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Naming Emotions

Child abuseThe Family Institute’s Family Tip of the Month discusses coaching your children to identify and name their emotions in times of distress – and how it can aid them in the future.

From this month’s tip:

“…when we use precise labels for our feelings, we understand more about what’s happening to us emotionally, which then can lead to identifying a smart (and healthy) course of action.”

Read the entire Tip of the Month to learn how making a habit of naming emotions can help your child take on stressful situations.

For additional Tips and to sign up for our Tip of the month, visit our Tips webpage.

The Family Institute offers affordable counseling for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about our services on our website.

To get support at The Family Institute, visit our Find a Therapist page.


Tell Me Again What You Think of Me: Depression and Reassurance-Seeking in Couples

Man comforting his sad mourning friendApproximately 18.1 million Americans adults suffer from depression each year.[1] They experience symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, persistent feelings of sadness, disinterest in once-pleasurable activities, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, and even thoughts of death.  In addition to these symptoms, depression also negatively affects communication in close interpersonal relationships, such as with friends, partners, and family members.

For example, depressed individuals are more likely to engage in reassurance-seeking behavior: asking for affirmation that he or she is lovable, worthy, and valued.[2]  Although most people ask for reassurance occasionally, individuals with depression tend to seek reassurance persistently and repeatedly, even after their partners have already offered it.[3] Some experts even suggest that excessive requests for interpersonal approval may be both a cause and a consequence of depression,[4] due in part to depressed individuals’ tendency to doubt or dismiss positive feedback from others.

A group of researchers at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, led by Dr. Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, studied the links between reassuring-seeking behavior and depression among couples.  In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Illinois and Michigan State University, the researchers investigated the communication behavior of 69 couples seeking treatment for relationship problems and depression.  Results of the study, which was funded by the Randy Gerson Memorial Research Award from the American Psychological Foundation, indicated that depressive symptoms were a primary predictor of reassurance-seeking behavior in couples.[5]  The researchers’ next step is to begin testing interventions designed to help reduce excessive reassurance-seeking, and increase positive communication and validation, among couples seeking treatment for depression.

Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, PhD,  is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, with expertise in couples therapy, premarital counseling, depression and anxiety disorders, infertility and adoption. Additionally, she maintains a clinical research program, with a primary focus on the associations between couples’ interpersonal behavior, relationship distress, and individual psychopathology. 

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester.  The Institute also conducts research which is incorporated into both our Clinical Service and Education Programs. Learn more about our Depression Treatment Program. Visit our website to learn more about our services.


[1] Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 617-627.

[2] Joiner, T. E., Jr., Metalsky, G. I., Katz, J., & Beach, S. R. H. (1999). Depression and excessive reassurance-seeking. Psychological Inquiry, 10, 269-278.

[3] Pettit, J. W., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2006). Chronic depression. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

[4] Haeffel, G. J., Voelz, Z. R., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2007). Vulnerability to depressive symptoms: Clarifying the role of excessive reassurance seeking and perceived social support in an interpersonal model of depression. Cognition and Emotion, 21, 681-688.

[5] Knobloch, L.K., Knobloch-Fedders, L.M., & Durbin, C.E. (2011).  Depressive symptoms and relational uncertainty as predictors of reassurance-seeking and negative feedback-seeking in conversation.  Communication Monographs, 78, 437-462.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from The Family Institute!

Happy thanksgiving2.jpg

Wishing you a happy holiday filled with family, food and gratitude.

Putting Gratitude into Practice

gratitude blog post 11.22.16.jpgThanksgiving – whatever its historic origin, the last Thursday in November has evolved to be a time of year where people pause and ask themselves what they are grateful for. It is a time where gratitude is felt and expressed. In honor of this day of giving and receiving thanks, Amy Drucker, LMFT, highlights the importance and benefits of the practice of gratitude – today and every day of the year.

Research over the last decade has shown the positive psychological, social and physical benefits of practicing gratitude. One such notable study, conducted by Robert Emmons at UC Davis, highlights that grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth, are more resilient, are more able to be present in their lives, and are able to actually minimize toxic and negative emotions by more deeply defining the neural pathways of positive thought.

So the question is: how does one practice gratitude?

