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Connecting Experience in a Residential Eating Disorder Center to the School Psychology Field

I recently wrote an article for the Florida Association of School Psychologist’s Winter Newsletter. I have reprinted it below so that my readers can see it. You can also check out the actual newsletter here.

Eating disorders are not just about food— they are related to many other factors such as ADHD, allergies, trauma, substance abuse and/or a myriad of mental illnesses. Walking into the residential center as a counselor, I did not expect to also gain experience working with women with substance abuse and serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia. These women have taught me more about life in six months than anything I have learned in school. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from working here is how to keep my sense of self as a human rather than trying to be the completely together and collected therapist that I thought I had to be. While in this center, these women have experienced sickness, death, and as many ups and downs as life has to offer. It is impossible not to become affected emotionally. During this time, I met some of the kindest humans I have ever met in my life. Most of them would care about others so much more than they would themselves that it led to neglecting their own needs. This became more than a job for me. Instead, it also became a lesson to improve my own self-care and most importantly, how to be human while still being supportive and professional. Going into the field of psychology, I had this false idea that I needed to be somewhat emotionless in order to be a good professional. I heard horror stories of friends who visited professionals who then went on to speak about their own problems and completely overshadow the patient and the issue at hand. I was always careful not to self-disclose, until I realized how beneficial a little self-disclosure could be for a patient. It is important to validate the patient’s feelings and let them know that they are experiencing them in a way that is different from others, but it is also good to let them know that they are not alone. Since perfectionism and eating disorders usually go hand-in-hand, I make it known to my girls that I am not perfect. I acknowledge my mistakes when I make them and I use these opportunities to let them help me become a better professional. This becomes a great way of modeling because many girls who have eating disorders are overcritical and have a tough time handling feedback. Instead of continuing a group therapy session that I know the patients aren’t getting anything out of, I make sure to ask them what they need at that time or what they would specifically like to get out of a group. This allows the patients to feel like they are being heard. Since each group of women is different, this discussion allows me to understand the needs of this specific group so that I can cater my groups to them specifically. It is also a great way to turn around a group that is not participating. Sometimes asking the patient what they need or what they would like to get out of a therapy session can not only ensure that both the patient and professional are on the same page, but it lets the patient know that you care. This is especially beneficial for the adolescents, who may not think that they have any say in their treatment or their lives in general. It is so important to allow the adolescent to know that they can have control by choosing to improve their life. Their parents and school faculty members are just tools that they can use in order to guide them toward the right path, but ultimately, they need to be the ones who make the decision that they want to recover. One of the most beneficial things for my own research was asking the adolescents about their experience at school. I realized that many of them had so many different options when it came to where they could stay for lunch. Many of the girls expressed that they would stay in the library, where food was prohibited, in order to work on homework or avoid eating lunch. I would ask them what they thought would help girls who are struggling with an eating disorder be noticed by someone who could help. They said that they would be more likely to confide in a peer than an adult because they were so used to telling the adults they were okay when they really weren’t. They also expressed that it could be very uncomfortable for them to talk to an adult that they haven’t built a relationship with, but a peer with a specific position such as a peer counselor would make the experience much more comfortable. We also discussed how in order to speak to a peer counselor, they would have to fill out a form or go through an adult to start the process. Other girls expressed that they did not have any friends to eat with, which made it easier for them to hide and just not eat their lunch. We discussed the possibility of there being designated leaders in the library or the lunch room who would eat with students who didn’t have anyone to eat with or who were struggling with something in their life. Since adolescence can be extremely difficult and many people may not know what someone else is dealing with, these peer leaders can help inspire hope in students who need it. These peer leaders can be trained to recognize signs of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidality among students. They could also be there for students to come up to or would approach students who look like they need someone to talk to. During this discussion, when we were sharing ideas and thinking of new ways to help others, I saw the eyes light up in my adolescents for the first time. Their eyes were full of this new hope for the future and pride in the new program they have created with each other. It also helped fuel my inspiration because I was stuck in trying to figure out a way to target students who are struggling with an eating disorder when it was so easy for it to go unnoticed. I’ve had to sacrifice some of my holidays and free time in order to work with these women. Although some days can be draining or difficult, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. I’ve taken the time to get to know the women who are in the center, beyond their eating disorder, and I have learned just how kind, caring, and loving they are. If I had a magic wand that allowed my patients to love themselves and took away all of the obstacles in their life, I would surely use it. Unfortunately, this is not the case, so I must be patient and help them get through it, one day at a time. I have found the importance in saying what you mean inside of waiting until it’s too late. These girls can come and go so quickly, some complete the program ready to tackle ED and take on the world, but others leave without feeling confident that they can recover. Sometimes just letting them know that you believe in them can make a huge difference in their world. All of these are lessons I will surely take into my future experience as a school psychologist because having one positive adult in a child’s life can change their perspective and allow them the confidence to succeed in their academic and personal lives.

