instead of talking about things.  My dad is quick-tempered like that.  Maybe I married my dad first.

“I’ve always been impressed by Melody’s calmness and ability to hold things together when under pressure.  My mom is like that; she quiets Dad’s storms and keeps their home feeling safe.”

“That’s a good lead-in for discussing some of the storms that law enforcement families face.”  Ms. O’Neal gave them a handout to study and led them in a discussion about it.


Both Melody and Paul related to the hazards that police families experience.  The couple agreed that seeing the written list of typical problems made them more aware of and better able to recognize when they were experiencing similar situations.  Paul asked how they might be able to change behaviors and responses that would help face them.

Ms. O’Neal emphasized, “Marriage should be one of the most important contracts that people enter.  As in business organizations, couples should develop plans to apply in the event of adversities.”  For homework, she gave them a list of helpful strategies which can prevent or lessen family difficulties homework exercises:

1.    Learn to communicate how situations/behaviors make you feel.  Make it a habit to communicate your actual feelings in a non-threatening manner instead of responding emotionally.


2.    Acknowledge one another’s feelings.  Feeling understood is half the victory.


3.    Try to focus on the positive.  For every negative thought about your spouse or his/her job, think of three positive aspects.  Make a list.


4.    Take time to discuss the potential dangers to police families and the direction that you want your family to go.  Make a list of the dangers and alternative ways to avoid or overcome them.  (Businesses set goals and options in the event of problems.)


5.    Plan time for something you enjoy together.  If you’re out of that habit, recall things that you used to have fun doing, and try it again.  Call one another during the day just to touch base. 


6.    Keep yourself busy and growing.  Share your thoughts and interests with one another.  Grow together and individually.
The counselor encouraged Melody and Paul to practice the strategies daily, explaining, “Men and women often face marital or family adversity as it occurs, then react emotionally.  Our bodies actually form neural pathways for each coping behavior we use successfully.  Those pathways actually strengthen each time we repeat the same behavior. So a tendency to behave in the same manner increases. But if you are aware of what is happening, you can respond differently and build new neural pathways.   Old behavior pathways will weaken.  Real change can usually be felt within 18 days.”


The success of every kind of relationship (marital, parent, intimate, friendship, business) requires mutual commitment.  We tend to make commitments to causes that we want to succeed in.  Melody and Paul were wisely seeking premarital counseling before entering a second marriage for each, blending their families. 

The story of Melody and Paul will continue in the next blog during which they learn an improved method of communicating with one another.



The Colonel in the Underground Balloon Corps


I am the first child of a WWII romance and marriage.  My parents, Dorothy Marshall and George Bernard Ferrell, were married August 2, 1942.  Shortly thereafter, my dad shipped out to North Africa as a member of the U. S. Army Air Corps.

My arrival in the world nine and a half months later helped divert the attention of my mother and grandmother, Ella Adair, from the absence of my father and grandfather, Glenn Adair, who were serving in the military.   The encouragement and positive expectations received from the two adult women and teenage Aunt Renie whom I lived with enabled me to strive, learning to walk by my sixth month and talk early as well.  I became a princess.

Memory development is triggered by sensory experiences correlated with verbal skills.  Mine commenced during painful teething experiences while still nursing.   The ability to recall early childhood thoughts and feelings has helped me better understand  young counseling clients.
There were many visits during my first years to the lively Irish-American home of my great grandparents, Emmett and Lizzie Regan Horn. They lived in a white gingerbread house across the street from a Catholic complex that included a cathedral, school, the priests’ home and the nuns’ dorm.
I misinterpreted the pale strict facial expressions and black winter garb of the sisters to be that of witches.  I ran from the porch and hid in  the house whenever I spotted one strolling on the sidewalk. Despite my fears, I was christened in the Beaumont, Texas, cathedral named after St. Anthony; I learned to dutifully wait for church chimes to ring and blessings be said before eating my meals.
When I met my dad for the first time, I was almost three.  Upon our introduction, I ran to the bedroom I  shared with my mother, took his picture from her dressing table, then tried to explain to him that the picture was my daddy, not him.  I wasn’t used to obeying the picture; some adjustments were needed on my part.
Before long, Dad moved us to Pelham, his quaint, quiet hometown in southern Georgia. It became obvious to me that I might not be a princess in the home if my new grandparents, Jesse and Marietta Ferrell.  My dad’s two brothers had been on ships in the Pacific while Dad served in Africa, then Italy.  My grandparents of the Ferrell clan apparently  needed their own princess for a diversion.  Aunt Mary is three months my senior.  Three- year-olds understand the hierarchy of age seniority, and that an aunt is due respect.  I also met a cousin three months younger than me.  For the first time in my life, I had child playmates. Our Aunt Mary was the leader whom cousin Libby and I vied for the attention of.
Marriages following short romance periods are risky, especially when the participants are strangers from different religions and cultures.  A Catholic girl from a mid-sized industrial port city such as Beaumont has a different culture from that of a Baptist family from a small farming town that is prideful of being one of the original thirteen colonies and the tomato capital of the world.  Mother didn’t quite fit in.  My Georgia family referred to her Catholicism as a voodoo religion.  We became Baptists.  Mom even taught Sunday school with my dad.

