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Thankfully Mindful

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Today’s blog comes from Ellen Bee, MA, LPC, to remind us how to be mindful during Thanksgiving.

You look different, have you gained weight? Did you brother’s friend ever throw that birthday party for his cat? What are your views on foreign policy? These are the kinds of questions I hear around the Thanksgiving table. Normal, right? To be fair, I look forward to a day that is reserved for gluttony, gratitude, family and friends. Yet I cannot help but also feel a sense of overwhelming anxiety in having to answer said queries that sometimes border interrogation. Is it possible to navigate these two conflicting feelings of excitement and worry?

Practicing mindfulness can help to alleviate some stressors associated with Thanksgiving, whether you are fielding Aunt Kathy’s questions or simply choosing between dessert options. Acknowledge your feelings and take notice of what is happening around you. What do you see? Can you smell the turkey baking in the oven? Is there music playing ever so softly in the background? Focus on the present and try to work towards accepting those feelings.

It is easy to lose sight of yourself in all of the chaos of not only Thanksgiving, but everyday life. What are you grateful for today? For me, I am thankful for the sense of belonging and for the supportive community that surrounds me. Too easily I forget to check in with myself. Take some time to reflect and listen to your body and mind this holiday season.

Take a deep breath in. Loosen a belt notch. Breathe out.

Ellen Bee, MA, LPC, is a Staff Therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University in Child, Adolescent & Family Services. She specializes in the treatment of mood disorders, trauma, anxiety, depression, behavioral issues, and school refusal.

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.

Couples Tip of the Month: The Mind’s Traffic

Different psyche peopleThe Family Institute’s October Couples Tip of the Month discusses the management of the logical brain and the emotional brain.

From this month’s tip:

“When words erupt quickly, it’s the emotional brain reacting, not the logical brain responding. How can we learn to slow ourselves down — and keep emotions in check — so that the logical brain has a chance to guide us toward our best selves?”

Read the entire Tip of the Month and learn how to encourage your child to work through things themselves.

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.

5 Ways to Use Mindfulness to Ease Holiday Stress

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The Holiday season has become incredibly hectic—what used to be a few days of tradition is now two months of frenzy, making it difficult to stay in the moment and actually enjoy the time of year. Practicing mindfulness, a meditative process that encourages being aware in the present moment without judgment, can help ease some of the stress. Today’s tips on how mindfulness can help people handle the holiday anxiety come from Lesley Seeger, LCSW, staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University and part of our Mindfulness and Behavior Therapies Program.

  1. Don’t lose track of you. It can be easy to run through the motions of the holidays quickly and lose sight of your own needs and feelings. As you move through the Holidays, check in with yourself and also make time for self-care. A quiet moment alone can help keep your priorities in check.
  1. Stay in the moment. Family holiday events can be particularly stressful because there are often many dynamics in one space: multiple generations and extensions, different personalities and lots of different emotions. If you feel yourself getting particularly overwhelmed in these situations, try to take a deep breath, notice the thoughts and feelings arising and then let them go as you bring yourself back to the present moment.
  1. Slow down. It’s important to set limits for yourself during this holiday season, as it’s impossible to tackle every request, party or task that may be expected of us. If you feel yourself spreading too thin or moving too quickly, stop, and slow down. Additionally, moving too quickly can cause you to miss moments—take a beat and notice what’s happening around you.
  1. Take a break. In particularly overwhelming or anxiety-inducing situations, it may be necessary to take a break, and that’s okay. Go for a walk or leave the room and take deep, slow breaths until you find yourself back in the present moment and able to let go of the thoughts and feelings you may be holding onto.
  1. Remember the purpose. The holidays are a time for us to be with our loved ones, enjoy old traditions and create new ones. Push to the side any pressures you may be feeling about to-do lists and people-to-see so that you can create space for simply being together.  Taste the food you’re eating, notice your nephew as he opens a gift from Grandpa, or see what you feel as you serve ham at the local homeless shelter.  Remember why the holidays are an important time of year, and be sure to be present enough to enjoy them.



Lesley Seeger, LCSW is a staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. She sees clients at our downtown Chicago location and is a member of the Mindfulness and Behavioral Therapies Program. To learn more about Lesley or make an appointment, please visit our website.


The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about what we do on our website.


Ask A TFI Clinician: How to Really Relax on Vacation

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August’s arrival may mean the summer is dying down, but many people take vacations this month. However, as we’re more connected than we’ve ever been via our smart phones and tablets, sometimes actually leaving work at work or home at home is nearly impossible — we check our emails and voicemails with ease and are constantly connected with our home lives via social networks and text messaging.