Guide to Traveling Chicago Solo

Chicago. Chi-town. The windy city. There’s no wonder why it’s referred to as the “Jewel of the Midwest”. The shiny and reflective structures, mind-blowing architecture and sophisticated museums make it one of the best cities to visit in the U.S.

I arrived at Chicago O’Hare completely on my own, as I had a conference for the American Association of Suicidology there. My biggest blunder was booking my flight way in advance without realizing I would be spending Easter there—meaning I would be completely alone and almost everything would be closed very early. Nevertheless, I used that extra time to finish up some school work since I knew I would be arriving about an hour before class started. I also did some research on where I should visit first and what to put on my priority list. Here are some things that I was able to see:

University of Chicago

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I didn’t originally plan on visiting but the university is right next to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Robie House. The wait was about an hour, so it gave me enough time to explore the university. I try to explore as many universities as I can so that I can see what campus life is like around the world. Since my boyfriend is going to be a future architect, his passion has definitely influenced me to want to see more art and famous buildings around the world. The school reminded me of what an Ivy League school would look like—castlelike structures, old chapels, and strands of ivy draping over every side of the buildings. They also had two beautiful libraries that I could not wait to get a glimpse of. One of the libraries reminded me of something you would find in Hogwarts—spacious and incredibly ancient and prestigious. The other library was extremely modern, much so that I did not know it was a library until I looked further within the structure. It was entirely made out of glass and you could see students working and reading. It was not open to visitors but I was glad I got the chance to see the exterior in person. My favorite campus surprise was the food trucks. I ended up going to the truck with the most people in line (usually means it’s the best) and I had a spicy kimchi taco which was delicious and extremely affordable. Overall, it was a great way to kill time and see some new things.

Robie House

This is a house that has a lot of history and is now part of the University of Chicago in order to keep it preserved. It is actually one of the first “modern” homes and inspired so many other similar styles that are still used in homes today. When you go in, they will tell you that you cannot take pictures unless you pay for a photo pass. Play dumb. Don’t waste your money on this and wait until your guide turns around or the group leaves so that you can take as many pictures as you want. They are just trying to get more money out of you, which isn’t right.

The Bean (Cloud Gate)

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Nothing is more iconic than the famous Chicago Bean. This structure allows you to get amazing pictures of yourself and the Chicago skyline. The whole point is for you to interact with the sculpture and create something unique.screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-12-56-35-amIf you go underneath, it becomes even more abstract. You can lie down and take pictures or take a video around the bottom perimeter to get some cool views.

Millenium Park
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This park was absolutely perfect for taking a leisurely walk or a morning run. I would come here to eat breakfast (a healthy one consisting of donuts and hot chocolate) and stare at the magnificent views of the city and of the Bean.

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There’s even a gorgeous silver bridge that takes you from one side of the park to the other.

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This amphitheater is perfect for performances and springtime picnics. They would also show free movies here and have events so the public can gather together. It’s literally a small town feel in a big city.

Let’s get to the most important part…

THE FOOD

You obviously can’t leave Chicago without trying the deep dish pizza or Garrett’s Chicago style popcorn.

Garrett’s popcorn: Chicago Mix- cheddar cheese and caramel. Sounds very strange but it goes together better than peanut butter and jelly. Trust me.

Lou Malnati’s: Giordiano’s is also a very famous contender here but they do not offer personal pizzas. I prefer a smaller, thinner crust so this pizza was absolutely perfect for me. There’s a bit of a wait but it’s totally worth it.