 During a vacation to Beaumont, young Texas cousins assured me that all Baptists, including me and my family, would end up in Hell.  Their words hurt me, but life had already taught me several lessons about coping by listening and observing, looking for good in both sides, adapting, accepting and appreciating differences.  I was fairly certain they didn’t understand that God doesn’t do that to good princesses and their families.    However, I still don’t like to hear another person’s faith criticized.

I have a lot of good memories of my father.  He taught me how beautiful a sunset can be and how to use it for making shadow animals on the wall with my hands. He told me funny stories about a pet goat he’d had as a child, but had to give away when it ate a neighbor’s laundry off their clothesline.  Once Dad told me that before the war he had wanted to go into the ministry. That was a side of him I was surprised about.  It helped me understand why he always saw that my sister, Teresa, and I attended Sunday school.  In my teen years I developed a love for water skiing and he provided plenty of opportunities for me to do so.

 Dad once revealed that he was offered an opportunity late in the war to go through officers’ training,  But it would have required his commitment to go to France for continuing to fight. He chose to return to Mother and me.  However, he thought things would have been better for us if he’d had a college education.  That became one of my strong values.
My dad never talked about his military experiences.  I was probably eight the day I heard playmates bragging about their fathers’ heroic experiences during the war.  I left our neighborhood softball game to run home and ask Dad what he had done during the war.  He told me, with a grin, that he’d been a colonel in the underground balloon corps.  Truth was a virtue in our family, and his story sounded impressive.   I ran back to explain my dad’s war experiences to my friends.  I saw the other fathers’ smiles and suspected something was not quite right.  I never asked Dad about the war again.
Years later, during my training and certification for treating post traumatic stress disorder, I remembered being awakened and running to my parents’ room the first time I heard Dad’s screams about being bombed and shot at.  My mother reassured me it was just a nightmare, that all was okay and I should go back to bed.  After that, I responded to his screams by hugging Brownie, my teddy bear, for comfort.
Dad remained untreated for PTSD.  He self-medicated with alcohol,  As a youth, I often wished he could be helped with his alcoholism but believed there was no treatment available.  I was a young mother when he died at age 52 while in a hepatic coma.
I’ve never attained certification for treating chemical abuse  However, I have advanced certifications for treating trauma, loss and grief.  Administering therapy to children, women and men, including those in uniform,  has been an honor and my small contribution to mankind. I never fail to think of my parents and sister after a session.  Violence affects whole families.  I hope that someday mankind can shift efforts from war and greed to building a world that provides our basic needs and wellness, including accepting and understanding others, peace and love.
The following pages a from MAGICAL YEARS TO LEARN WITH ME and SEE ME TALK, my read-play-learning-together books for children, parents, teachers and counselors.  