Today, TFI staff therapist Lesley Seeger, LCSW, provides tips on how to put your phone or laptop down, stay in the moment, and actually get away while on vacation.


It’s more important than ever — and also more difficult.

Today’s technology, while adding convenience, has made it harder than ever to get away from our daily lives, and harder to get away period. The little things add up — whether we feel the need to keep up with our children’s extracurricular activity sign up dates, check on work deadlines, or even return text messages from our families, unplugging on vacation has become increasingly difficult.

We are programmed to be available — to our jobs, our friends and our families — and often feel a heightened sense of responsibility as well as a need or desire. Often times, we may feel an obligation to get back to people because we are nervous we’ll be seen as less committed or a weak communicator if we don’t respond right away, for example.  Or, we may be excited about a future plan we are making and want to respond to that text confirming our commitment.  As a result, it becomes hard to just turn off our phones, even on vacation.

As a result of the mental stress surrounding what we “should be” doing, in many ways taking the time to relax on vacation is more important than ever.

Tend to the specialness of the moment.

Vacations are a special time — a time to get away, an opportunity to spend time with your children and loved ones, and perhaps be in a new place — and it’s important to allow yourself to be there. Often times, people try to do too much on vacation; they overschedule and make themselves too busy. It’s important to go into a vacation being flexible about what you may need: look at how many days you’ll be away and plan a couple of things you’d like to do, but leave the rigid schedule at home. Instead, allow for downtime, spontaneity and relaxation.

It’s also important to tend to your own needs and desires on vacation. Be flexible, but don’t sacrifice your own needs for everyone else’s. Vacation is a time where we can assert our independence and create boundaries if needed: It’s okay to not immediately text your mother-in-law back with trip updates if you want a break from the phone, and it’s okay to stay back for some alone time while your vacation-mates head to the beach for the day.  Communicating these things ahead of time may help assuage any misunderstandings or upset, and if you don’t realize what you need or want until the moment arises try to be as clear and collaborative as possible.

Tending to the specialness of vacations also requires stress management. If stressful situations come up, as they almost always do, be sure to deal with the problems as they arise. Problem-solve, talk through the issues and work together for solutions.


Refresh, rebalance, recharge, relax, reflect.

Remember that vacations require preparation and effort to truly be relaxing and enjoyable. Here are some tips to get the most from your vacation:

  1. Let people know ahead of time: Make a plan to let people know how long you’ll be gone, but also how to reach you in case of emergencies. Because we’re so connected these days, it can be easy to forget to plan ahead this way and instead just respond to requests and questions as they come. In order to avoid that sense of obligation, set boundaries and let people know the ways by which they can reach you in an emergency.
  2. Enjoy the challenge: Challenge yourself to turn off your phone, and try to enjoy the challenge aspect of it. It’s good to challenge ourselves — it helps us grow us individuals and stay in the present moment. It may be difficult, but that’s okay.
  3. Combat the anxiety: It can be anxiety-producing to cut off the connections we’re so used to. In these situations, it’s important to acknowledge and name the feelings and then validate them. Then, use deep breathing or other self-soothing techniques to calm yourself.
  4. Use mindfulness: Mindfulness can be a very important tool in staying in the moment and relaxing on vacation. When you feel yourself wondering about what’s happening at home or at work, acknowledge those feelings and thoughts, let them go, and bring yourself back to the present moment. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, activities and loveliness around you — really take advantage of the moment that you’re in.
  5. Decide what’s important to you: This is important in terms of setting boundaries and making sure your needs get met on vacation. It’s also important in terms of social media — many people use their phones as cameras, and as a result, immediately logging in to Instagram or Facebook to post those pictures is tempting. Decide your personal preferences with social media and weigh them as you go — if it’s important to you to post your experiences as they happen, decide in advance how you’ll handle it. If it isn’t important to you but you feel pressured to do so by others, decide how to handle that pressure while tending to your own desires.



Lesley Seeger, LCSW, is a staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. She sees clients at the Chicago location and is a member of the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapies Program.

To read Lesley’s full bio or make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about us on our website.

TFI’s Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW, on Letting Go of Being Right

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Our clinicians have a variety of specialties and interests. At TFI Talks, it’s our pleasure to highlight the different ways our therapists get their expertise out in the world.