Donuts: Stan’s, Firecakes, and the Donut Vault are some of the most famous donuts in the Chicago area. I personally only tried the last two and I preferred Firecakes for the funky flavors. The presentation is also gorgeous making them pretty much Pinterest famous.

The Girl and the Goat: This is one of the most highly rated restaurants in Chicago. Although I did not get a chance to go here due to my limited budget, it is highly recommended and I will go there when I visit again.

Beatrix: Very upscale yet affordable and great service. I met up with a friend here and the waiter even gave us a free drink since he saw me looking at her engagement ring and thought we should celebrate. The food and dessert were both delicious. I got the salmon with mole sauce and the chocolate cake.

Where to Stay

I stayed in a quaint Airbnb apartment which was really affordable, but I wish I would have realized that anyone could rent out the other private rooms. That made things a little uncomfortable but I was completely safe and had a lock on my own door. I stayed near the University of Illinois at Chicago and it was super close to the train station which made traveling a lot easier.

Transportation

I went back and forth from using the train, Uber, and cabs. Once I was downtown, Uber was extremely cheap and efficient for getting to all of the sights I wanted to see quickly. I also did Uber Pool which made rides even cheaper (about $5-7).

Sights

Get the Chicago GO Pass and you are free to see many popular sights such as the John Hancock Observatory, the Willis Tower and skydeck, as well as many museums. You can’t miss the Art Institute of Chicago, which houses many famous paintings and is where Ferris Beuller and his friends share a deep moment looking at the art. The pass also included a beautiful architecture cruise along the Chicago River, where I learned about the history of the architectural boom after the Great Chicago Fire. Who knew that fire could pass through a river?

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The Art Institute. The Chicago GO pass got me to the front of this line.
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Walk over the city on the glass SkyDeck
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Tilt over the skyline at the John Hancock Observatory (P.S. Don’t buy the photos. Just pretend to talk to the lady and take the pictures on your phone since the screen is at hip-level. It already costs extra to do the tilt so might as well get more out of it.)

Where to Shop

Magnificent Mile- The Rodeo Drive/5th Avenue/Grafton Street/Oxford Street/Worth Avenue/Bal Harbour/Ginza of Chicago. This was the only area I walked alone at night.

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If you have more questions about visiting Chicago, feel free to leave a comment below and I will get back to you as soon as possible! I was only here for a week but I was able to get a lot done considering a lot of my time was also spent at a conference.

Solo Travel to Japan

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Traveling to Japan alone (especially as a woman) can sound intimidating at first but it is actually a lot easier than you would think.

It’s super safe

For the most part, the Japanese are very polite and proper. You don’t have to worry about pickpockets as much as you do in Europe. The crime rate is also under 1%, so chances are that you are probably living in a city that is much more dangerous than Japan.

It’s super clean

Do not litter but do not expect to find trash cans everywhere either. I do not know where the trash goes, but keep a plastic bag for your trash with you at all times because you never know when you’ll actually find a trash can. You will usually have to wait until you find a bathroom. Oh yeah, and there usually aren’t paper towels or air dryers either so keep a small washcloth or hand sanitizer with you.

Speaking of clean, the locals do not like germs, so many of them may be wearing masks around their nose and mouth. This does not mean they do not want to talk to you if they are a worker but it is an extra precaution since it is frowned upon to take off from work. Always make sure you are polite and courteous if you need to sneeze or cough.

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The train system is easy and efficient

The trains are always punctual and there is usually a train coming within the next 10-15 minutes. The train stations also have signs in English and the workers can usually point you to the right destination.

If you want to travel around Tokyo, get the Pasmo Card and put about $20 on it. You can get this pass at any train station. For travel outside Tokyo, get the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). This will allow you to take the bullet train (Shinkansen line) to cities all over Japan. You need to make sure you buy it before you get to Japan. You either won’t be able to do this once you are there or it will be a big pain.

Don’t use cabs or even Uber, as it is much more expensive in Japan.

*I was able to use Google Maps by renting a Pocket Wifi. It cost me less than $100 to use for the whole time I was there (10 days). I was able to see where I was going and it even allows you to figure out what train to take.

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Be adventurous with the food, but know what you are eating

Google Translate is very helpful for this. You can take a picture of the text and it will tell you what is on the menu. Sometimes there are things on the menu that you would not normally eat at home (horse meat) and would care not to. Either way, it’s good to know.