CASE STUDY 3:  Memories and development
Eva’s dad was militarily deployed before her birth. Her first three years were filled with her mother’s constant positive attention, nurturing and teaching; she began to walk and talk by six months of age.
Positive environment and frequent verbalinteractions with adults enabled Eva’s memories of early childhood incidents.  Notice some of the issues that were the focus of her thoughts:
First Memory:  While nursing, Eva pulled back on the nipple to ease herpainful, itching gums.  Her mother’s reflex was to ward off the attack with a slap. Eva’s brain registered shock and fear; her first memory was stimulated and stored!
Food Preference:  Eva recalls insisting her milk be sweetened and banana flakes from a blue and yellow can be sprinkled on cereal.
Pleasure, curiosity, maneuvering objects and ownership:  Eva liked to sit by a screen door, feeling the warm sun on her skin, using her finger to make the black dots in her teddy bear’s plastic eyes move. She wondered about the dust particles floating in her sunbeam.
Boredom and anger:  Eva’s discipline was to sit, facing a corner.  She recalls feeling bored and angry when so limited. She rebelled once and hid in a tree, watching searchers until rain forced her to reveal herself.
Remorse:  Eva was dismayed; her teddy bear was soggy after its bath in the toilet.
Shyness:  Eva recalls feeling painfully shy, hiding behind her mother, and wishing she could feel better when meeting a new child.
Worry and coping:   Eva was aware that her dad (the man in her picture) was fighting in a war. Because Eva attended western movies with her mother, she daydreamed of arrows and bullets aimed at him. Eva’s imagination created a large glass rock (that only she could see) to shield him.  It comforted her mind.
Concrete thinking and comfort with familiar:  Eva’s father returned just before her third birthday.  Initially, she rejected his claim to be her daddy; she showed him the picture that she had been taught was her father.
Judgment and sibling rivalry:  At age four, she was told of a new baby sister or brother that would be hers.  She was reprimanded for trying to lift the new baby and decided that adults had lied to her.  The baby really did not belong to her.  










A Workshop to be Presented at
The 2016 School Counselor Conference
January 31 – February 2, 2016
 “Our baby came without instructions!” 
This phrase represents a familiar lament among generations of parents.  Too often parenting is of the do-it-yourself variety.  For the most part, new parents deal with children the way their parents handled them.
OUR JOURNEY TO SUCCESS BEGINS EARLY IN LIFE AT HOME.  Home is where children observe and form views about LIFE.  Interactions (even in infancy) can stimulate neural connections for lifetime coping skills
 PARENTS ARE THE FIRST & PRIMARY TEACHER OF CHILDREN.   Parents have the strongest influence on young children before age eight.  When kids enter school, teachers share the realm of influence (to a lesser degree).  But during their eighth year, youngsters naturally seek to socially fit in with peers.  The desire for social acceptance generates a strong competition in the hierarchy of influence. 
Recent scientific research from arenas of education, medicine, nonprofit organizations and government agree:  Nearly 20 percent of children born in the US will perform at below grade levels by the time they are six or seven years old.  These are the same students who fit the profile of the typical school drop-out.
Early informed parental involvement is the missing key to success in educating/preparing children for fulfilling potential in school and life.  Failure in this area impacts future U. S. domestic and international economic success.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is now formally urging parents to read aloud to their children daily from infancy.  Doing so stimulates early brain development and helps build key language, literacy and social skills.  Many pediatricians now include daily reading on health check lists.  Some pediatricians recommend BBB time:  Bath, Book, Bed.  It works!
 A GOLDEN KEY TO SUCCESS IN LIFE!  Reading on a regular basis enables deeper bonding between children and parents. Interactive reading of books enables enhanced talking, playing, singing … and simply having fun together.  Planning time for reading together enables a bond that is not subject to diminishing when a kid turns eight.
I wrote MAGICAL YEARS TO LEARN WITH ME to function as a textbook for families.  It focuses on three specific childhood tasks:  Communication, The Job of Parents and the Magical Power of Choice.
 KEYS TO PARENTING MAGIC SERIES resulted from the idea that some parents may prefer to read shorter books about one subject at a time.  Therefore, SEE ME TALK, WHAT ARE MOMMIES AND DADDIES FOR? and MAGICAL POWER OF CHOICE  (together) provide information from MAGICAL YEARS TO LEARN WITH ME.  Future books of the series will reflect new topics.


Think of them as activity books that parents can use to enhance mutual understanding, strengthen the bond with their children, and improve two-way communication.  The overall goal is to better prepare young children for future academic and social success.  