On her blog, Family Institute staff therapist Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW, addresses how couples can handle the sometimes painful arguments they have in healthy ways:

“According to the model of couples therapy that I use (Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy), all fights are really protests against feeling distant, feeling unimportant, or feeling like our partner wasn’t there for us when we needed them. It is essentially a model that acknowledges how important our close relationships are to our sense of safety and well being in the world. Looking at our partner through this lens, it makes sense that even a small disconnect can trigger strong feelings! For example, my husband and I have had arguments triggered (for me) by his tone of voice when he answered a phone call from me. “Geez. Sorry to bother you!” {Translation: “You didn’t seem happy to hear from me. That really hurts!”} The pain of feeling distant or unimportant to our partner leads to a cascade of negative feelings that are so intense, that all the skills you might know about relationships and how to “fight right” go out the window and now you are fighting to be heard, to be seen, to be understood, and to reach your partner again. It’s not a fight we can easily walk away from!”

Read Nikki’s full post on her blog, as well as the other insights she provides.

Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 10 years of experience providing individual, couple and family therapy. She leads The Family Institute’s therapy group The Mindful Couple, where couples learn to live and love more effectively using the principles of mindfulness and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). In this group, couples learn to understand why feelings of anger, sadness and/or distress are common and normal reactions in relationships, as well as skills for managing those reactions and communication strategies.

To read Nikki’s full bio or make an appointment, please visit our website.

To learn more about her group The Mindful Couple, as well as other group therapies offered at the Institute, visit our group therapy page.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about us on our website.

Why Mindfulness?

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Mindfulness has become a major topic of conversation in our culture–it’s meaning, it’s benefits, and the ways individuals can incorporate the practice into their relationships, careers and everyday lives. What is it about this age-old technique that has captured the attention of so many?

Today we’re posting an article from our Fall 2013 newsletter Institute News to explore how mindfulness relates to mental health and therapy. Written by The Family Institute’s Director of the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapy Program, Michael Maslar, PsyD, the article defines mindfulness, discusses the ways it can impact health and relationships, and the different therapies that use mindfulness-based principles to help people with a variety of problems.


Mindfulness: Enhancing Lives

Over the last few decades, researchers and therapists have realized the benefits of an age-old meditative practice called mindfulness. We can define this form of mind-body medicine as focusing awareness on the present moment in an accepting way. This simple yet effective way of getting to know ourselves, our behaviors and our relationships more intimately can have important effects. Research shows that practicing mindfulness can have a range of physical and psychological benefits including reduced stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and chronic pain.

Mindfulness practice can also improve relationships. Increased marital satisfaction, better communication, improved empathy and compassion, increased acceptance, better awareness of interactional patterns, a deeper sense of safety in relationships, and increased experience of unity with others have all been associated with mindfulness.

Here at The Family Institute, we offer a number of therapies that use mindfulness practice, behavioral skills derived from mindfulness, and principles based in mindfulness to help people with a variety of problems.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches people a collection of behavioral skills to address multiple, complex problems that have not responded well to other therapies, including self-injury, suicidality, eating disorders and depression.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps people live life more full in the present moment, be better able to act on important values, and be less focused on painful thoughts and feelings. ACT is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety, among other problems.

In our own research, we have found family-based DBT can help teenagers with multiple problems and their parents reduce their symptoms. In another study, groups of dementia patients and their caregivers who learned mindfulness practice showed reduced depression and stress, and improved quality of life.

Together, Mindfulness and Behavioral Therapies help to enhance the lives of individuals, families, and couples struggling to cope with intense emotions and impulsive or difficult-to-control behaviors.


For more information on the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapies Program at The Family Institute, please visit our website.

The Family Institute also offers two continuing education programs involving mindfulness:

Advanced Intensive Training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy: This intensive, three-day training will take place Wednesday, July 23rd through Friday, July 25th. Training includes:

  • Strengthening Skills for Teaching DBT Skills in Group
  • Treating Secondary Emotions and Emotion Dys-Regulation
  • Targeting Shame and Self-Criticism
  • Strengthening Skills for Weaving DBT Skills into Individual Therapy
  • Including Parents and Partners in Treatment
  • Targeting Teammate Therapy-Interfering Behaviors in Consultation Team

Visit our webpage for more information.

Cultivating Wisdom in Relationships: The Mindfulness & Behavior Therapies program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University and the Family Action Network (FAN) are proud to present this Insight Dialogue Retreat, the first of its kind in Chicago.

Date: June 17-22, 2014

Time: Check-in for this 5-day residential retreat will begin on June 17 at 4:00 p.m. On June 22, the last session ends at 12:00 p.m., followed by lunch and check-out by 1:00 p.m.
Location: Cenacle Retreat and Conference Center, 513 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago, IL
Cost: $645 – shared accommodations; $745 – private accommodations
Dana: We invite participants to offer dana (free will donation) at the retreat to support the teacher and the teachings

For more information, contact Michelle Gossett at 847-733-4300, ext. 780 or

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