Some simple, helpful suggestions are to do one or both of the following:

  • Create a daily gratitude list in a journal or notebook. When waking in the morning or before retiring at night, write down in list form what you are grateful for. It is encouraged that one be specific in this endeavor. Instead of “I am grateful for sunsets,” maybe consider “I am grateful for the way the sky turns pastel and the clouds seem to glow when then sun is setting.” Instead of “I am grateful for my dog,” consider “I am grateful that I have a furry companion that I can come home to and who always greets me with a wagging tail.” Write as many or a few as you like, but if you are on a roll, keep writing!
  • During or in the wake of a challenging day, play The Gratitude Game. Say you missed your train by 10 seconds; your lunch order was wrong; and you got locked out of your apartment. The aim of the game is to find the silver lining. For every “complaint,” find the inverse. The Gratitude Game, using the above example might go like this: I live in a city where public transportation exists and I am able to save money by taking it. I have the ability to pay for meals and nourish myself with food. I live in an apartment building and have a roof over my head every night. Even if you have only one frustrating event take place in your day, The Gratitude Game can still be played!

Both of the above may feel goofy or contrived, even entirely pointless at first, but give yourself a chance to reap the benefits of sowing gratitude in your life.

It goes without saying that things can certainly be challenging at holiday time, too. Holidays have a way of being an organic, annual mile marker that can create a constellation of less pleasant emotions. People may feel sadness, nostalgia or isolation during the holiday season; thus, the benefits of practicing gratitude could be exceptionally helpful in insulating against some of these more painful emotions that spike during this time of year.

The goal of practicing gratitude is not to facilitate Pollyannaism, nor is it to negate the spectrum of emotions that human beings experience on a given day, or at a given time of year. The goal of practicing gratitude might instead be thought of as a way to create (and add to) a constantly simmering stew of appreciation for one’s life and how one views that life — when times are tough, one can siphon from that bubbling stew and find strength and hope; when times are good, one can share that hearty stew and help nourish those around them.

Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers to a grateful Holiday Season and year!

Amy Drucker, LMFT, is a clinical staff therapist at The Family Institute. Her approach is solution-focused, strength-based, mindful, and collaborative. She sees clients predominantly out of The Family Institute’s downtown location and enjoys working with individuals and couples seeking support around communication, raising self-awareness, addiction and recovery, and life transitions.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services

Keep Anxiety at Bay

group of smiling men and women making selfie

With the election behind us, we all know that anxiety levels have been elevated. But anxiety is a natural side effect of being human; however, too much can be detrimental to our mental health. It is important to be aware of the presence of anxiety in our lives, and most importantly, find ways to keep it in check so we can live our days to their fullest.

Here are some helpful tips & tricks to help you keep anxiety to a minimum.

  • Know Your Own Cues. We often know with personal insight whether something in our lives is off balance or doesn’t feel right. During times of high anxiety, ask yourself questions like: When I feel anxious, how long does it normally last? How am I able to cope with these feelings? Cultivating self-awareness in this way allows for us to recognize when anxiety is lasting too long, which lets us know when it is time to get the help we need.
  • Take care of your own well-being. Some people use yoga, exercise, religion or other activities to try and keep themselves balanced and feeling well. Turn to your friends and family and enjoy time together.
  • Maintain as consistent a sleep schedule as possible. Routine sleep times are beneficial for positive mental health. Around bedtime, avoid media outlets that distract you, or that tend to cause excess mind chatter. Shut off your phone and watch a comedy instead.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our Anxiety and Panic Treatment ProgramLearn more about our services on our website.

Favorable Fright: Why Getting A Little Scared May Be A Good Thing

Favorable Fright 3.jpgEvery Halloween we revel in the spooky and the scary. Spiders, skeletons, scary movies, ghosts, ghouls, and goblins — at this time of year, they’re all just part of the fun. We giggle at things we might otherwise recoil from in fright, and all of the scares are followed with ample candy. There are many reasons why we do this—first and foremost, because it’s fun—but from a mental health perspective, safely enjoying the occasional scare might be doing us some good.

Today, Velizar Nikiforov explains why we all need a good scare once in a while.