As far as recommendations go, my personal favorite was walking through the Nishiki Market and sampling all of the fresh food they have to offer. Be sure to get the Okonomiyaki and try some sushi. Supposedly, the Tsukiji Market is the best place for sushi.

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Where to stay

The hostels in Japan are immaculate and will cost you about $30 per night. They also have strict rules, security and a safe in each room. Air BnB is also a great option.

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Cherry Blossom Season (Sakura)

Sakura means that Spring is here! Don’t expect to see these beautiful views unless you go during a very specific time of year. Prime time is late March-April but see specific guides for each area.

Key places to see 

TOKYO

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Harajuku District: Filled with creative and fun outfits and people. A haven for anything Kawaii (cute) including Hello Kitty, Pokemon, and anything cartoon or anime-related. Check out the colorful food like crepes and be sure to visit one of the cat, rabbit, owl, or even snake cafes! The cat cafes are adorable and allow you to relax and play with cats while enjoying some coffee.

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Senso-ji Temple

Japan New Year

Meiji Shrine

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Tokyo DisneySea

This was definitely one of the coolest experiences. If you love Disney, this will surely be a treat because it’s everything you think you knew about Disney in Japanese! Be sure to go to DisneySea because DisneyLand has rides that are very similar to the ones in the US. They have live shows, new and exciting rides, and exotic food. Be prepared to get lost and go through a few workers to find someone who speaks English.

Don’t miss the Big Band Beat like I did. You have to go to the “lottery” to win tickets and if you don’t, you have to wait in line. Be sure to line up early because the line will probably be full by fifteen minutes before the next showing.

Watch the late night show because it is just phenomenal. Seriously. My mouth fell wide open and I’m 23.

Take a ride on Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Ride the Indiana Jones one too if it’s open.

Ah, yes. The food. Frozen beer, flavored popcorn, and character mochi. Just check out this awesome blog for details.

A ticket to DisneySea will cost you about $70 which is a deal when you compare it to the $100+ tickets in the US parks. I suggest you make a day of it instead of wasting your money at one of the swanky hotels.

KYOTO

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Kyoto is undoubtably one of the most beautiful spots in Japan. Spots to see are Nijo-jo CastleShimogamo-jinja ShrineThe Golden Pavillon, and Ryoan-ji Temple. I missed the Monkey Park but that is on my list for next time.

OSAKA

Unfortunately, I did not get to spend a lot of time here but I went to Osaka Castle which I really liked. I also missed the Osaka is famous for its nightlife and food as well.

NARA 

I did not have enough time to go to Nara but there are a lot of cool temples and deer here.

Tips:

If you are going to be staying in someone’s home (a friend, airBnB, an exchange family) it is polite to bring a small gift from your home country

To easily calculate Yen to Dollars without taking out a calculator or converter, take off the last 2 digits of the price.

For example, if something is 5300 yen, you know that it will cost you no more than $53. It will not be completely accurate, but it is pretty close (actual price is $51.15). By using this method, it makes it more likely that you will stick to your budget because you are actually calculating the higher price.

Eat where the locals eat

This is usually where you are going to find the best and most authentic cuisine. Check out one of the rotating sushi bars. They are very fresh and delicious. You only pay for what you pick up and eat and it gives you a chance to try many new things for a very small price.

Stay in a hostel

This is the best way to save money and meet new people. Most hostels have a curtain and a nice sized bed with lockers to keep your space private and secure. They also have strict rules about noise, safety, and cleanliness.

If you make the journey to Hakone to see Mt. Fuji, bring a bag and do not drink heavily before the ride

I do not get car sick easily but this was one rough ride. I could barely keep my lunch down and I was so glad I didn’t drink too much the night before. A bag would’ve made me feel a lot more relaxed.

Also, don’t expect to actually see Mt. Fuji

A lot of times, it can be covered by fog. Make sure you check the weather in Hakone beforehand to maximize your chances of seeing the majestic mountain up close. The cruise and skytram are the best ways to see it.

Organize your coins before you go up to pay at a store or on the bus

Don’t be that tourist who holds people up by not counting their change or having the correct amount beforehand. Put your coins in a place where you can easily access them and if possible, have specific areas for different coin amounts.