Noted psychologist Abraham Maslow established  a hierarchy of needs that must be met for humans to fulfill their potential.  When the needs (as sequenced below) are met, children are better prepared for fulfilling their potential.:
  1. Basic physical functioning and survival needs (air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep, etc.);
  2.  Safety and security needs (security, order, law, limits, stability and shelter);
  3. Social Needs – A sense of love and belonging (family, affection, relationships and group);      
  4. Esteem needs – A sense of respect and confidence (self-esteem, achievement, mastery,       independence, status, prestige and responsibility);
  5.  Cognitive needs (knowledge, meaning, etc.);
  6. Aesthetic needs (appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.);
  7.  Self-actualization needs (realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal    growth and peak experiences);
  8. Transcendence needs (helping others to achieve self-actualization).
During my career in school psychology, the importance of Maslow’s theory became very obvious.  I can still see the sweet faces of children I was observing for learning difficulties.  Can youconcentrate if breathing is difficult or if you’re hungry, tired, need to take a bathroom break, or worrying about conflict in you home? Neither can they.
 Bondingwith a caregiver is an initial need for the young or disabled who are dependant on others for survival needs.  Perhaps that is why infant smiles and cooing are so irresistable. 



CAN HELP people 
FULfill their potential.  


Parents have the most influence on young children. 
Review the above parts of the self each week for areas that you wish to improve.  
Make simple, specific goals that are worded as if you already as if they are currently instilled in your life.   See the examples below:
  • I model how I wish to be treated by speaking kindly and respectfully to my children. 
  • I provide healthy meals of protein, yummy vegetables and fruit instead of pastries or candy. 
  • I exercise by practicing yoga with a class every week 
  • I try to be positive and that helps enable me to concentrate on solutions for difficult situations.  I am much happier by staying positive as well. 
  • I teach my children to think about possible outcomes of choices before making decisions.  I coach, encourage and cheer them on, expecting their growth in making wise choices. 
  • I spend Wednesday mornings enjoying my art class.
  • My spouse and I discuss our values and create family goals based on them.  We tell our children about and help one another succeed.

It seems right to close this with a  quote from my book, 
 A gentle guide for children parents, teachers and counselors.


SURVIVOR DNA:  The DNA from two humans merges, enabling the emergence of new generations of species.   The history of each set of DNA is extraordinary, for it has traveled from ancient ancestors for thousands of years.  DNA adapts to life changes, increasing the probability of survival.  Throughout the ages, thousands of families failed to survive due to natural disasters, famine, disease, wars, etc.   I like to think that people who live today have survivor DNA.
NATURE:  Thus, humans are born genetically equipped to survive.  Infant brains constantly receive data from the five senses of vision, hearing, smell, taste and skin sensations.  That data is analyzed by the amygdala as being good/safe or bad/danger.
For example, when your baby’s skin sends the message that it feels wet and uncomfortable, a part of your infant’s brain, amygdala, codes the experience as bad, then signals that cortisol (alarm juice) should be released to flood the body, causing general discomfort.  The natural response of your child is to communicate distress (cry out for help).
 After you change your baby’s diaper, the skin sends a second message that it now feels dry and normal.  The amygdala judges that to be good, signals the release of endorphins (happy juice) causing your baby to smile.  The infant brain stores a memory of the incident for future reference; a neural pathway for coping is forming.  Crying out is not a “bad behavior” symptom.  It is a normal physical process of the baby’s survival system.
NURTURE:  Newborns’ brains enable them to breathe, eat, sleep, see, hear, smell, make noise, feel sensations and recognize the people close to them.  They are genetically prepared for development.  Ashley Montague, prominent sociologist of the 1960’s theorized that humans have a gestation period of 18 months, with birth occurring before the end of the ninth month.  He put forward that the normal birth process cannot accommodate a fully developed human head.  Therefore, most neural development occurs during the second nine months.
What I appreciate most about his theory is the possibility of heightened parental awareness that parent-child interactions vitally affect actual physical and emotional development.  Good and bad seeds that are planted grow.

Research now suggests rapid growth during the first few years affect neural connections involved in regulating emotions, language and abstract thought.  Both heredity and experiences significantly form the person your child will become.  All children need stimulation and nurturance for healthy development.
BODY LANGUAGE IS FIRST COMMUNICATION:  Your child is genetically prepared for learning to communicate with you from birth.  The baby watches and strives to understand your body language and sounds.  Your mutual bond grows with each use of body language this connection is vital for your child’s survival. 
Warm, loving feelings are shared as you look into your baby’s eyes and talk.  The brain’s natural happy Juices, dopamine and opioids, flood both your bodies.  Initial learning is fun!  Isn’t it logical that learning should be joyful throughout life?
Observation will remain a basic mode of learning that affects the development of behavioral patterns throughout life.  Parental conduct tends to be the primary influence on young children.  When they enter school, teachers’ influence enters that hierarchy.  By approximately eight years of age, the desire to fit in socially has become stronger.  From that time on, peer influence is a strong competitor with that of parents and teachers.