Let’s start with the nature of fear. While it may not be something we usually enjoy, it is in fact a perfectly natural and useful reaction. The physical manifestations of fear — thumping heart, ragged breathing, sweaty palms — are part of the fight-or-flight response, our body’s built-in system for getting us out of harm’s way. Fear is the emotional component of this reaction, and it tends to be accompanied by other changes to our perceptual and cognitive processes—our senses are sharpened and trained on any sign of danger, and our thoughts run towards worst case scenarios.  Imagine you’re walking through a dark and ominous forest: your fear might make you attentive to every creak of the trees and snap of a branch, and with each step you might expect a blood-thirsty animal to leap out at you. With your fight-or-flight response, you’ll be primed to detect them and protect yourself.

When there’s real danger afoot, our fear serves us very well, letting us detect threats early and respond effectively. However, sometimes our fear reactions can become misdirected. Whether due to a past personal experience or through the example of others, we might fear things that are not particularly dangerous to us. For example, a child whose mother is afraid of spiders may see her shriek and run every time she catches sight of one.  That child might begin to fear and avoid spiders, too. Over the years, this fear reaction might transfer to any place where a spider might lurk, so the child may start avoiding basements and attics, or sheds and gazebos. Even a photograph of a spider might prompt a spike of dread. In some cases, such fears can become debilitating and interfere with life to such an extent that they can be diagnosed as a phobia.

In such cases, the protective purpose of fear has been turned towards an object that poses minimal threat or is only dangerous in rare cases. However, because this fear leads to avoiding any interaction with the feared object, the fearful individual never gets to have any experiences that can help demonstrate this fact. In cognitive behavioral treatment of phobia, such misdirected fear is addressed by very gradually putting the client in contact with the object of their fear: someone with a spider phobia might look at a picture of spider until their fear naturally subsides and then repeat the experience by looking at a spider in a jar, touching a web, being in the same room as a harmless spider and so on, until their fear is reduced to a reasonable level.

Even in the absence of a phobia, such safe exposure to feared things can help demonstrate that the world is not always threatening and dangerous. Going to a haunted house or watching a scary movie allows us to learn that sometimes things that scare us are not real. Such experiences allow us to feel our fear and watch it dissipate without escaping or avoiding. This helps us adapt to the emotional and physical experience of being frightened, and teaches us how to manage it.

This Halloween, take the opportunity to enjoy fearlessly facing your fear. And don’t forget to reward yourself with some candy!

 Velizar Nikiforov, MA, is a Staff Therapist on the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Team at The Family Institute. He specializes in working with individuals with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

 If you experience problematic fear or anxiety, The Family Institute’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy team can help. Contact us at 847-733-4300, x611 or to learn more. 



Halloween Safety: Make this Halloween FUN

Dressing up is children's favorite gameAs Halloween quickly approaches, it is helpful to reflect on the purpose of the holiday — for children, teens and adults to have F-U-N. Halloween is filled with exciting costumes, spooky decorations, and most importantly, sugar. However, the most concerning component of Halloween for parents is often safety.


Today’s blog is from Adam Margol, PsyD, a staff therapist at The Family Institute.

As children flood the streets in search of delicious candy while sharing laughter with friends and family, it is important to remember that there are some potentially dangerous components of trick-or-treating. These possible dangers should not prevent everyone from having fun, but it is helpful if everyone in the family is informed and educated. Here are a few tips to consider when prepping for Halloween festivities:

Before your kids leave the house …

  • Ensure that their costumes are safe. Add some sort of reflective gear to their costume. Check that their vision is minimally obscured. Ensure fake weapons of any kind appear markedly inauthentic.
  • Review road safety. Do not assume cars can see you – look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t be distracted by technology when in the street. Make sure your children always walk with a trusted adult or a designated buddy. It may be helpful to carry some sort of light or flashlight to ensure that you can be seen.
  • Talk to your children about entering homes or cars of adults that they do not know. Make sure the group has some way of contacting an adult or the police if an issue were to arise.
  • Educate your children about the dangers of eating unwrapped food.
  • Set a realistic curfew and decide on check-in times throughout the evening. Establish clear parameters of how far your children can venture from home.

It IS possible to stay safe while maximizing fun during Halloween. We hope that everyone has a fun, spook-tacular time celebrating! Happy Halloween from The Family Institute!

Adam Margol, PsyD, is a Staff Therapist at The Family Institute. He has experience working with children, adolescents and young adults with emotion regulation issues, social skills deficits, school issues, behavioral issues, learning disabilities/challenges, executive functioning deficits, ADHD, depression, anxiety, aggression, and developmental disabilities.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services on our website.

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