Common blunders:

Don’t be late for your train

The train system is very efficient and when it says it’s leaving at 5:04, it leaves at that very moment. They usually have another train within 15 minutes if you are in a large metropolis but if not, it could be a longer wait.

Never use a driving service

The trains are usually faster than traveling by car and a lot less expensive. Take the bullet train to get from Narita Airport to Tokyo or risk a $200+ fare.

Do what the Japanese do

If they bow, bow back. This shows a sign of respect, even if you are not familiar with their culture or language.

Do not talk on the phone near shrines, temples, or on the train

This is seen as extremely disrespectful

Watch out for bikes!

They are everywhere and you can easily get hit if you are not paying attention

Skip the Robot Restaurant

It’s an extremely cheesy tourist trap. Especially if you are going alone and have no one to laugh at it with.

Don’t get off the toilet until the spray feature is turned off

Do I really have to explain this humiliating story?

Allow extra time to get to your flight if you are traveling from other cities

If you use Google Maps, it might be tracking the faster bullet train which is more expensive and mainly just for Japanese locals and business people. Give yourself more time than you think just in case.

Don’t ignore other tourists who speak the same language as you

This is a great opportunity for you to get to know other people and learn different things about Japan from their perspective. I’ve had the best conversations by speaking to strangers and it has enriched my travel experiences immensely. It also helps prevent you from getting too lonely in a place where you are the foreigner.

Don’t forget to take off your shoes before stepping into a temple, someone’s home, or onto a tatami mat

The Japanese are very strict about this rule because they believe that germs are carried in from your outside shoes. Some places will have slippers you can borrow inside but it might be more sanitary to buy your own and carry them in your bag with you. They also make for a very cute keepsake.

Don’t buy too many gifts

Chances are your suitcase is already full if you are traveling alone and you will probably only be able to easily roll around a carry-on. Don’t make life hard on yourself to the point where you can’t bring everything back or you have to spend a bunch of money shipping everything back home.

Never ever tip

It is considered extremely rude and implies that the workers do not get paid enough.

Before I actually did it, I never thought that I could get around Japan on my own. You learn a lot about yourself and meet very interesting people along the way. It also teaches you to have patience and become tolerant of others and yourself. It was a tough experience but I am glad I got to play the role of a foreigner. It definitely teaches you what being in a new country that doesn’t speak your language is like.

Starbucks Holiday Drinks Review

We all know that it is the season for holiday drinks at Starbucks (insert annoying Red Cup joke here). I have taken it upon myself to try every single holiday drink and review it so you don’t have to.

Peppermint Mocha

5 Stars: Quite literally “Christmas in a Cup”. The comfort of hot chocolate with a smooth touch of peppermint that just makes you feel like you are cuddled up at home, waiting for Santa. And you can’t forget the shot of caffeine that makes you tolerable during the early hours.

Chestnut Praline Latte

4 Stars: Makes you think of that “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” song. Exactly the right kind of caramel flavor mixed with nuts that you need to get you going in the morning. This drink is perfect for anytime of the year, but there is a hint of the holidays mixed inside. Reminds me more of Fall than Winter.

Caramel Brulee Latte

2 Stars: I was overly excited about this one because it sounds very fancy, like a Creme Brulee. I put the frothy concoction to my lips only to discover that it tastes the same as a regular Caramel Latte. I must give props to Starbucks for using wording to trick the customer into thinking it is something different, but I did feel cheated.

Caramel Apple Spice

5 Stars: Quite easily my favorite non-coffee Starbucks hot drink. The whipped cream on top sounds strange at first, but it actually makes it. The caramel mixes perfectly with the apple cider and the whipped cream glazed over it just completes the array of tastes going on inside your mouth. One sip will have you jumping through crunchy leaves and dreaming of colored leaves.

Pumpkin Spice

You all are going to hate me, but 1 Star. Just not for me.

Toasted Graham Latte

2 Stars: Good, but really nothing that stands out. Tastes very similar to a regular latte.

*Disclaimer: I find these holiday drinks (and every other Starbucks specialty drink) to be extremely sweet. They use way too much syrup and it is almost impossible for me to drink a regular one. For each drink, I got half the syrup they normally use.

 

 

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