AN UNFORGETTABLE EASTER                             

          The lawn surrounding the American Legion Hall is filled with children searching for brightly colored eggs hidden among the flowers, shrubs and behind trees. A gentle breeze spreads wafts of fragrance from freshly cut blades of grass, warmed by the sun. Laughter and sporadic shouts of “I found one!” fill the air as boys and girls scamper everywhere. 
          This is my first big Easter egg hunt!  I’m not comfortable with all the noise and activity.  I glance at my mother, cradling my baby sister in her arms as she chats with Aunt Faye.  The urge to wrap my arms around her legs and hide behind her skirt returns.  I fight it by reminding myself, I’m a big sister now, almost five.
Wishing for the protective nearness and comfort of Daisy, my black cocker spaniel, I turn around, hoping to see a familiar playmate.  Where is Libby, my cousin?  Did Mary come today?  I notice Daddy watching me from the small circle of men nearby.  He nods his head at me, smiles and winks. Returning his grin and blinking both eyes back at him, I join the search, determined to fill the yellow basket on my arm.
It’s not as easy as it looks!  A lot of the kids’ baskets are already filled with rainbow colored eggs!  I think there is something yellow behind that tree root!  I reach for the treasure and tuck it into my basket.  Yes!  I can do this! 
The sun grows warmer.  Searching in places where I might hide one, I spot something blue behind a purple flower and run toward it.  An older boy rushes ahead of me, grabs the blue egg, then jumps around, waving it in the air for everyone to see!
By the end of the hunt, there are four eggs in my basket – one for each year of my age.  My cousin and I count our eggs together.  Libby hasn’t found many either, but we had fun!
A man wearing a soldier hat stands on the porch in front of us.   He gives a chocolate bunny to the big boy who found the most eggs.  A large chocolate egg is given to the big girl who found the most!  Everybody claps.  I like this part too! I’ve learned how to hunt eggs and might find enough at the next Easter Egg Hunt to win a prize.
I hear my name and look up at the man with the prizes.  Why did he call my name?!  Mother takes my hand and pulls me toward the front of the crowd.  “This prize is for the little girl who found the least eggs, but tried hard.”  The man hands me a plastic bunny filled with small, round, brightly colored candies.  Everyone claps again.  I know Libby tried hard too; why didn’t she get a rabbit with candy in it?  I wish Daisy were with me!
It’s late now.  We ate hamburgers for supper at Libby’s house.  Then she and I sat on the porch, sharing my candy.  We heard laughter when Daddy said that Mommy bought my plastic rabbit and asked the man in the soldier hat to give it to me so I wouldn’t feel left out!  Libby took my hand, smiled and thanked me for sharing with her.  I told her that I like playing with her better than getting a plastic rabbit.
I recall only snippets of other childhood Easters.  Most of those involve dipping eggs in bright colors and favorite candies.  I’ve learned that my mother often felt inadequate as a child.  Logically, she wanted to protect me from similar occurrences.  Ironically, I didn’t experience being “different from others” until I was awarded the plastic bunny.
April showers help enable seeds and plants to flourish.  Disappointments and difficulties provide opportunities to teach children good coping skills that, when practiced, enable the development of neural networks for coping behaviors that can serve them well throughout life!  Overly protective parenting tends to contribute to less helpful coping abilities.

In the above incident, I felt sad about my limited collection of eggs only after my mother acted to protect me from a logical outcome.  A better parenting strategy might have involved talking with me in a compassionate, but encouraging manner as follows:  

“Carolyn, I saw you looking for me before the hunt.  I wonder, did you feel shy at first?  Hmm, you say you did feel shy.  That makes sense to me; trying something new in front of strangers can be scary to me also.  But you seemed to have a lot of fun after you began hunting for the eggs.  I think you are a good Easter egg hunter, especially for your first time.  I am so proud of you!  Tell me something you learned about finding eggs today!  Then tell me two things that you really enjoyed!”